Southwest vs Spirit, or the battle of the low-cost airlines, is worth a look if you’re planning a vacation.
Unless money is no object, you’re probably looking at ways to maximize your every travel dollar. And airfare usually gobbles a good bit of your budget.
So finding ways to save money on air travel tickets is one of the most sensible things you can do when planning a trip.
Enter low-cost airlines. These no-frills carriers will do what you pay them to do, which is to fly you from Point A to Point B.
Do you really need anything else? Oh, sure. Lemon-scented, warm, moist towels handed to you before a hot meal service with plates and silverware are nice.
But so is having more money for dining and sightseeing at your actual destination.
In the U.S., the two major low-cost airlines are Southwest Airlines and Spirit. Let’s see how they compare and if they are worth using the next time you fly.
But before we start, no matter what airline you choose, please protect your plans with travel insurance.
You never know what will happen to disrupt your plans between booking and embarking.
We have a few favorite, highly reputable companies we use when we travel.
But World Nomads is one we heartily recommend because of their ease of use and flexibility.
Finally, could your luggage use an upgrade even if you’re sitting sensibly in coach? The answer is like Paris–always a good idea.
This set from COOLIFE Luggage is durable, rolls smoothly, features comfortable handles, and comes in bright colors.
No more staring at a sea of look-alike black bags at luggage claim. Now, on with the debate.
Table of Contents
About Southwest Airlines
In our dive into the whole Spirit vs Southwest Airlines debate, we’ll start with an overview of Southwest Airlines.
It’s the world’s largest low-cost airline and is headquartered in Dallas. It offers scheduled service to 115 airports in the U.S, plus ten other countries.
They are famous for letting “bags fly free.” That means every ticketed passenger gets to check two bags at no additional charge.
About Spirit Airlines
Travelers often compare Southwest Airlines vs Spirit, because the Miramar, Florida, based Spirit is the other major low-cost carrier servicing the U.S., the Caribbean, and Latin America.
Spirit Airlines is best known for ultra-low fares with pricing available for checked bags, extra carryons, preferred seating assignments, snacks, and beverages.
They also offer the purchase of travel insurance, which is advisable.
But one company we like, TravelInsurance.com, allows you to compare rates so you know you’re getting the best rates and coverage.
We recommend checking with them before purchasing travel insurance.
Southwest vs Spirit: How They Are Different
If you compare Southwest vs Spirit, you’ll notice some differences immediately. The main one being where they fly to in the U.S.
With their main hub near downtown Dallas, Southwest Airlines is more centrally located, so they offer routes throughout the country.
In fact, one of their taglines says you’re free to move about the country when you fly with them.
Spirit Airlines is headquartered in Florida.
So it only makes sense that they tend to focus on the eastern portion of the U.S., although they do have flights to and from major west coast cities.
But if you’re flying along the east coast, you may get the best deals on Spirit Airlines.
You can also find and book Spirit through online travel agencies like Scott’s Cheap Flights.
Southwest Flights have to be searched for and booked directly with the airline either on the website or on the phone.
Another major difference is in baggage policies. Southwest Airlines lets you check two pieces of luggage for free.
Spirit charges you for checked baggage and you have to use their website’s bag calculator to get accurate rates.
You’ll pay less if you prepay for your bags. Bags paid for at the airport are more expensive.
Southwest Airlines also serves a complimentary limited selection of non-alcoholic beverages and pretzels during flights.
Spirit Airlines does not offer free drinks or snacks but they do have a menu from where you can make credit or debit card purchases.
Check-in procedures are also different at Southwest vs Spirit. Southwest Airlines allows you to check-in online 24-hours before departure.
When you check-in, you’re assigned a seating number which is on the boarding pass you can print out ahead of time or save to your phone.
As there are no preassigned seats, the higher your number, the more choices you’ll have for seating when you board.
For example, if you check-in and you receive a seating number of B1, then you get to board earlier.
Once you’ve boarded the plane, you’ll get your choice of window or aisle seat and a good chance of direct overhead bin space for your carryons.
If you’re traveling with a group of people or your family, then you can find seats together.
But, if you don’t check in quickly, then you’ll get stuck with D35.
Meaning, you’ll be stuck in the back of the plane in the middle seat in the aisle between the jet engine and lavatory with your backpack crammed under the seat in front of you so you can’t stretch your legs the teensiest bit.
