As I sit in my seat on a US Airways A321, we are passing by a Spirit Airlines A319 on the tarmac. It has made me think about low cost carriers and their appeal. Low cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier have their place among the big boys and they survive for one reason, they are dirt cheap tickets… well that's at least how they sell it to you.
Often when I am searching for a domestic flight, I always get excited when I see some really low ticket cost pop up, and then I quickly realize that it's most likely a Spirit flight that has just weaseled its way into my results. People may be asking me right now, but why don't you fly Spirit if the cost of a flight is so low. There are a number of answers to that, first off, Spirit doesn't fly internationally, and those are the flights I want to take in first class, the long ones that give me a lie flat seat. Spirit doesn't do any of this and their point program is a joke. Their points expire so shortly after getting them that not even I would be able to keep them active. They really don't have a first class product on any kind on their planes.
I think the most important thing to realize with these carriers is that they really aren't as low cost as they come across. Companies like Spirit and Frontier actually hide the true cost of the ticket. While you may indeed pay $85 for a ticket to some exotic or not so exotic location, if you want to get to that place like a human being, it'll cost you more than the advertised price. Do you want to bring luggage with you? That'll cost money… yes, I am including carrying anything on the plane, not just checked luggage. So if you like wearing clothes on vacation, it'll cost you. Also, are you someone who prints their airline ticket at the airport? Yep, that costs more money than I can account for… not exactly sure how they justify that price, but that's the obligation if you would like to print a ticket. There are other charges for normal behavior, and they even offer a package deal to get all the things you would expect to get on any other carrier's flight.
The thing to keep in mind when considering these low cost carriers is that these extra costs is how they make their money. Often when you factor in the cost of being nickel and dimed by these companies, the cost of the ticket comes out to be the same, if not worse than the cost of just purchasing a ticket from a larger carrier with a better loyalty program.
Keep in mind, there is a place for this type of carrier, sometimes it really is cheaper to go this route. The one thing they can't provide to me though, are useful air miles that I can make use of for a great flight to someplace far away in a class that I could never afford otherwise. Loyalty does pay off when it comes to air carriers, as long as you know who the right carrier is to be loyal to.