I've only been flying domestically with Spirit for the last few years or so. My initial reaction was that I was being charged a fee for many of the items that other airlines include in their pricing structure. Even though the overall prices appeared lower than other airlines, I still wondered if it was a budget airline. Therefore, I dove into the details and did some analysis to get a better idea of the pricing structure to be in a better place to decide if Spirit could sometimes fit my needs when flying. I found that most Spirit flights were less expensive that most other major airlines and if you can accept the fact that it's a 'No Frills Airline' and you only pay for the services you want, this airline might just fit your needs.
If you're comfortable flying with Spirit more than once per year, you can join the $9 Fare Club, enrollment is $59.95. Once enrolled, your carry-on bags are between $26 to $36 (one way), depending on when and how you register. Standard carry-on bags are between $35 and $45 (one way). Therefore, if you a member of the $9 Fare Club and you book as a couple, with one carry-on bag, your savings for one round-trip flight is roughly $36 ($9 times 4). In other words, the Fare Club pays for itself in no time if someone regularly travels on Spirit with a carry-on bag.
One nice thing about Spirit is that you can bring on one personal item without an additional fee although I could see this changing in the future where you could be charged for that personal item.
A constant theme I've read about some novice Spirit travelers is "You can't even get a glass of water. That's ridiculous, all I want is a cup of water. They nickel and dime you to death." It's true, you'll have to pay for water but it's a la carte flying experience, where you only pay for the services you want. If you like the prices and flight schedules, you bring an empty water bottle through TSA and then fill it up at the gate. In terms of snacks, bring along a sandwich, peanuts or other snack food during the flight. It's not hard to do if you're organized. I think infrequent flyers or those unfamiliar with Spirit are more likely to have a more challenging time with this business model.
Although there are no free drinks on board, flyers are still welcome to purchase soda, water, beer, snacks or small liquor bottles on the flight. To keep the process streamlined, cash is not accepted so either a debit or credit card is required. One benefit, because little food or drink is served on-board means the airplane is typically cleaner than other airlines.
One other advantage about no free drinks or food on-board are the aisles to the restrooms are not constantly clogged with the flight attendant's carts. Which means, if you have an aisle seat you'll be bumped less by those carts.
On one recent Spirit trip, I sat near a woman who was in a standard seat who noticed there were openings in the emergency exit row. She asked the flight attendant if she could move there and the attendant said no. The woman was a little surprised and initially did not get the policy. She didn't realize you pay more to sit in that row that has 30 percent more legroom. Again, you get what you pay for.
No frills mean no frills. Customers can try it out for a few times and decide if it's something they like. Not all customers will prefer this business model, but there's certainly a market for flexible budget-conscious travelers.
For my wife and I, we have a place in FL so when we travel to that destination from Chicago, so we fly directly to Tampa with only our personal item. We may splurge (may want to call it to splurge) where we'll choose the emergency exit to have more legroom. Each seat is between $20 and $33 per flight per person. Also, if you choose the emergency exit close to the front of the plane, you'll be one of the first to depart the plane. And if we each have one personal item, we're quickly on our way out of the airport without having to wait for luggage. Anyway, getting back to seats, a big front seat is available (wider and more legroom) and will cost about $60 per person. For budget conscious folks, a standard seat is between $15 - $23 per person. If you don't claim your seat, one will be assigned to you although you lose control on where you will sit.
One troublesome aspect I've experienced with Spirit is the gate location. Compared to other airlines, the gates may be the farthest from the terminal and passengers may have to wait longer for a gate to become available. This may mean the airline meets their arrival time goal but when you factor in waiting on a tarmac for an available gate, may add 20 or so minutes to your overall travel time.
I've recently read that Spirit's newer jets do not allow the seats to recline. The goal is to eventually have all planes configured that way but will involve retrofitting older planes not to recline. I like this approach, especially if you're on a 1-2 hour flight or so, non-reclining seats should not be an issue for most passengers.
Average legroom is 28 inches which is on the small size. Carriers such as United, American and Delta average 31 inches of legroom. Frontier is the same size as Spirit. However, with very competitive prices on Spirit, you can upgrade to a seat with more legroom and still save money. Again, the more you fly with Spirit, the better equipped you may be to fly with comfort and still fly inexpensively.
Overall, is Spirit a good value? That really depends on the needs of the traveler. If you choose a Big Front Seat, opt for the Thrills Combo (which includes a carry-on bag and checked bag), purchase food and drinks on the airplane, the savings may not be found or are limited. If you only fly with a personal item and bring snacks and water on the plane and your only splurge is an Exit Seat, flying with Spirit often provides significant savings.