Ask me how I know this.
My advice is to literally set an alert on your phone with the most irritating tone allowable that also emails you every five minutes until you sit down and check in.
It’s very easy to do. They have an app and everything. Takes two seconds.
Spirit Airlines also allows you to check in online or through an app. You can print your boarding pass at home.
If you wait to check-in at the airport, you’ll be charged $10 for a printed boarding pass. So save the tenner and print your pass at home.
Or, check-in and print at the self-service kiosks at the airport.
Unless you’ve paid for a seat assignment, you’ll be assigned one at check-in. It could be a luxurious exit row oasis or a smelly middle seat in the back.
Who knows. It’s sort of romantic in a way, leaving your seat up to fate.
The important thing to remember is that everyone, no matter where they sit on the plane, is going to the same place at the same time.
A geographically undesirable seat assignment won’t prevent you from pulling out the latest Danielle Steele novel and enjoying a few hours of blissful reading.
Another big difference is equipment. Southwest Airlines are flying Boeing 737s, while Spirit is all Airbus, all the way.
Southwest vs Spirit: How They Are Similar
Southwest vs Spirit will also reveal some important similarities. One example is the class of service.
Does Southwest have first class? No, but neither does Spirit.
Everyone is in the same type of service class getting the same soft drinks and snacks. Even the Pope or Beyonce, if onboard your plane, would get the same stuff.
The only seating difference you may encounter is the premium Spirit seat called the Big Front Seat. That’s possibly where you’ll find the Pope and/or Beyonce.
But they would have to pay to upgrade to such chi-chi accommodations. And so can you.
If you can swing it budget-wise, consider this one upgrade and pamper yourself in one of these first-class-style seats.
Both airlines tend to fly out of secondary airports where available. Southwest Airlines’ hub is at Love Field Airport which is near downtown Dallas.
But Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is the major airport of north Texas and is in Irving, between Dallas and Fort Worth.
Incidentally, DFW Airport is the hub for American Airlines.
For decades, American Airlines fought against Southwest’s expansion by supporting the Wright Amendment of 1979.
This amendment protected traffic coming in and out of DFW Airport and limited where flights originating from Love Field could go. It was finally repealed in 2014.
Since then, Southwest has been able to serve more major cities including Orlando, Minneapolis, and Chicago.
Spirit also likes secondary airports, like Arnold Palmer Regional Aiport in Latrobe, Penn., 33 miles outside of Pittsburgh.
The great thing about these regional airports is how easy they are to get in and out of. Traffic around them is usually light and sometimes parking is free.
The airports themselves are typically calmer with fewer people rushing about.
I say typically because I’ve seen my fair share of moody crowds whenever I’ve flown either carrier so there’s no guarantee of good vibes.
But, it’s usually these types of airports where I’ve plunked myself down by the gate and enjoyed a few minutes of preboarding peace and an ice-cold lemonade in a spacious, clean waiting area.
Another very cool similarity is that both airlines will typically offer nonstops between cities.
This is called a point-to-point flight network where the airlines don’t make stops at hubs. This makes for convenient flight times on both airlines.
What this means to you, gentle flyer, is that you get to where you’re going without a layover or flight change mess that could potentially spoil your plans.
What’s Better About Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines has a large network of direct flights to major metropolitan cities.
They have flights to more than 100 places throughout America, including Hawaii, and other vacation destinations in North and Central America.
They also serve the Caribbean Islands.
Southwest Airlines offers three types of fares: Business Select, Anytime, and Wanna Get Away.
All fares include two checked bags, no change fees, no cancellation fees, and free onboard entertainment.
Business Select is the most flexible with the most Rapid Rewards points–more about that later.
You also get priority check-in, a designated security line, and all the benefits of an Anytime fare. Not too shabby.
Anytime fares are also refundable, with same-day changes allowed.
Wanna Get Away will give you credit toward a future flight if you need to cancel and Rapid Reward Points.
Federal regulations limit passengers to one carry-on bag and one personal item, like a purse or briefcase. Southwest does not charge extra for these items.
Customer service is available by phone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also live chat between 6:00 am and 8:00 pm Central Standard Time.
They even have support via Twitter and Facebook, so you’re covered.
