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Southwest vs Spirit: Which Airline is Better?

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Southwest vs. Spirit, or the battle of the low-cost airlines, matches up two quality airlines providing affordable travel options for budget-savvy travelers.

Unless money is no object, or you already have an alternative go-to airline, it’s a good idea to do some snooping online to find the best airfare deals. After all, flight costs usually make up a large chunk of anyone’s overall travel budget for any trip away.

Finding ways to save more money on air travel is a must-do step when planning a trip around a budget. Enter low-cost airlines. They’re basic without all the bells and whistles of some of their luxurious cousins, but they will do what you pay them to. That is, get you from Point A to Point B.

The two airlines in the US that are leading the charge from other airlines are Southwest Airlines and Spirit. In this article, we’ll deep dive into an airline comparison between the two and go through how these two airlines match each other, how they differ, and who might be best suited to flying with either!

About Southwest Airlines

Wing of a Southwest plane

In our dive into the 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 based in Dallas.

Southwest Airlines flies to 115 US airports as well as offers routes in ten other countries. It’s also the longest-operating of the two reviewed in this article, having flown passengers for over 50 years.

They are famous for letting “bags fly free.” That means every ticketed passenger gets to check two bags at no additional charge.

See Related: Ways to Book the Cheapest First Class Flights

About Spirit Airlines

Yellow exterior of Spirit plane on tarmac
Spirit Airlines / Spirit Airlines

Spirit Airlines is best known for ultra-low fares. It offers optional pricing for checked bags, extra carry-ons, preferred seating assignments, snacks, and beverages.

They also offer travel insurance, which is advisable for traveling with them. But one company we like, TravelInsurance.com, allows you to compare rates so you know you’re getting the best rates and coverage.

Spirit is also notorious for being stingy about carry-on bags. If you’re planning to fly with this budget airline, you’ll want to buy a bag that will fit in their sizer. My favorite is the Crew VersaPack Rolling UnderSeat Carry-On from Travelpro.

FactorSpirit AirlinesSouthwest Airlines
Route NetworkFocuses on the eastern half of the U.S. and the Caribbean, with some international flightsCovers a majority of the continental U.S., with a few international destinations
FeesKnown for charging fees for many services, such as carry-on bags, seat selection, and printing boarding passesOffers a more inclusive pricing model, with fewer additional fees
Seat ComfortSmaller seats with less legroom compared to SouthwestMore spacious seats and better legroom
Customer ServiceHas a reputation for poor communication and customer service during flight disruptionsKnown for better customer service and communication, especially during flight disruptions
Loyalty ProgramFree Spirit program with rewards that can be difficult to redeemRapid Rewards program with more straightforward rewards and redemption
On-Time PerformanceTends to have lower on-time performance compared to SouthwestGenerally has better on-time performance
Boarding ProcessCharges for seat selection and priority boardingOffers open seating and a unique boarding process based on check-in time
AmenitiesCharges for most amenities, such as snacks and beveragesProvides complimentary snacks and non-alcoholic beverages

See Related: Best Websites for Cheap Flights and Hotels

Southwest vs Spirit: How They Are Different?

Southwest plane taking off with Spirit plane in the background at Ft. Lauderdale Airport
Markus Mainka / Adobe Stock

Difference 1: Where they fly

If you compare Spirit vs. Southwest, you’ll notice some differences immediately. Skyscanner notes that Southwest caters to 177 destinations with over 87,000 flights on average per week. Whereas Spirit caters to 90 destinations with a much lower average of over 6,000 flights per week.

The main major difference in looking at where the two airlines fly is where they fly to in the U.S. With its main hub near downtown Dallas, Southwest Airlines is more centrally located, offering a flight network with nationwide routes. One of their taglines says you can move about the country when you fly with them.

Spirit Airlines is based in Florida. So, it only makes sense that they tend to focus on the eastern portion of the US, although they do have flights to and from major west coast cities. But if you’re flying to most major cities along the east coast, you may get the best deals on Spirit Airlines.

See Related: Skyscanner Review: Is It Legit or a Scam?

Booking a flight online
Jonathan Cutrer / Flickr

Difference 2: Booking flights

You can easily book flights with Spirit via online sites like Going.com (Formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) or Thrifty Traveler, to name a few options.

However, you’ve got fewer options with Southwest Airlines. Sure, you can still book on a Southwest flight directly via Southwest on their website or on the phone, as you can with Spirit.

But this is pretty much your only option. The only additional booking option is granted to Southwest business customers who can book via Kayak for great deals. That does make it harder to find flights and compare fares for Southwest flights.

See Related: Going (Formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) Review: Is It Legit?

Difference 3: Baggage policies

Another significant difference is in baggage policies. Southwest Airlines lets you check two pieces of luggage for free. Spirit charges you for checked baggage, and you must use their website’s bag calculator to get accurate rates.

You’ll pay less if you prepay for your bags. Any baggage paid for at the airport turns out to be more expensive.

See Related: The Travelers Guide To The Best Places to Buy Luggage

Difference 4: Onboard amenities

Southwest Airlines offers a limited selection of non-alcoholic beverages and pretzels during flights. Spirit Airlines does not offer free drinks or snacks but has a menu from which you can purchase anything onboard if desired.

