Painful Spirit Airlines Fees And Everything Else I Learned Last Week On The Road

It was an interesting week on the road, for sure.  My original plan this past week involved four airplane flights, which changed into five (across four different airlines), and then ultimately four flights on three airlines.  This is the unfortunate cross-section of business travel, COVID and crazy airline schedules.  Amidst this was the realization that Spirit Airlines has some pretty oppressive fees.

Flight schedules took another sharp turn against effective business travel.  For my date of travel I couldn’t get to my destination (Reno) until after 12pm no matter how early I hopped on a plane.  That’s a pretty significant change from 9:30am, when I used to arrive.

I needed to be home early Friday for some meetings so that meant getting creative to maximize my work time.  Vegas is famous for having a lack of flights to the East coast after about 2pm PT, which makes for a pretty short work day.  In order to make the most of my time on the road I used a strategy that has worked out from time-to-time over the years.  I booked a Spirit Airlines flight leaving after 5pm headed to Chicago O-Hare.  My plan was to crash overnight at the Hilton ORD (connected to the airport via tunnel) and grab a very early flight from ORD to my home airport of Washingon-Dulles.

Spirit Airlines Ratchets Up The Fees

It’s been a while since I booked a Spirit flight.  Unlike early in my career and a lot of my fellow road warriors, the current version of me doesn’t mind Spirit or Frontier.  My first choice is Spirit because of their Big Front Seat and the fact that a good portion of their fleet now has Wi-Fi.  But, I‘ve flown Frontier and didn’t die.

The Big Front Seat is, in my opinion, one of the most accurate products an airline has ever offered.  The marketing is spot on.  For the money you pay to reserve a Big Front Seat, you get……a bigger seat located, yup, you guessed it, in the front of the plane.  You don’t get free drinks, free bags or any other bells and whistles.  But, the price has always been reasonable and it’s also the only seat on a Spirit or Frontier plane with a tray table big enough to work on a laptop.  I was always willing to pay the $50 or so that Spirit charged for a Big Front Seat.  That was, until I booked this flight from Vegas to Chicago and saw the eye-popping price of $160.  Still, with almost every seat taken on the plane, the hope of getting a few hours of work done caused my finger to click the button for the $160 seat upgrade along with a $49 fee for a carry-on bag.

If I take a step back, I don’t think $160 is really worth it for that length of flight.  That being said, the ticket was a lot cheaper than what I normally pay, so my total landed cost for more space was…..not completely awful.  What was completely awful was when I had to cancel my flight due to my plans changing.  The cancellation fee was very reminiscent of before United said they’d never charge a change fee again.a black line on a white backgroundI think I could have stomached a $99 cancellation fee.  I think I could have handled a $125 fee, though it stands in stark difference to the model United, Delta and American employ now.  The fact that Spirit decided to split out a $22.99 “Non-Refundable Carrier Fees” charge was a bit of a stab in the eye. Lesson learned, I’ll wait as long as possible before booking a Spirit flight to make sure my plans really are firm.

COVID Curveball

The reason for the flight changes was due to the fact that I ended up in the car with someone who started exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms after we spent a few hours together with no masks.  It’s one of the first “maskless” things I’ve done in a couple of years.  Many of you reading this have long since ditched masks for many activities.  Some still probably wear them all the time.  In my situation with the restaurants I operate, if I’m in a restaurant working with our team and test positive for COVID afterwards we’re required to exclude all unvaccinated employees for five days per CDC guidelines.  It’s a pretty big risk for me since I normally visit multiple restaurants each day.  In this case it wasn’t worth the financial impact of potentially closing multiple restaurants due to a lack of staffing.  I won’t miss this part of the pandemic when it’s gone.

Learning Delta Diamond

I spent roughly a decade as a top-tier American Airlines Executive Platinum member. I also spent about 10 years as a United 1K (with some overlap years where I had both status levels).  I’ve only been a Delta Diamond member for a short period of time, so I’m still learning the details of the program.

While I was booking our family trip to Iceland for this summer I learned a pretty significant difference between United 1K status and Delta Diamond status.  It’s worth noting that the latter requires an additional 25,000 elite-qualifying miles each year.  What I learned is that as a Diamond member I’m only entitled to complimentary extra legroom seating (Delta refers to this as Comfort+) for myself and one companion.  That stands in stark contrast to United, which allows me up to eight total passengers upgraded to extra legroom seating (Economy+) if we’re all on the same itinerary.  I actually tested this just a few weeks ago on a family trip, upgrading seven companions.

On the flip side, Delta made me pay with miles to upgrade the other two members of our family, and I had to split our record into two different records to achieve it.  I think this is a pretty big miss on Delta’s part.  My guess is the policy is a by-product of Delta’s belief that they can sell many of the seats in Comfort+.  Based on their reports over the years, they’re not wrong about being able to sell them.  But, I do think they’re wrong for not at least allowing a Delta Diamond to upgrade a family of four when they’re traveling.