For the most complete coverage though, compare travel insurance rates, including for plans offered by Southwest Airlines and Spirit, at AARDY.
That way, even if everything goes sideways, you can take comfort in knowing you can recoup much, if not most, of your losses.
Does Southwest have wifi? Yes, they do on their wifi-enabled aircraft! You can connect for free to watch movies and TV shows.
Or pay $8 to use their Inflight Connectivity to check email and use your web browser. Inflight Connectivity is free for A-list passengers.
This brings us to the next advantage of flying Southwest Airlines–their Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program.
Rapid Rewards members earn points for being loyal SWA flyers similar to other frequent flyer programs.
The higher your tier, the faster you earn points.
But even at the lowest tier, which is the A-list you still have perks like priority boarding, same-day standby, and priority check-in.
To redeem your points, log in to your Rapid Rewards account on the website and view the fares in points.
Select the one you want and check out. Pretty easy.
How much are Southwest points worth? One analysis is that the points are worth approximately 1.4 cents each which is pretty high in the industry.
A question every flyer wants to ask is this one: Is Southwest Airlines safe?
The airline is rated today as a seven-star airline for safety by industry experts at the aviation safety website, AirlineRatings.
What’s Better About Spirit
One of the advantages of Spirit over Southwest is that you can search and compare their routes and fares at online travel agencies like Skyscanner.
So where does Spirit Airlines fly? They offer service to most major cities, including international destinations.
They list 51 domestic destinations and 31 international destinations in 18 different countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
As far as pricing, Spirit offers rock-bottom rates and they include the barest of minimums.
If you’re booking Spirit, you need to pay attention to the add-ons and there are plenty.
If you’re bringing anything other than a purse, backpack, or briefcase, you’ll be charged extra. Advanced seating assignment is also an extra charge.
But if you can fit everything in a tote, backpack, or carry-on duffel and you don’t care where you sit? You might not find a cheaper flight than on Spirit.
If you’re thinking you’d get more straightforward pricing on another major carrier and still save money, think again.
American, Delta, and United are feeling Spirit’s black-and-yellow sting and are trying to lure passengers with their cheapie flights.
But these cheapie flights come with similar restrictions regarding bags and advance seating.
Cancellations and changes for Spirit flights are free if made 60-days before your departure.
And you can still cancel or change until the day of but you’ll be subjected to a sliding scale fee depending on how many days are left until your trip.
Beverages and snacks are not complimentary, but you can pay for refreshments. Coca-Cola cans, juice, and bottled waters are $3 each.
Cheaper than at the ballpark.
What about connectivity? Does Spirit Airlines have wifi? Most of the fleet will have wifi available for a small fee.
Does Spirit Airlines have TV? There is no inflight entertainment available even for a fee.
This lack of amenities answers why is Spirit Airlines so cheap. It’s their way of keeping fares ultra-low so that families and others living on a budget can travel.
So let’s cut to the chase: Is Spirit Airlines good? Reviews are mixed. Crabby passengers tend to give crabby reviews.
On the other hand, mildly satisfied passengers won’t usually take the time to leave a satisfied review.
Just like with every product or service in life, reviews are either catastrophically bad or super glowing.
But if you like saving a boatload of money, Spirit will do the job you pay them to do. Which is get you to your destination.
It might not be first class, but you’re not exactly strapped to the roof of the plane either.
At any rate, if you need them, customer service is available by chat, SMS/Whatsapp, email, and phone, 24 hours.
And everyone’s favorite question: Is Spirit Airlines safe? Spirit Airlines has never had a fatal accident and is as safe as any American carrier.
So, there’s that.
Who Should Fly Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airlines used to be the nation’s air Greyhound. But now they are a huge airline with service all over the country.
If you miss a connection or your flight’s canceled due to mechanical issues or weather, chances are there will be another Southwest flight to your destination coming along shortly so you shouldn’t be stuck too long.
Their service is friendly and often provided with a sense of humor. The planes are nice-looking too.
Who Should Fly Spirit
Anyone should fly Spirit. If it’s going where you’re going, then why not? It’s definitely the one to use if you’re watching your budget.
Imagine how cheap your flight can be if you literally just paid for your seat and nothing else.
You could be at the beach in a few hours for less than a hundred dollars.
Mind-blowing, right? Even if you do have to fly there in a banana-yellow airplane.