Moblie Phone to check-in for flight

Difference 5: Seat assignment

Regarding Spirit Airlines, you’re assigned a seating number upon check-in at random. It’s a good idea to check in early to get that aisle seat, exit row legroom, or keep groups sitting together. To do this, simply pop on the app or log in online.

Moreover, checking in ahead of time online will save money. It’s free to save your boarding pass anywhere on your phone or print it at home. However, printing at the airport self-service kiosk will cost you USD2, and using the check-in counter will cost you USD10.

The process of seating arrangements on a Spirit flight can inconvenience those traveling with small children or nervous flyers who want seats next to their traveling companions for support. However, if this is the case, the airline does allow you to pre-book seating at a cost starting at a mere USD5.

With Southwest, seats are assigned a little different. To facilitate speedier boarding, the airline follows a boarding group system.

No seats are assigned, but you’re placed into a group (A, B, or C) and board the plane when your group is called. Once on the plane, flight attendants have you sit wherever there’s a space available.

People boarding a plane

The differences in seating arrangements put Spirit ahead of Southwest flights when accommodating families and other groups wanting to stick together.

While not guaranteed, you can sometimes buy a position within the first boarding group (Group A) at an extra fee of USD30 – USD80, depending on your itinerary. Again, this wouldn’t bother single travelers or those not concerned about seating, but it is less than ideal for families not wanting family members to be split up.

See Related: How to Use Google Flights to Book Cheap Flights

Southwest vs. Spirit: How They Are Similar

blue horizon out of a plane window

Similarity 1: Flying From Secondary Airports

Both airlines tend to fly out of secondary airports where available. Southwest Airlines hub is at Love Field Airport near downtown Dallas. However, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is the major airport in Irving, North Texas, between Dallas and Fort Worth.

Incidentally, DFW Airport is the hub for American Airlines. American Airlines fought against Southwest’s expansion for decades by supporting the Wright Amendment of 1979.

This amendment protected traffic from 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.

exterior of airport

Spirit also likes secondary airports, like Arnold Palmer Regional Aiport in Latrobe, Penn., 33 miles outside 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.

Similarity 2: Service Class

Southwest vs. Spirit also share some significant similarities. One example is the class of service. Does Southwest have first class? No, but neither does Spirit.

Everyone in the same service class gets 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. But there’s quite the cost associated with such an upgrade. If you can swing it budget-wise, consider this upgrade and pamper yourself in one of these first-class-style seats.

Similarity 3: Non-stop flights on the cards

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 stop at hubs. This makes for convenient flight times on both airlines.

A nonstop flight could mean that you get to where you’re going without a layover or flight change mess that could potentially spoil your plans.

See Related: Best Travel Sites for Packages and Vacation Deals

Similarity 4: Online check-in

passengers waiting at the gate

Both Southwest and Spirit allow online check-in 24 hours before departure time.

What’s Better About Southwest Airlines

Some of the major benefits of choosing Southwest Airlines would be:

  • An extensive network of direct flights to major metropolitan cities and flights to more than 100 destinations throughout Central America and the Caribbean Islands.
  • All fares include two checked bags, no change or cancellation fees, and included inflight entertainment.
  • 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 24/7 via phone and live online chat between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. CST.
  • It’s a seven-star airline for safety by industry experts at the aviation safety website, AirlineRatings.
  • Online free Wi-Fi – or 8USD for Inflight Connectivitiy (free for A-List passangers)
Person wearing boots holding two suitcases

There are additional benefits, depending on what class you fly. Southwest Airlines offers three types of fares: Business Select, Anytime, and Wanna Get Away.

  • Business Select – is the most flexible option with the most reward points. You also get priority check-in, a designated security line, refundable fares, and same-day changes allowed.
  • Anytime – like Business Select, you get refundable fares, with same-day changes allowed.
  • Wanna Get Away – will give you credit toward a future flight if you need to cancel.
man looks at his phone

The Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program with Southwest Airlines is another significant advantage of flying with this airline. Rapid Rewards members earn points for being loyal SWA flyers.

The more points you get, the higher tier you achieve. However, even at the lowest tier, the A-List, you still enjoy perks like priority boarding, sam-day standby, and priority check-in.

How much are Southwest points worth? One analysis is that the points are worth approximately 1.4 cents each, which is a decent rate compared to other airline reward programs.

Airport check in area

See Related: Priority Pass Review: Is It Worth the Price?

What’s Better About Spirit?

However, Spirit Airlines offers tempting benefits that might sway their favor on the Spirit vs. Southwest debate. Some of the most notable benefits that Spirit offers include:

  • They list 51 domestic and 31 international flights in 18 US, Latin America, and Caribbean countries.
  • Cancellations and flight changes are free if made 60 days before departure. You are still able to cancel/change up until the day of departure, subject to a sliding scale fee depending on how many days there are until your trip.
  • Offer rock-bottom rates – this is a bonus, so keep an eye on add-ons like luggage and seating assignments.
Exterior of Caribbean Resort on blue water

Regarding Spirit’s rates, if you think you’d get more straightforward pricing on another major carrier and save the same kind of money, think again. American, Delta, and United are feeling Spirit’s black-and-yellow sting and are trying to lure passengers with their competitive pricing. 

