Delta vs. Spirit [On Greg’s Mind]

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After many, many years of avoiding flying Spirit, I finally gave them a try last month.  I was happily surprised by how pleasant the experience was.  I had paid for a Big Front Seat and yet the flight was still cheaper than a Delta economy ticket for the same route.  Plus, I was able to use my Ritz card’s airline incidental fee reimbursement to refund the purchase of the Big Front Seat.  The Big Front Seat was big and plush.  And the flight attendants were super nice and attentive.  The Big Front Seat is missing a number of things that you’ll find on most other regional first class products: Spirit’s seats don’t recline and do not have video screens.  Plus, unless you have Spirit Gold status, there are no complementary snacks or drinks.  Still, the basic experience of getting from point A to point B was excellent.

I’m shown in Delta First on the left, and on Spirit’s Big Front Seat on the right.  When I flew Spirit in October I was impressed with how nice the experience was.  If anything, Spirit’s seat may have been a bit more comfortable than Delta’s, except that Spirit’s seat doesn’t recline.  The flight attendants were very nice and attentive on both airlines.

Rethinking Spirit

My recent experience flying Spirit made me wonder if I need to change my approach to domestic flights.  Previously I avoided Spirit like the plague even if Spirit offered better flight times and better prices.  And it wasn’t unusual for both to be true.  Spirit has a pretty good route network from my home airport (Detroit – DTW):

Spirit’s direct flights from Detroit (DTW) are shown above.  Image courtesy of FlightConnections (I love that tool).

Spirit covers more routes from Detroit than AA and United, combined:

Shown above are all American Airlines AND United Airlines direct flights from Detroit (DTW). Image courtesy of FlightConnections.

Of course, since Detroit is a Delta hub, we have far more nonstop options on Delta:

Delta’s regional direct flights from Detroit are shown above. Image courtesy of FlightConnections.

A real world side-by-side comparison

I recently flew to Denver with my son.  I had originally booked the entire trip on Delta, but I decided that it would be great to do a little experiment: We would fly Delta one-way and Spirit the other in order to compare them nearly side-by-side. Based on my experience a month ago, I thought that the experiences would be close.  I knew Delta would be better for its in-flight entertainment, food, and drinks, but I expected the rest of the experience to be similar.

With Delta, I booked a cheap flight with miles and was able to apply regional upgrade certificates (a Platinum elite status benefit) in order to secure first class.  With Spirit, I was able to buy a very cheap flight and pay for the Big Front Seat.  I was all set for this experiment!

Outbound booking:

  • Delta: 5,000 miles + $5.60 + Regional Upgrade Certificate

Return:

  • Spirit: $30.49 + $56 (for Big Front Seat) = $86.49

The information above makes it look like the two airlines were fairly close in price, but that’s not really true.  Delta charged more for the return flight. I had originally booked the return on Delta, in economy, for 13,500 miles + $5.60.  If we value Delta miles at only a penny each, that’s like paying $140.60 for economy.  That’s not bad, but nowhere near as good as Spirit’s $86.49 for the Big Front Seat.  Note that I booked my son’s Spirit flight later than my own and his cost $112.59 with the Big Front Seat (still very cheap!).

Note that I didn’t have to worry about paying for bags on this trip because I have Spirit Gold status and get a free checked bag and a free carry-on bag.  Our plan was to check one of our bags and carry on the other.  This is one of the perks of being a blogger: Spirit gave me this status when they were doing a big marketing push for their overhauled rewards program: Spirit goes revenue-based, makes elite status easier with new Free Spirit program.  If we had to pay for bags it would have cost us $42 for a checked bag or $52 for a carry-on if we pre-purchased the bags online.

Result

Outbound Flight

Delta regional first class meal.

Our outbound Delta flight was great.  I was pleasantly surprised that they served a boxed lunch on a sub 3-hour flight.  I didn’t use the in-flight entertainment, but it was there and my son enjoyed it.  And, of course, there was plenty of legroom:

Delta regional first class.

Return Flight

Our return flight was scheduled for 2:43pm on Friday.  I first new something was wrong when an email from Spirit arrived at 7:20am:

Hello Gregory,

We sincerely apologize for what happened on your recent trip. We care about your satisfaction and want to make this right. Please accept our apologies along with this voucher for future travel to any of our destinations.

