Got Spirit?: Sales at an All-Time High, Quality at an All-Time Low

As summer approaches, most of us are hoping for a summer getaway. Perhaps one of the most stressful aspects of travel is getting to your destination, and with airfare only increasing, cost is often a key factor in making travel decisions. For a penny-pinching traveler, Spirit Airlines is a frequent air carrier of choice, due to its prices that are considerably lower than its competitors. Spirit’s average base fare is around $79, as opposed to a competitor’s base fare, which would be well over $100.

So how is Spirit able to offer fares at such low prices? An important thing to bear in mind when considering Spirit Airlines is that their business model is drastically different than that of Delta, American Airlines, or Southwest Airlines. While those airlines are quality and customer-satisfaction driven, Spirit is driven strictly only by low prices. They have the ability to offer fares at such low prices since they cut out a lot of expenses that other airlines take on in order to offer their passengers a more comfortable and ritzy experience, such as in-flight movies, free refreshments, and ample amounts of space. On a Spirit flight, they have none of the mentioned extras, as well as a more compactly designed plane that is plastered with ads and leaves its customers cramped and crowded. Spirit flights serve one function, getting you from one place to another as cheaply as possible. Spirit has acknowledged the poor quality of their flight experiences, and after over 16,000 customer reviews their flights are rated the poorest quality in the country. However, this does not phase them in the slightest. Spokeswoman, Misty Pinson stated that to the typical Spirit customer, quality is not that huge of an issue, since price is the biggest priority for them. With that in mind, it is clear that Spirit goes after a very specific type of traveler, one who is incredibly price conscious and is willing to sacrifice comfort in order to travel as cheaply as possible. This business model has been working for Spirit. Over the past few years, sales have been steady, and have even increased by 23% in the past quarter. They have also seen an increase in the number of passengers per flight, averaging about an 85% occupancy in 2013 so far.

Though Spirit has been quite blase about their poor reviews, they still express some interest in breaking down the poor public misconceptions about their airline created through bad press. They make it very explicit that it is unhelpful to be grouped with airlines such as American Airlines or Delta, since their business model is completely different and they have a very different focus in terms of their target market.

Do you think Spirit Airline’s business model of sacrificing quality for price is a sustainable one? As a traveler, would you choose Spirit strictly based on price?

14 thoughts on “Got Spirit?: Sales at an All-Time High, Quality at an All-Time Low

  1. This was an interesting post, with the most interesting part being that the spokeswoman Misty Pinson said that quality is not that huge of an issue. It is interesting that they focus solely on pricing, and I could definitely see that working. Personally I would choose Spirit for trips who’s flight time is not that long, as the money saved would be better than nice service. For longer flights, I would most likely pick a different company because then the service would be worth the extra money.

  2. I think that this strategy is definitely sustainable domestically. I fly 10-15 times per year, and each time, I am looking for the cheapest flight. I know I am not the only one – In today’s marketplace, with search engines for flights like Kayak and others, people are looking for a bargain.

    When flying, I have become enchanted with Southwest. Despite their goofy boarding process, the experience is predictable and easy. There are no hidden fees, and you get where you need to go quickly, and without too much of a hassle. When comparing airlines like Southwest and Spirit to an airline like United, I value the predictability and consistency of the service. Out of all my flights last year, my worst experience was with United Airlines. The puddle-jumper plane that we flew on was much more uncomfortable and much more expensive than a flight with Southwest from the same connecting airports.

    I say all this to say, spending extra doesn’t get you much better service than being cheap and sucking it up for a 2-3 hour flight within the Continental US.

  3. I have flown spirit only once and I never will again. Across the board from customer service to quality were lackluster at best. I am not sure how an airline is willing to accept not focusing on quality. Airlines are part of the hospitality and service industries and by definition quality should be at the forefront of their model. what is amazing about Spirit is they advertise their “low rates” without holding back. The fact of the matter is if you incorporate all the additional fees and such the fares are really not that impressive, especially for the quality you get. Even if you join their $9 flight club, the flight times are not convenient and the availability is extremely limited.