The benefits of flying with Spirit definitely lie with its budget-friendly flight costs. It’s a no-frills airline where you get what you pay for. 

Man holding money

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. You can still cancel or change until the day off, 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 water 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.

Person using laptop on plane

But if you like saving money, Spirit will get you to your destination! Just with no in-flight entertainment, limited wifi onboard, and add-ons to look out for if you want to keep costs as low as possible.

See Related: How to Find Cheap Flights [Step-by-Step Guide]

Which Airline Should You Choose?

Who Should Fly Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines offers great value and flexibility, with the convenience of providing a straightforward traveling experience starting right from when you book your ticket. Leisure and business travelers can benefit from using the airlines’ extensive connections and the ability to change/cancel flights without substantial fees.

Domestic travelers will benefit most from using the airline. Southwest primarily operates within many US locations, so it’s ideal for those flying there.

Of course, it sizzles down to personal preference. However, leisure or business domestic travelers are most suited to flying with Southwest. It’s convenient, provides value for money, and has extensive destinations available within the US.

Who Should Fly Spirit

Man props feet on suitcase

Flying with Spirit Airlines would be the top choice for travelers looking to fly with a budget-friendly airline. In fact, you could be lucky enough to find flights as cheap as USD12 on sites like Momondo flying with Spirit.

You might have to take on your own entertainment on-board due to its lack of on-board entertainment, pay extra for things like Wi-Fi, and keep an eye on other add-ons like additional luggage, but it’s a great option to get you from A-B. This no-frills option can help save your pennies for your end destination.

Imagine how cheap your flight can be if you just paid for your seat and nothing else. You could be at the beach for less than a hundred dollars in a few hours. Mind-blowing, right? Even if you do have to fly there in a banana-yellow airplane, choose Spirit to save the pennies.

See Related: How to Use Momondo to Find Cheap Flights

Summary

So, we’ve gone through their similarities and differences, and now it’s up to you to decide which suits your travel needs best! But to add that last helping hand in your decision-making process, here’s a quick summary table of some of the key points for both Southwest and Spirit:

Category Southwest Airlines Spirit Airlines
Cost Comparison Generally affordable with transparent pricing and no hidden fees. Low base fares but charges additional fees for many extras.
Years in Operation Founded in 1967 (56 years in operation) Founded in 1983 (40 years in operation)
Notable Amenities
  • Two free checked bags per passenger.
  • No change fees (only fare difference applies).
  • In-flight Wi-Fi on most aircraft.
  • Complimentary snacks and beverages.
  • Ultra low-cost fares.
  • Purchase only the amenities you need (pay for extras like carry-on bags, seat selection, etc.).
  • Optional “Big Front Seat” with more legroom.
Pros
  • Generous baggage policy.
  • No change fees.
  • Frequent flight options.
  • Reliable performance.
  • Low base fares.
  • Opportunity to save on optional amenities.
  • Decent route network.
Cons
  • Limited international destinations.
  • Seating is not assigned, and you pick once you board the plane.
  • Additional fees can add up.
  • More frequent delays and customer complaints.
  • Unless you pay for a seating assignment, seating is provided on check-in.

FAQs

Is Southwest or Spirit safer?

Both adhere to the safety regulations set by the Federal Aviation Administration. However, Southwest has a longer operational history and a strong safety record. So, for this alone, the title of ‘safer’ would shift slightly to Southwest, purely for reputational purposes.

But it’s important to note that ‘safety’ in the airline industry can be influenced by various factors stemming far from reputation and operational duration alone. These could include aircraft maintenance, crew training, and operational procedures. As it so happens, both airlines strongly prioritize all these considerations, and both can be considered safe airlines to travel with.

Is Southwest like Spirit?

Southwest and Spirit are both ultra low cost carrier options, but they operate with different business models. Southwest is known for its customer-friendly policies, such as two free checked bags and no fees incurred if you need to make any changes.

Spirit, on the other hand, follows an ultra-low-cost model. It offers lower base fares but charges for extras like bags and seat selection.

What other airlines are better than Spirit?

Determining a “better” option than Spirit depends largely on individual preferences and needs. Spirit can be a good choice for travelers prioritizing low-base fares and willing to pay for extras.

However, airlines like Southwest or JetBlue might be “better” for those valuing included amenities like zero-cost checked bags or inflight entertainment. It all comes down to personal travel preferences, needs, and overall budget as to what airlines will be the best option for your travel plans.

Is Southwest one of the best Airlines?

Southwest Airlines has been going for many years and has earned quite a positive reputation during that time. It is often regarded as one of the best airlines among low-cost carriers. It is known for its customer-friendly policies, such as two free checked bags, no change fees, and open seating.

Additionally, Southwest’s customer service is often highly rated. However, the title of “best” airline is not one so easily given to any carrier. What would deem one airline the “best” airline varies between travelers depending on individual preferences, travel needs, and specific routes.

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