Details: Spirit Airlines’ Fantastic New Loyalty Program

Filed Under: Spirit

Spirit Airlines has just revealed the details of its new revenue based loyalty program, and I must say that I’m extremely impressed.

Spirit Airlines “Free Spirit” program basics

“Free Spirit” is the name of Spirit Airlines’ loyalty program, and it’s being completely overhauled as of January 21, 2021. Spirit Airlines isn’t an airline that people generally choose because they’re loyal to the brand, but rather because they have really cheap fares.

The concept of running a loyalty program at an airline like this can be challenging. Can there be enough rewards offered so that people might actually choose Spirit over a competitor, all else being equal? Well, I’d say the new program is about as lucrative as it could be.

As Spirit Airlines CEO Ted Christie describes the new program:

“Loyalty programs should work for travelers whether they fly once a year, or once a week. You should be rewarded either way. We decided to start with a clean sheet of paper and re-imagine what Free Spirit could be. Points don’t mean anything unless you can actually use them. Our new program lets everyone hold onto their points longer, which allows family vacationers, frequent travelers and people visiting loved ones to take advantage of Free Spirit’s new benefits and rewards.”

Earning Spirit Airlines points

The new Spirit Airlines frequent flyer program will be revenue based, and members can earn:

  • 6x points per dollar spent on fares
  • 12x points per dollar spent on ancillary fees, like seats, bags, and more

This is kind of brilliant — Spirit Airlines is known for its unbundled fares, so if anything the airline should be incentivizing selecting ancillaries, rather than incentivizing bookings in the first place. This structure really helps with that.

Earn bonus points for booking the Big Front Seat

Redeeming Spirit Airlines points

Spirit Airlines will have revenue based redemptions with no blackout dates. The airline hasn’t yet revealed how many points will be needed for tickets, so only time will tell.

It goes without saying that this is a very important detail, so we’ll have to reserve some judgment until the new redemption system goes live.

Spirit Airlines improves points expiration

Historically Spirit Airlines points have expired after just three months of inactivity, which is one of the most aggressive policies of any airline.

With the new loyalty program, Spirit Airlines points will expire after 12 months of inactivity, which is much more reasonable. Furthermore, elite members and those with a co-branded credit card won’t be subjected to this policy.

Spirit Airlines reduces redemption fees

Spirit Airlines has redemption fees that are extremely high. Under the old program:

  • There’s a $100 fee when booking an award within six days of departure
  • There’s a $75 fee when booking an award within 7-20 days of departure
  • There’s a $15 fee when booking an award within 190 days of departure

With the new program:

  • Redemption fees will only apply within 90 days of departure, rather than within 180 days
  • Even within 90 days, the fees will be lower than in the past (though I haven’t seen any exact numbers yet)

Spirit Airlines is improving its mileage expiration policy

Spirit Airlines introduces points pooling

With the new loyalty program, eligible members can combine Free Spirit points with up to eight friends and family members in order to rack up rewards faster.

This is particularly useful for a program for an ultra low cost carrier, where you may have several occasional flyers who don’t independently rack up enough points for a redemption, but do earn enough when combining points.

Spirit Airlines elite status

Spirit Airlines is introducing two elite tiers — Silver and Gold.

Spirit Airlines Silver status

Spirit Airlines Silver status will require 2,000 SQPs, which can be earned with:

  • $2,000 worth of flight spending
  • $20,000 worth of purchases on a Spirit Airlines credit card

Spirit Airlines Silver members will receive:

  • 8x points per dollar spent on fares, and 16x points per dollar spent on extras
  • Free shortcut security (where available) and shortcut boarding (Zone 2)
  • Free same-day standby
  • Free general seat selection 24 hours before departure with exit row availability three hours prior to departure
  • Dedicated elite phone line
  • Ability to create a Points Pool
  • No reward redemption fees

Spirit Airlines Gold status

Spirit Airlines Gold status will require 5,000 SQPs, which can be earned with:

  • $5,000 worth of flight spending
  • $50,000 worth of purchases on a Spirit Airlines credit card

Spirit Airlines Gold members will receive the following, in addition to Silver benefits:

  • 10x points per dollar spent on fares, and 20x points per dollar spent on extras
  • Free carry-on bag
  • Free first checked bag
  • Priority boarding (Zone 1)
  • Free standard seat selection at time of booking (including exit rows)
  • Free Flight Flex, which offers a one-time change with no fee prior to 24 hours before departure
  • Free inflight beverage and snack

I can taste the BuzzBallz and chardonnay already!

Spirit Airlines’ new program is great

I never thought I’d say this, but Spirit Airlines’ new loyalty program is well thought out. And that’s despite the fact that the airline is going from distance based to a revenue based program.

The reality is that historically Spirit Airlines’ loyalty program has been a bit of a joke. Points expired after just three months of inactivity, and redemption fees were often higher than just outright paying for a ticket.

I’ve flown Spirit before, but I never even bothered signing up for the loyalty program… and that’s despite the fact that I love loyalty programs.

