How Is Spirit Airlines So Cheap? The Secrets Behind Their Low Ticket Prices

Eva Hagan - Author

Dec. 13 2023, Published 12:51 p.m. ET

An aerial view of a yellow Spirit Airlines plane on an airport runway.
Source: iStock

The Gist:

  • Spirit Airlines is known for offering plane tickets at a fraction of the cost of other airlines.

  • They use an a la carte pricing model, which allows them to list cheap ticket prices, but then charge for anything you want beyond that, including a carry-on.

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Spirit Airlines stands as one of the cheapest airlines out there, with prices as low as $20 for a one-way flight. But have you ever wondered why it’s so cheap?

It’s all about what you are paying for. Spirit has been offering ticket prices hundreds of dollars less than other airlines because when you buy a ticket from Spirit, it’s just the ticket. This means it charges for carry-ons, checked bags, and even the little beverage you may want to sip on in-flight. So keep reading to see ways Spirit Airlines can be so cheap.

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A side view of a yellow Spirit Airlines plane moving on a runway with an airport in the background.
Source: iStock

Why is Spirit Airlines so cheap?

Spirit Airlines has what is known as an a la carte pricing model, meaning everything is sold individually, which customers have been used to for decades. Buying a ticket from Spirit may be listed as $46, but that is just your seat on the plane. By charging for essentially everything else, including a carry-on, Spirit can sell cheap tickets, per Travel Noire. Here are some ways the airline keeps things cheap.

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First, there are check-in fees. According to NerdWallet, to print your boarding pass at the airport, it is $2 at a kiosk and $10 if printed by an airport agent. Then, if you want to select your seat ahead of time, that can be up to $40.

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If you want to check a bag, that cost could be almost as much as your flight. And if you are thinking you can bypass this by taking it as a carry-on, you also have to pay for that. According to Business Insider, unless your carry-on fits the Spirit standards of a personal item, which is anything 18 by 14 by eight inches or smaller, you have to pay a fee.

Now, if you’ve gone through the tumultuous boarding process and want to relax with an in-flight refreshment and snack, there is also a fee. There are no complimentary cookies or pretzels here, but you can get Coke for $3 or coffee for $2.

Spirit also has change fees. Some airlines offer flexible booking, meaning you don’t have to worry about paying if you need to switch around your flight. However, Spirit charges up to $110 to change a flight, all per NerdWallet.

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Does Spirit Airlines cancel flights often?

Spirit Airlines doesn’t cancel flights any more than other airlines. According to CBS News, as of October 2023, Spirit had canceled 3,600 flights in 2023, which equates to 1.5 percent of its schedule. In 2022, Spirit canceled three percent of all flights, below JetBlue, which canceled 3.74 percent of flights, Southwest at 3.26 percent, and Allegiant Air at 3.52 percent, per USA Today.

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Is Spirit Airlines reliable?

Considering that Spirit’s flight cancellations are not out of the ordinary, getting you from point A to point B can be seen as pretty reliable. However, when reviewed by AirAdvisor, an airline claims management company, Spirit was given one of the lowest ratings, at 4.11 out of ten. Business Insider noted it received a three for reliability and comfort and a seven for safety.

So, flying with Spirit might not be a first-rate experience, but it will probably be one of the cheapest.

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