Whaaat?  We hadn’t yet flown, but they were already giving us $50 vouchers towards future travel bookings (as long as that future happens within 3 months).  What was that all about?  I logged into Spirit to check on our flight and saw that it was still listed as on time.  I then checked on the plane itself which was scheduled to come from Detroit.  That flight was already listed at more than 2 hours late.  They knew that the plane wouldn’t arrive in Denver until after the outbound flight was scheduled to leave.  So, some apologetic algorithm at Spirit knew that the outbound flight was going to be late and therefore sent the apology and vouchers, but it was many hours before they updated our flight info to show that it would be late.

At 11:43 am, they finally acknowledged that the flight would be a couple of hours late and issued us each a $7 meal voucher.  Anyone know a meal available at an airport for only $7?

Throughout the day, the scheduled departure got pushed back again and again.  It finally took off at 9:18pm, almost 7 hours later than scheduled:

Fortunately for us, though, we weren’t on that Spirit flight.  When I saw how things were going, I booked an afternoon Delta flight for 24,500 miles plus $5.60, each.  That wasn’t cheap, but it was worth it.  We were both upgraded to first class (I have Delta Diamond status) and enjoyed the return trip.  The Delta flight took off a minute early and arrived in Detroit 11 minutes early:

Spirit Refund

While waiting at the gate for our Delta return flight, I texted Spirit to ask if we could cancel our flights and get our money back.  Initially we were told that we would get $10 credit each because our bookings were non-refundable.  I replied with a question “is that true even if the flight is extremely late?”  The reply was great:

I am so sorry about that, I have just checked that for you, I will go ahead and cancel the flight for you and initiate a refund.

Score!  My flight was booked with credits that I had left over from last month (long story), and so they refunded my flight in the form of credits.  That’s fair.  My son’s flight was paid with a credit card, though, and they refunded his ticket to the credit card!

I might book Spirit in the future, but…

I don’t blame Spirit for the long delay on our booked flight.  All airlines face issues that sometimes cause long delays.  In fact, Spirit’s on-time performance is better than most other U.S. airlines (but not as good as Delta’s).  And I was impressed that they offered both proactive compensation and full refunds.

The problem is that Spirit doesn’t have the ability to get you where you need to go when things go wrong.  When things go wrong with a Delta flight, Delta can usually put you on another Delta flight (but maybe with connections) or can even put you on an AA or United flight.  Spirit doesn’t have the route network or interline agreements for doing either.

Also, unlike most other carriers within the U.S., Spirit still charges for flight changes and cancellations.  I love the flexibility of changing or cancelling flights when needed.  With Spirit, those with Gold status get one free change per booking, but that’s it.

Despite all of the above, there are times I might book Spirit in the future.  Sometimes they simply have the best price by a large margin.  More importantly to me, though, is that they sometimes have the best flight times for my needs.  When that happens, I could imagine booking Spirit if I was confident that I wouldn’t need to cancel the flight.  But, even if that happens, I’ll book a refundable flight on a competing airline as back-up.  That way, if the Spirit flight gets cancelled or delayed, I’ll have another good option.  And if the Spirit flight flies as scheduled, I’ll cancel or reschedule the back-up flight.

Conclusion

It’s unfortunate that my Spirit flight got so massively delayed that I didn’t even fly it.  I was looking forward to doing a side-by-side review comparing Delta’s regional first class to Spirit’s Big Front Seat.  The experience, though, reminded me that there are more reasons to avoid Spirit than my previous (and wrong) expectations that the in-flight experience would be bad.  Unlike most other carriers in the U.S., Spirit still charges for changes and cancellations.  And, when things go wrong, there’s little they can do to reaccommodate fliers.  That said, if price is your main driver, Spirit is usually significantly cheaper than others, even after accounting for baggage fees.  And, I was impressed with some aspects of how they handled our delay.  They proactively sent $50 vouchers towards future flights and gave us $7 meal vouchers.  Considering that many fliers probably spent less than $50 for the flight anyway, that’s pretty good!  And the fact that they fully refunded our flight was great.

What about you?  What are your thoughts about flying Spirit?  Comment below.

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Dee More

You could not possibly pay me enough to fly on Spirit unless the one worst airline in the world, American Airlines, was the only available alternative. Then I would pay them to avoid AA.

Doug DeNunzio

The correct company quote on a flight is important to keep track of over a holiday season.

DMK

I find it hard to resist the price to fly Spirit. I usually fly 2x a year from PIT to MCO. Spirit is usually ok between these 2 destinations. So far, I have only had one return flight cancelled and we had to remain in MCO overnight and fly the next day. A bit of an inconvenience, but again the price makes my decision every time.