By contrast, the new program seems extremely well thought out:

  • The airline is disproportionately rewarding ancillary fees, which seems like a smart approach for Spirit to take
  • Points will be valid long enough that members might actually be engaged, rather than not bothering
  • Elite members are potentially looking at priority security and boarding, and free seat assignments, flight changes, snacks, drinks, and more; these are perks I never expected to see at Spirit Airlines

Bottom line

Spirit Airlines will be launching an impressive new loyalty program in January 2021. The program will be going full-on revenue based, but for an airline like Spirit that makes perfect sense. The program will be particularly rewarding for buying extras, and will also have elite perks that rival (and in some cases surpass) what we see at other major airlines.

Now we’ll just have to wait and see what redemption rates are like, but frankly the program is an improvement no matter, in my opinion, given the previous expiration policy and redemption fees. Well done, Spirit Airlines!

Are you as impressed by Spirit Airlines’ new loyalty program as I am?

Comments
  1. I live in GA while my parents live in WA. Previously Spirit wasn’t even an also-ran for trips to see them, but now they appear at least competitive. There are other destinations served by them I’d be interested in now, as well. And they may become valuable for positioning flights. They just might become one of my primary domestic carriers…

    I do wonder if the fares & ancillary fees will be adjusted.

    I’m still wary of the number of flights they operate…often if a flight cancels (for whatever reason) there isn’t another Spirit flight to *anywhere* the same day from that airport.

  2. Good analysis. I don’t envision myself ever flying Spirit but this loyalty program seems like the right approach for their business model. Curious to see if these positive changes will be offset by changes to redemption rates.

  3. Lucky’s most enthusiastic review of a loyalty program is for an airline he would never be caught dead on flying on a regular basis.
    We should take that into account in our assessment.

  4. We have no idea what the CPM value would be, we have no idea which junk redemption fees will remain, and there are no elite upgrades (or even discounts) for BFS?

    So far this does not seem very exciting for anyone who wasn’t already captive to Spirit – which has to be a vanishingly small market. I’d rather just pay the ancillary fees as needed. “Fantastic” is a very premature verdict.

  5. How can you say this program is so good when you don’t even know the redemption rate?!?…the earn rate is irrelevant without that info. Likewise 12 months expiry is pretty lame for the average leisure traveler and hardly competitive. Everything else is pretty meh and hardly innovative, even if it’s moderately better than what it replaces. I would expect this kind of review from TPG when being blatantly paid by the cars issuer, but not OMAAT. Very disappointed!

  6. Astonished to think of spending $5k/yr on NK tickets. I used them in the Before Times for $20 BOS-CLE sectors.

  7. @ Michael — LOL, fair. I think Spirit Gold might be one of the most exclusive (and unenviable) elite tiers out there, because it would take a *lot* of flying to spend $5K on Spirit.

  8. I wonder how long it will be before we see the full service carriers adjust their programs. The current revenue requirements are unreachable for most (particularly those with families) if the industry loses a significant share of business travelers. Things like family pooling may become increasingly important. I would not be surprised to see elements of the Spirit and Frontier loyalty programs being adopted by the big 3.

  9. @GoAmtrak: To me the biggest things are the ability to earn via CC and/or flying, free exit row seats at booking, and a free drink/snack.

    Those in an AA hub city + NK focus city (like me at PHL) who directly/indirectly pay their own fares (not me) may be inclined to switch given AA will no longer award status miles on Basic Econ flights, so assuming AA is matching prices, it comes down to spending an extra $60+ to get to Main Cabin for each r/t to maintain elite status or switching to Spirit.

    Someone flying PHL-FLL 20 times/year for $200 r/t may see that it’s spending $800+ extra on Main Cabin fares to get AA Gold, or buying the same tickets on Spirit and spending $10k on the credit card to get Spirit Gold and guaranteed exit rows (vs T-24 AA MCE).

    Agreed that we need to see what redemption looks like before knowing how good the new program is.

  10. @ PDS — Appreciate the feedback and see where you’re coming from, but let me clarify a few things.

    First of all, not only was I not paid for this story, but Spirit didn’t even share the info with me under embargo, unlike with other bloggers, so I can assure you there’s no secret relationship here. 😉

    Second of all, I acknowledged twice in the post that we’ll have to see what redemption rates are like before making a final judgment.

    That being said, I would probably still think this program is a huge improvement even if you needed a million points per dollar of airfare. The previous version of the program is a complete gimmick, given $100 redemption fees and three month mileage expiration.

    Regardless of what redemptions look like, I’m extremely impressed that Spirit has created an elite tier where you get almost everything included, which isn’t something I ever expected from the airline. Furthermore, I appreciate the logic that went into this program in general, as Spirit is rewarding ancillary revenue more than base airfare spending.

  11. Does anyone use their Amex Platinum airline credit on Spirit? It’s super hard to get that reimbursed for legacy airlines now, but ULCC’s like Spirit might be one of the few where you get value.

