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The economics of buying airfare for a family of four people is a sobering reality. When you multiply almost anything by four (or more) people, you get a big number in a real hurry. Buying a $325 airline ticket for myself may sting, but not be a huge hit to the budget. If I purchase four of those, that is $1,300 and roughly the same amount as our monthly mortgage payment for just one round of flights. However, there is often another way to get from Point A to Point B without even hauling through your stash of miles and points. That economical air transportation solution comes in the form of low-cost carriers such as Spirit and Frontier.
Spirit’s myth is worse than the reality
In frequent traveling circles, or heck in almost any circles, there is a tremendous amount of stigma against flying low-cost carriers, specifically Spirit Airlines. I get it – they have cheeky ads, yellow planes, tiny seats, everything costs extra, and their on-time percentage and customer service used to be pretty bad. However, I think the reality now is a little different than the myth. While they do charge extra for almost everything, their on-time stats are actually beating other US carriers in some recent months.
Their focus on being on-time and with decent customer service seems to be paying off, though it is true that in irregular operations you may have fewer options when flying Spirit. However, that is where paying with a credit card with good built-in trip delay coverage and having miles as a last ditch back-up plan is key. Otherwise, if the plane is safe and on time, I can deal with being a little squished and pack my own drinks and snacks every now and then.
From my friends, to neighbors, to the fanciest frequent travelers, just about everyone I know who has begrudgingly flown Spirit when the price savings was undeniable has come off of the flight saying, “that wasn’t so bad”, at least for a relatively short flight. If they got the Big Front Seat, odds are they might have even liked the flight.
Why my family is flying Spirit Airlines
The reason to give Spirit a try is simple, when the other airlines want $300 – $400 per round trip, Spirit may want just 1/3 of that price…or less. Not only that, but the price you see for Spirit tickets online isn’t even the best price you can get. You can save money on Spirit airline tickets by going to the airport to purchase them in person. We aren’t even talking about saving a couple bucks, but instead, we are talking about saving almost $40 per round trip per person!
Before I get into that, let me walk you through why my family is flying Spirit even though we have elite status with other airlines and miles and points to burn.
We plan to take a family trip to Orlando this summer for a few nights to check out the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios and spend a few days Disney World right before my youngest daughter turns three and is no longer free at those two theme parks. This will serve as her third birthday party, and actually will sub in for a big party for my oldest daughter this year, too. She is dying to visit the Harry Potter attractions at Universal Orlando, which none of us have ever been to, and agreed to trade a big party for a day with Harry. Skipping throwing big parties this year will mostly offset the cost of the theme park tickets (especially since the littlest is still free), but of course, we want to keep our transportation costs as low as we can.
I’ve been watching flight prices for a while, United wants roughly $380 per round trip ticket for the July week we plan to travel. Saver awards are available on some of the dates, but not our ideal dates, and at very non-ideal travel times. I thought about spending 15,000 Citi ThankYou points transferred to LifeMiles to book each United operated round trip saver award, but that would still come to 60,000 points + well over $100 in fees to get flight times and dates we didn’t really want.
However, Spirit was selling tickets online for our perfect travel dates at the ideal travel times for about $167 per round trip. At a total of $666 for the four of us, that is a better deal than spending 60,000 – 100,000 points plus fees to fly non-ideal flight times with United on awards. It is also certainly better than the $1,520 it would cost us to book our flights with cash directly with United.
Save money on Spirit Airlines tickets by purchasing at the airport
Paying $666 for four peak travel time round trip tickets on Spirit from Houston to Orlando is certainly fair, but I wanted to do better than fair. A couple of days ago, I drove to the Houston airport and walked up to the Spirit Airlines ticket desk to see how much we could really save by purchasing our Spirit tickets in person.
My understanding was that you can avoid paying the $19.99 per way passenger usage charge by booking at the airport, though usually Spirit charges more for everything you do in person at the airport, so I had to see it to believe it.
I was almost nervous walking up to the Spirit ticket counter, but that trepidation quickly melted away as the Spirit staff couldn’t have been nicer and said they sell tickets to people at the counter all day every day. They were thrilled I knew exactly what I wanted as apparently many customers who come to the airport to purchase their tickets are very unprepared and unsure of what they want.
We bought our four tickets from Houston to Orlando and back for the same exact prices shown online, minus the $19.99 each way per person. For a family of four, that is about a $160 savings on our Spirit Airlines tickets just by purchasing them at the airport! Sometimes that avoidable fee makes up the bulk of the Spirit Airlines ticket price!
In the end, our total for four round-trip tickets dropped from $666 to $506 by purchasing our Spirit Airlines tickets in person. That was well worth the detour to the airport, and is something I would absolutely do again for a similar trip for all of us in the future.
Our total to fly will be at least somewhat higher than $506 since we will need to bring at least one big checked bag with our stuff. Since we can all bring a free backpack and we won’t need bulky clothes in the summer, we won’t need to pay for that many bags. Spirit does permit you to check a free car seat and stroller if needed, so there are no extra costs for those items. We will also likely pay for seat assignments, just to avoid any potential seating problems since we have little kiddos.
To say I’m excited about flying Spirit Airlines with my family would be an exaggeration, but I am excited about how we saved money by booking our Spirit tickets at the airport. I am also excited that we made the decision to spend as little as possible while getting the flight times and dates that we wanted to head to the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’!
Has your family ever saved money by booking Spirit Airlines tickets at the airport?
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.