Spirit Airlines’ Big Front Seats, with their 36″ pitch and 18.5″ width, are not quite as large as the 38″ pitch, 20″ width seats you’re likely to get in first class on a major airline. However, they’re a lot bigger than the seats you’ll get in economy—and in some cases, a lot more affordable.
As The Points Guy explains:
A month from now, to fly from Houston to Las Vegas on a Friday night, Spirit Airlines wants $69 to fly in a small seat without a specific advance seat assignment (so you could land in a middle seat at check-in). Going for an assigned Big Front Seat would add $54, for a total of $124 for a pretty comfy ride to Vegas. (Be sure and use the best credit card for airfare when making your purchase.)
United wants $211 for the same route at about the same time on a Basic Economy fare that also wouldn’t come with an advance seat assignment. A regular economy ticket with a seat assignment on United costs $246 (twice the cost of a Spirit Big Front seat ticket). United’s domestic first class seat, which are basically the same as Spirit’s Big Front Seat, ring in on that flight at $435 — 3.5 times the cost of Spirit’s similar seat.
I know what you’re thinking. Sure, a Big Front Seat on Spirit is less expensive than a Basic Economy seat on United, at least in this case. But doesn’t Spirit nickel-and-dime you on a bunch of other stuff?
Let’s do a little more math:
With United’s Basic Economy package, a checked bag will cost you $30—but any carry-on bag larger than a small personal item (which United measures as 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches) will automatically get checked, and you’ll get charged a $25 gate handling charge on top of the $30 bag-check fee.
On Spirit, you get one free personal item (measuring no more than 18 x 14 x 8 inches) no matter which seat you choose. Carry-on bag and checked-bag rates are variable; when I ran the numbers on an IAH-LAS flight leaving August 7, carry-on bags cost $28 and the first checked bag cost $23.
However, Spirit will cost you $10 (each way) to check in with an airport agent, though you can check in with Spirit.com or the Spirit mobile app for free. Spirit also famously charges for all snacks and beverages served during the flight, including water.
So let’s use The Points Guy’s numbers and imagine that you’re going to fly one-way IAH-LAS on either a $124 Spirit Big Front Seat ticket or a $211 United Basic Economy ticket.
Let’s also imagine that you’ll check a bag, adding another $23 to your Spirit total and $30 to your United total.
At this point, the Spirit Big Front Seat option is still less expensive—$147 compared to United’s $241—and should stay that way after the final round of taxes and fees. In fact, it’ll still cost less overall even if you pay $10 to check in with a Spirit airport agent and buy water on the plane.
I ran the math on a different theoretical itinerary: ORD-LGA, leaving Wednesday August 7 and returning Saturday August 10. With Spirit, the least expensive base fare costs $128.48. Adding the Big Front Seat costs $41 each way, for a total of $245.58 with taxes and fees. One carry-on bag will cost $37 each way and one checked bag will cost $32 each way.
With United, the least expensive Basic Economy fare costs $175.81, and comes to $217.60 with taxes and fees. That’s before paying $30 to check a bag and paying $25+$30 if you accidentally bring a carry-on bag that doesn’t fit the size limitations. In this case, United is less expensive if you’re willing to fly Basic Economy instead of faux first class.
The least expensive Basic Economy fare on American, if you want another point of comparison, also costs $217.60 with taxes and fees. You’ll pay $30 for a checked bag, and both a carry-on and a small personal item are free.
Of course, all of this math changes if you have a credit card that gets you free bags on a particular airline, or if you’re a member of the Spirit $9 Fare Club, or if you’re doing United Mileage Plus or paying for a Spirit Thrills Combo or taking advantage of any of the other price-lowering offers that airlines provide.
But The Points Guy’s assessment of Spirit’s Big Front Seat—that it’s as comfortable as a domestic first class seat, and can be less expensive than a comparable economy flight if you do the math—holds up.
So the next time you fly, ask yourself: is an almost-first-class seat experience at an economy price worth flying Spirit Airlines?