    Especially if you can use the airline credit for upgrades to the big front seats and your bags. With the larger seats, maybe flying Spirit wouldn’t be that bad?

    Worth it? Or just a bad idea?

  12. YAY! As someone who has nearly 50K of Free Spirit miles, and has to eat at a Free Spirit dining restaurant every 90 days in order to avoid forfeiting those miles during COVID-19, these changes are wonderful.

  13. “Alex, I’ll take ‘Least Likely Opening Line of an OMAAT Post in Recorded History’ for 1,000, please!”

  14. @HinBW I did because I fly LAS-FLL to see my mom 4 or 5 times a year. I prefer JetBlue, but if the fare difference gets too high, I can get an exit row and a carryon on Spirit courtesy of Amex. Every flight from LAS-FLL is a red eye so service is negligible regardless of which airline you choose.

    I wonder what they are going to do with the current miles people have. I fly them enough that my points have not expired but it was never worthwhile to actually use them.

  15. Spirit should offer some sort of hazard pay for choosing to fly on such a trash airline that is also filled with Americans. Probably dealing with some sub 50% mask utilization and 80% passenger obesity rate.

  16. So what do I get for my “points”? For instance, if I accumulate 1000 points what do I receive? $100 cash? A free ticket?

  17. What a GREAT program!!!!!!

    Wow those redemption rates are, um, FANTASTIC!!!!

    The ONLY “fantastic” aspect is anticipation of the number of rubes the Pimpers of Plastic can convert.

    It’s ALL about the conversions.

  18. @HinBW: I checked it out and took it for a test flight. The truth is you’d be throwing the Amex benefit away….completely! Spirit does not code any ancillary charges separately. They roll baggage fees, seat charges and everything else into the ticket invoice so Amex pays NOTHING. I could not even be reimbursed for a drink onboard as Amex reports that Spirit does not code properly for them. I immediately contacted Amex and had the credit switched to AA.

  19. I am sorry, Ben, but I remain unimpressed. Spirit is a cheap flying bus with nothing going for it at all except for what usually is a cheap price. That’s it. Who would think it would be a good investment in $20,000.00 plus CC spend for such a paltry few benefits

    My take on Spirit is still the same: If it’s cheap enough, add a Big Front Seat as part of a package which includes your bag. Otherwise, ship your bag. I heard their President quoted the” Spirit has the most complaints in the industry and they are proud of that factoid” They are the American version of Ryanair but with less frequency. I have seen people cry in the boarding area because they were getting clipped $100.00 because their carry on was too big. Horrible company!

  20. It would be bad enough to fly spirit to begin with. I certainly wouldn’t be looking to fly enough to have and to redeem points with them for additional flights!

  21. I’m not too rich or too ‘good’ to fly an ULCC. Spirit has improved tremendously over the past 5 years or so. The planes are newer, they have an impeccable safety record and the crews are usually very friendly and approachable. That being said I don’t actively avoid them, but living in Atlanta I tend to fly Delta a lot more. However, if the flight works for my schedule, I’ll gladly book Spirit.

  22. I have flown Spirit several times and have flown the more expensive airlines…read the small print do follow the directions…they will fulfill their agreement..clean. on time flight with no frills…I don’t need to pay big money to be treated unkind. Wait on plane or ride in dirty plane…it’s not a till life ends deal it’s a plane ride. I have Spirit card use my points to purchase tickets for myself and family all the time. Plan ahead read the small print…just common sense for the world we live in.

  23. By far Spirit has the most fees on almost anything. From carry on fees to charges for water plus many more this airline needs to closed down. Thank God for JetBlue.

  24. This is a points n miles credit card website, with that said, we have some of the best premium credit cards and loyalty programs at our disposal. Why on God’s green earth would I ever fly Spirit airlines? If i need to fly on a discount carrier, Southwest is far superior in EVERYTHING!!! compared to Spirit. There are too many passengers having fist fights mid-air on Spirit.

  25. They can’t seem to handle crediting mileage after the fact. I called in 3 times, last call was sent up to the escalation department even, but my miles still show as zero. If they can’t handle this simple task, don’t expect them to be able to manage a new frequent flyer program.

  26. I couldn’t be happier with the changes being made to the program. I would like to comment on the airline excluding BFS upgrades. While we’d all love the option, it is important to remember something that is extremely important but hasn’t been discussed; SIZE. Spirit is a small, albeit growing, airline. While the airline continues to have ambitious growth plans for the post-pandemic world, it will take years to scale up to the size of airlines with premium seats. Imagine snow hits Chicago, there is weather in Ft. Lauderdale, and its Christmas. Spirit does not have the BFS inventory to easily accommodate oversells. The airline is being rightfully cautious by not offering a perk they can’t deliver at all times. Any business does not want to disappoint their best customers. It would take a lot more frequency and a lot more inventory to offer upgrades. It may happen at some point. Until then we cheer for more destinations and more frequency.

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