    I flew Spirit from Chicago to Las Vegas for $260 round trip, which on the surface seems pretty good. However, our take off time was at 11pm, my knees were in my stomach when sitting and the flight attendants were less than friendly. I normally fly Southwest religiously but at the time their best fare was $320. Was the $60 price difference worth it to me? I thought so when booking but after experiencing all Spirit has to offer I would never abandon Southwest again. Southwest is reliable and their customer centric model focusing on quality is well worth playing the extra $60. I firmly believe that Spirit’s model is not sustainable for the long term, especially as the “major” airlines are using their vast resources to improve their own product.

  4. I actually had a very similar experience as the last person who left a comment. I flew out to Las Vegas as cheap as possible and found myself also on a Spirit flight. I too was uncomfortable and did not even have a window to see out of when I arrived. Overall there are two main types of flyers; the business flyers or the recreational vacation flyers. Both types are usually on a budget, but would likely put quality on the forefront of importance.

  5. I think Spirit’s strategy of sacrificing quality for price is sustainable because they will find individuals who are looking for the cheaper flights and they are willing to give up better service for a cheaper price. To prove that point, you have even said their sales have been steady and recently increased showing that people are utilizing Spirit’s airlines. Throughout my life, United has been the poorest quality I have experienced from an airliner; however, it was worth it because I was able to sacrifice two hours of travel to be less comfortable for a cheaper price. Like the blogger said above me, in a situation that requires longer flights, I would too choose a different company.

  6. What I think is great about what Spirit is doing, is creating a strong identity and model for what they are trying to accomplish. They know who they are, their target market, and what they stand for. Just as Holiday Inn isn’t trying to be The Ritz Carlton, or Mcdonald’s is certainly not Gibson’s Steakhouse, Spirit recognized a need and put forth a model to create an opportunity within the airline industry. As a flyer myself, I always book the cheapest flight, no matter who the airline, so I understand where they are coming from. And who needs all of the online movies and snacks when you can bring this stuff on yourself anyway? I commend Spirit on their efforts, and it’s obviously paying off since they sales are going up. They need to stick to their plan and not apologize for bad reviews. Those reviews are based off of individuals who have different expectations that Spirit clearly does not have.

  7. I actually do not think that Spirit’s strategy is working for them. I have flown Spirit in the past and will never fly them again. They make traveling so hectic. They do not assign seats, it’s a first come first serve basis. They don’t offer drinks or really anything on the flight at all. It just seems like they nickle and dime you for every little thing. My mom also works in the travel industry and I know that she will not book any of her clients on Spirit. As a traveler, I think that you want the cheapest price but you also want a pleasant experience. In comparison to other airlines, I would much rather pay a little bit more to have the things like an in-flight movie, refreshments, and assigned seats. I think it makes traveling much more enjoyable. It will be interesting to see if Spirit continues to stick with their business model. I think that for an airline, customer satisfaction is the most important. If your customers aren’t satisfied, they will not choose your airline again.

  8. Your article made me think about some bad memories we had from travelling through Spirit. We had booked our vacation package through them. But we were travelling with our little one and wanted to reschedule our return journey. Any other airline would have accommodated us given our situation and made us pay a small fee. But Spirit decided to charge us a huge differential charge and they also made us pay a service charge of some kind. And yes, the seats were cramped and it was the most uncomfortable journey ever. We made a mistake choosing Spirit because of their price, but we ended up paying a lot more in total. It is good to be a cheap, but if the airline is not customer friendly then it is just a matter of time before people stop choosing it.

  9. This article stood out to me the most because just this last weekend I flew Spirit Air to Colombia, South America for my cousins wedding. Both flights to and from Bogota were TERRIBLE. I always say, “You get what you pay for” and after flying Spirit Airlines my saying was definitely validated. The service was definitely lacking and every little thing is extra. It cost $45 for every checked bag (each way) and every food and beverage is charged on only credit cards, NO cash accepted. I definitely believe Sprit Airline’s business model is definitely sacrificing quality for price. I would pay a little extra for a better quality airline, however know many people who would prefer the opposite. I personally would not fly Spirit Airlines again after my experience, however believe Spirit will unfortunately be sustainable because there are many people who don’t mind putting up with these various inconveniences.

