Spirit Airlines Free Spirit

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The Free Spirit frequent flyer program associated with Spirit Airlines is lacking on just about every front. Miles are rewarded at a below-average rate for standard flyers and expire after just three months of inactivity, and redemption options are costly. Even elite-status holders gain little for their loyalty.

Spirit Airlines is a budget carrier that some travelers love to hate, but the carrier seems to take it all in stride. That's not because management is indifferent to public opinion, according to media reports; it's just that Spirit defines itself as the low-cost airline equivalent of a bus -- not as nice as a car or train, perhaps, but much cheaper.

It's little surprise, then, that when it comes to elite status, our Free Spirit review found that the program doesn't have much to offer. There are Elite and VIP levels, but the only benefits they provide are earning 100 percent of miles flown (instead of the 50 percent awarded to the standard "Somebody" class) and priority boarding. The Elite level can be reached by using the Spirit World MasterCard once a month, or by earning 12,000 Free Spirit miles or spending $1,200 on base fares during the prior six months. VIP status doubles the requirements without offering any additional earning perks. On the bright side, miles can be earned through partner offerings, such as hotel stays and filling out surveys online. But why bother?

The primary Free Spirit program is similarly meager. Regular members are credited with just half the miles they've flown, and the miles expire after three months of account inactivity. Redemption for a free award ticket starts at 10,000 miles for a regional flight up to 1,249 miles. An off-peak, one-region flight can be exchanged for 2,500 miles for holders of the co-branded credit card, but the card comes with a $19 to $59 annual fee after the first year and reward offerings associated with the card are relatively lackluster (e.g., 2 miles per dollar spent, and a 5,000-mile bonus for spending $10,000 during the year).

Our Free Spirit review also found that booking an award ticket can be costly. As on other airlines, award-ticket seekers must still pay standard fees, but Spirit also charges extra for award tickets booked less than 179 days from the departure date. The fee is $15 for 21 to 179 days prior, $75 for seven to 20 days prior, and $100 for six days or fewer before departure (in which case it may be cheaper to just buy the ticket).

Does all this suggest that Spirit is a non-starter for anyone eager to play the frequent flyer game? No. Done right, no-frills Spirit Airlines' Free Spirit can help passengers save money. One frequent flyer blogger tells of saving her family more than $300 on a trip and how to avoid some of the fees. But travelers who expect rewards for loyalty should look elsewhere for a more generous frequent flyer program.

Louis DeNicola

Louis DeNicola is a freelance personal finance writer who specializes in credit, debt, and practical money-saving tips. He loves stacking savings opportunities to get amazing deals, traveling for free using credit card rewards, and teaching others how to do the same. Connect with Louis by visiting louisdenicola.com.

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