Other Items I Learned This Week

I learned that Marriott doesn’t actually require hotels to include coffee or orange juice in their free breakfast offering.  As with Delta not allowing more Comfort+ upgrades for Diamond members, of c0urse Marriott can define breakfast however they wish.  It shouldn’t surprise you that I typically choose hotel chains that more reliably deliver elite benefits.

Not something I learned, just a reminder that I’m giving away a free year of the best new award booking search tool out there.

Interestingly, I learned Delta is offering status matches where they’ll actually upgrade your status one level through August.

Russia’s airlines seem to be out of the international flight business for the time being.  Not surprising, given all the countries that have barred them from their airspace.

No more waiting in long Starbucks lines at the airport?  Starbucks has started to roll out mobile ordering in many airport locations.  This is a great example of an entrenched vendor slowing down innovation.  In many cases, Starbucks doesn’t operate airport locations.  A small number of large catering companies hold monopolies on airport locations.  They force brands to franchise to them in order for their brand to be in the airport.  In this case, it seems that one of those large catering companies didn’t see much value in rolling out mobile ordering to help travelers get through the airport more quickly.  Hopefully, this is coming to an end.

Lastly, American Airlines launched their Loyalty Points tracker this past week.  My points have posted, sort of.  I’m pretty sure the total is wrong but I also don’t know how much time I’ll spend trying to figure that out.

a graph of flight status

I did max out the credit card bonus American offered early in the year.  That means I’ve got a pretty good head start to Executive Platinum status.  However, I don’t think there’s any reasonable chance I get 30 segments on AA this year.  I’d need those 30 segments to unlock the best benefits of EXP now that AA has split the best benefits into “Loyalty Choice Rewards”.

An Honor For Our Son

On a personal note, we were honored to watch our son’s scout troop present a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier this weekend.  It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience to pay tribute to these nameless soldiers who paid the ultimate price defending our freedom.

a group of people standing in front of a wreath

Hope everyone’s flights are arriving on-time and in exciting destinations!

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  1. What a remarkable opportunity for your son’s troop. I hope that the youngsters all felt the solemnity of the moment.

    1. It was a truly incredible opportunity. We weren’t sure how he would handle it. I’m happy (and relieved) to say he understood the magnitude of the situation and handled it accordingly.

  2. Minor correction:

    Frontier’s “economy plus” seats (first 3 rows) have a real tray table, and can hold a laptop. They also recline. In fact, they feel pretty similar to economy plus on United. (I did the $49 status match, and had my first Frontier flight with “The Works” two weeks ago.)

    1. I’ve used those tray tables. I equate them to a RJ tray table. I can’t actually open my screen all the way in row 2 and 3 and the trays in the very front row aren’t fully supported. Not a great condition for work, IMO.

      1. Point is, they are MUCH more than the cup holder masquerading as a tray table in the back.

        (And I had no problems with my laptop on it.)

  3. You know when you are a road warrior sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Spirit tack on fees are crappy but that is why they sell tickets at loss leader prices. They make money on the fees of course. I used to fly Spirit on some routes on a regular basis because they have non-stop routes to places others don’t. I’ve known for years that the big front seat is one of the best deals in LCC land (maybe that is LCCL 🙂 but it’s one of the secrets you hope never gets out to the public. Bloggers and vloggers have been hitting the Spirit Big Front Seat Secret hard for a few years so I’m going to guess that they are harder to book and getting more expensive because they are popular. I hope after the merger is complete that they add more big front seats on Spirit and also on Frontier metal. Maybe go watch Noel Phillips video on this topic to relieve the pain

    Thanks for sharing the patriotic moment with your son. That is certainly special indeed. Oh and you better ask Richard Kerr if the Waffle House or Cracker Barrell has an “Organic Egg” breakfast, sounds fancy. I bet those eggs at Fairfield Inn aren’t “Organic”.

    1. Dan, I definitely know the lumps you take as a road warrior. I’m certainly hoping Frontier adds wifi and Big Front Seats to their planes!

      You really think Waffle House has organic eggs????

    2. Yo Ed
      In my misspent childhood we did a 4 day Boy Scout trip by bussing from Port Chester NY to Washington and barracking at Fort Meade. What an experience! Our trip included a White House tour,all the monuments, and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of The Unknown Solder.
      A lifetime experience: 1 your son will never forget!

  4. Ed, really like these weekly summaries! It’s a nice way to quickly catch up on some of your experiences.

    1. Thanks, EJ. I’m trying to find more time to write. Hopefully over time I’ll be able to increase my cadence. You can hear more of the fun stuff on the podcast as well. We recap our week on the road in pretty much every episode.

  5. Ed, thanks for sharing the pitfalls of Spirit Airlines. I’ll make sure I avoid them! Also, what an amazing experience for your son and his Boys Scout Troop! How did your daughter’s State track meet go?

    1. Molly, thanks for asking. They didn’t win any medals but they finished a bit higher than they were seeded. It was an incredible experience for her and she took it in stride, enjoying the moment. Meanwhile, I wouldn’t completely avoid Spirit, just know what you’re getting yourself into. 😉

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