  10. I’ve flown spirit before from Chicago to LA, and it was by far the worst flight experience I’ve ever had. I can basically attest to all mentioned above and on top of that, the flight was only 2 hours late. But that was 2 1/2 years ago and I’ve still heard of people having terrible experiences with spirit. I can maybe see that if someone is 100% based on price and they don’t care about all the horrible things that come with that price. Maybe for a short flight, it might be worth it compared to other airlines and the bus. I think people have to determine if the price difference is worth the hassle of being extremely frustrated for 6 hours.

  11. Over my lifetime, I have flown on both flagship carriers and discount carriers. While I can say that I have never flown on Spirit Airlines, I have a general idea of the experience that they provide to their customers. I feel that overall, Spirit airlines is simply playing to the desires of their consumer market to which they serve. From an economic standpoint, I can easily envision the consumer that runs the line between the discount carriers such as Southwest and Sprit and that of the flagship carriers to move between the groups depending upon the economic conditions and this could easily explain the recent growth of the Spirit consumer base. Additionally, the economic downturn that we recently experienced has also changed consumer behaviors and perhaps the new trending of higher levels of savings has perhaps also driven consumers over to the discount carriers.
    In the end, I still think that there are simply two groupings of consumers between the two. After speaking to many individuals within my professional life, I firmly believe that for the most part, the personal preferences of consumers are defined as either flagship or discount. Personally, I simply refuse to fly on a discount carrier. After having had the opportunity to fly on Air Tran and Southwest in the past, I simply refuse to fly on such carriers. In my eyes, the discounts are simply not worth the hassle that leaves me to fly on the flagships.

  12. I agree that Spirit is a discount carrier, but in the end we need to conclude that some people are looking for the cheapest flight to get where they’re going. In my industry there are customers who constantly state they are looking for the best customer service and quality, however in the end are not willing to pay any sort of premium for this. In the end, there are either certain customers or certain situations where customers are looking for the cheapest product/service and this service is not worth the extra cost.

    Spirit Airlines has figured out a strategy that works. Not all customers will be happy, but the company has focused on a certain direction and customer base in order to try and maximize profits.

  13. Reading the previous comments along with the blog itself is quite interesting in the fact that most people appear to believe that major airlines (United and AA) have better customer service. I find that comedic since although I have never flown Spirit, my experiences in coach for AA and United have been less than stellar. Although the author states that the in-flight movie and free drinks are a benefit, I often find myself being greeted with an exaggerated sigh when I request something other than the norm (Sprite Zero perhaps, as opposed to Diet Coke). In addition, when the drinks are not being served, the flight attendants are not to be found again until the plane is grounded. I have had the pleasure of flying first class for business trips a few times and while the meal, wine and hot towels are simply a unnecessary luxury, the fact that you are actually treated like a person, and asked a few times within the trip if there is anything you need, I am leaning heavily towards spending the extra dollars just for the respect from the airline employees. Those of you that have not flow first class, I seriously recommend it for the fact you will realize how horribly you are treated in coach. And for those of you reading this that think that I have unlimited funds and that I sound like a snob, I can guarantee you that my husband and I are some of the most cost-conscious people you will ever meet, often clipping coupons or shopping at discount stores. But as stated above, you get what you pay for and unfortunately, first class on any airline is the only place you will be respected as a person.

  14. Absolutely not, poor quality is not worth paying a slightly lower price. At least to me that is. One more thing to keep in mind is that Spirit charges $25 per checked bag and $33 per CARRY ON. I’ve heard a lot of colleagues, friends and family complain (myself included) about how they advertise a lower price but then it ends up being about the same when you add all the baggage fees (especially both ways – to your destination and back). I flew them one time and will never fly them again for this purpose. I think it’s extremely poor customer service to advertise a lower fee and then “nickel and dime” the customer.

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