Eugenio Beltran

I have the misfortune to choose a flight from FLL to LIM in Spirit. That was my first and last. I am a 64 year-old with more than 30 rounds around the globe. I do not need to be treated like a parcel on a MARTA seat for more than 5 hours. I pay more with gusto.

Beverly Nickelson

My LIM to FLL flight was the last straw with Spirit for me, Eugenio. Zero leg room, no recline seats and not so much as a drop of water on an overnight, international flight. Plus we took off late. Horrid experience. Before that, on a different trip from ORD to Orlando, Spirit cancelled a flight last-minute while we were waiting at the gate! They offered zero help in securing another flight, just left us high and dry. In New Orleans, Spirit had overbooked our flight, so they talked us into switching to an earlier flight with another airline knowing full well our chances were slim of making it through airport rigamarole in time to actually catch that flight. The agent at the desk lied straight to our faces when I kept asking if we’d have enough time. We only made it onto the flight because of the kindness of MANY strangers who let us go past them in the looong line for security. No more Spirit for me.

Louisa Briggd

After having waited for delayed flight that was changed 4 good times, finally boarded and served some lousy snacks……booked through an online agent and had insurance for the which was meant to compensate me incase of delay or any other serious issue, l was happy that l will get compensated after all the stress associated with flying with Spirit airline only for me to be told when l put in compensate form that it should have been done before boarding ..what a way to reap people of their hard earned money and time….don’t think l will want to try that spirit stunt even at the cheap rate as l saw it as penny wise ,Pounds foolish, not with how much they charged per bag compared to their counterpact.

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Duey

Besides earning millions of miles per year, some of us are curious how many million brain cells you are killing by wearing the M95 mask, shown to cause oxygen debt, and which had never been proven to stop coronavirus, which, at 1 to 2 microns, can easily get through the smallest pores in that mask. Are you awre there are no randomized controlled trials proving that masks have ever stopped infection or transmission of the coronavirus?

If you delete this comment, then you don’t believe in free speech, and you support communists like Stalin, who said, “those who control education will control the people.”

Marty

Why not check how terrible that mask is about killing brain cells with your local doctor and nurse; they may have some better knowledge than yourself, just saying.

Bobby

I agree. People are sheep. They follow the leaders… But the leaders are laughing at you, because they don’t follow their own rules.
Rules for thee… Not for me

Hansen

Educate yourself with some actual educated people vs the high school dropout sitting in his mothers basement posting uneducated memes.
So all these medical professionals who have worn masks long before Covid have no clue what they are doing? You know more than they do?
Yes, the individual microscopic virus can pass through the masks. But your ignorance is showing. The virus does not travel on its own! When someone coughs or sneezes he or she expels little accumulated masses, not individual viruses. Those droplets don’t pass through the masks.
And everyone who is educated also understands that masks are not the perfect solution. They are deterrents that effectively work to slow the spread. Fewer infected people means others aren’t being exposed as often, giving them a better chance to stay healthy.
And why post here?

Dee More

Delete this comment.

Kim Franz

The day before a flight this spring Spirit rerouted a direct flight from Kansas City to Detroit to Kansas City to Orlando to Detroit. And proceeded to leave my baggage in Orlando. What kind of nonsense is that. Seems a little thing, but that was my end with them. Their attendants were very good however. One had to corral a passenger who was bound and determined to use the bathroom during severe turbulence. Twice.

Natarsha Kusser

I fly every month and because of funding I usually have to fly spirit. There was a time when I could fly whatever. I have to say I have had my ups and downs with spirit one time they charged me for bag and I had flown many times with that bag. With no issues. Overall I do compare between Jet Blue and spirit with spirit always being cheaper.

steve

have flown Spirit a few times mostly lga-myr. and EWR-MCO. 95%on time every flight. I f you catch a great price book it! Wish they would allow golf bags at $25 each way. think about that SPIRIT!

Gino

I like spirit the fares r cheap but the big seat up front is the key on one flight the flight attendant opened the lav door for each approaching passenger ever see that before? I don’t think so they r expanding and now fly to Ecuador where we go occasionally we wd take them next trip but the connecting flight wouldn’t b convenient very satisfied

Geo

Spirit lol give me a break. I will rather get from point A to B in a dunky than fly in that nonsense airlines

Last edited 10 days ago by Geo