Reader Question: Is United Basic Economy Actually Better Than Spirit?

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On a recent United airfare deal a commenter asked why the $65 transcontinental price was special given that you can typically find a similar deal on Spirit without basic economy restrictions.

Now I get that ultra-low-cost-carriers like Spirit work for some people, especially those that travel light and don’t care where they sit. And don’t mind diversions due to noxious fumes or being transported home via a bus.

But even on a basic economy fare with an airline like United, it’s still a no-brainer in my opinion. That’s true despite the fact that United now has the harshest basic economy rules in the industry.

To United’s credit, they have made basic economy fares less onerous by allowing people to purchase assigned seats starting at about $5-$7 per leg. That’s significantly cheaper that Spirit. Then again if you’re traveling with a infant or child in a carseat, either airline will provide you with a window seat and an adjacent seat even if you don’t pay to reserve a seat.

Why are United’s basic economy fares still better than flying Spirit?

  • Water and soft drinks are free on United and sold on Spirit.
  • Small snacks are free on United and sold on Spirit.
  • United has more comfortable seats that recline versus non-reclining seats on Spirit.
  • United seats offer much more legroom than Spirit seats.
  • United offers WiFi, TV, and streaming entertainment options that Spirit doesn’t, though Spirit does plan to add WiFi by next year.
  • United offers AC power on many plane types, while Spirit doesn’t offer any AC power.
  • United offer much more valuable miles than Spirit does.
  • If you book United tickets on Priceline you can cancel the ticket until 11:29pm the following day, even within 7 days of travel. If you buy a ticket on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday you can refund the ticket until 11:29pm on Monday. These policies don’t apply for Spirit.
  • If you have a United Explorer card you and everyone in your party will be able to bring a carry-on bag for free. The Spirit card doesn’t allow for any free bags.
  • If you have a United Explorer card you and a companion will be able to check in a bag for free.
  • United allows up to 50 pounds of luggage in checked baggage, instead of 40 pounds allowed on Spirit when you pay for a checked bag.
  • If you have a United Explorer card you will be able to have priority boarding for free.
  • And the most critical reason, United has more frequent flights and interline partners to accommodate passengers in case of irregular operations, whereas on Spirit you can wait several days for a new flight if your flight is cancelled.

If the Spirit flight is significantly cheaper than the United flight, that would be another story. But at the same price point I’d say United basic economy is a no-brainer.

What has your basic economy experience been like? Have your own travel question? Hit the comments!

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45 Comments On "Reader Question: Is United Basic Economy Actually Better Than Spirit?"

All opinions expressed below are user generated and the opinions aren’t provided, reviewed or endorsed by any advertiser or DansDeals.


United has much more frequent flights.

Tumy Yeger

Walking and swimming is better than spirit

Yitz Weiss

I’ve done basic Economy several times and every time had been a good experience. I’ve *never* had a good experience with Spirit

Lemen Jello

I’ve had a good experience with Spirit probably 12 times, and bad experience probably 3.


Dan: On point with each one of your points! I am both a frequent United (for business) and Spirit (for pleasure) traveler and I agree that the only scenario where Spirit makes sense is when it’s REALLY cheaper. That way, if a real scheduling problem arises, you just eat the ticket and buy on another airline.


Spirit gives you miles, UA BE doesn’t. Big front seat is better than UA econ. Another point for UA is that they are much better to be bumped from because their certs are much less restrictive, they pay more, and match all volunteer payout.


I get the spirit of what you are saying


Hey dan I love how your replying to each post, even if its stupid


The one benefit that Spirit has is everyone is pretty much a zero while on other airlines, only the basic economy people are zeroes. In effect, your chances with getting an aisle or window on Spirit is considerably higher (66%) than getting an aisle or window with basic economy. This is my experience after flying dozens of flights on both. I have found that the big three try to give basic economy passengers middle seats.


I travel basic all the time, as a *G on a foreign carrier I get lounge access, and the business class guy who paid $900 more than my $50 ticket doesn’t. Sometimes they even have me an exit row. Free baggage, carry-on and priority boarding all come with my status.


First off, although the seats don’t recline on spirit, they are shaped much better than the old united planes. They are more comfortably shaped and fit the knees of the average person, as opposed to the old style united seats that have a height limit of about 5′ 2″. Every Spirit plane is new, whereas on united you never know if you’ll end up on an old plane.
I’ve flown spirit many times and never had any real issues, but I still only recommend them when the price is considerably less than normal airlines- which is not always the case.


According to, Spirit flies 30 A319’s that are an average of 12 years old; 58 A320s that are an average of 4 years old; and 30 A321’s that are an average of 2.5 years old.

Now if they would bring back the Constellations, I might be tempted . . .


As a 1k, they usually give me either economy plus or exit row. Last week the fare was $356 to DFW but basic economy was $69.


Problem with basic on United, even if you are platinum, you don’t get any mileage points for your travel. You do however get your carry on and checked luggage. I am never certain if I should stick with the basic or go with economy to get my points.


Does a United Saver Award ticket allow free carry on in addition to personal item? I realize there’s a charge for checked bags. Thx


I can’t read this without being reminded of the letter I once wrote to Spirit…


great post, obv the biggest point is the worst case scenario where u can usually rely on United. might be worthwhile to note that the United Explorer card benefits only work if u book with the card…


People who fly spirit know what they’re getting into. You cant complain about flying them if you choose to do so.
With that said, united basic does offer way more for what you pay. Even if you pay a little more.


I booked a ticket on united website for Swiss the way there and Austrian the way back for sukkos and I got an email the next day saying they were not willing to honor the ticket what does that mean??




Spirit is Better.
1. Spirit has brand new planes., The windows don’t pop out, the engines and wings don’t destruct, etc. United has old planes.
2. Spirit has 1st Class seats for $45 extra. Big Front Seat. In fact they’re United domestic 1st class seats.
3. At BWI the only Priority Club airport lounge is in the Spirit terminal in the middle of Spirit gates. It’s a really nice lounge too.
4. Spirit doesn’t have advance-purchase rules for the cheapest fares. If the lowest fare is available tomorrow you can book it.

You can only carry an under-seat size bag or you get extorted and you have to get your refreshments in the terminal and carry them on. For all the above, I can live with that.


Where is the “new planes” urban myth coming from? As I pointed out in a reply to an earlier post, Spirit’s A319’s are on average 12 years old. New planes from the used market? Reminds me of the early days of America West, which became American Airlines. One of their first 737’s was called the “Panama Pig,” because that’s where they bought it.


I have flown with united from Chicago countless times although some gate agents come across many times as unfriendly it still surpasses those “waiters” that spirit places on there~ ~DONT LOOSE YOUR “SPIRIT” FOR THE OTHER “SPIRIT” especially if you are with family just follow Dan!!


I flew Spirit once several years back. RT FLL to JFK (or whichever airport it). My return flight was canceled. Ok…it happens. When is the next flight you can put me on? Ten days…TEN DAYS!! I thought it was a joke, but sadly, it was not a joke. I don’t care if the ticket is $40 (starting price). I’m never flying them again. I’ll add that for domestic flights I do love Southwest. They’re awesome!


I would take Spirit only if it was the last airline left on the planet.

Noah Fried

United also lets you check a bag for cheaper than spirit

Yosef Seewald

if you are a $9 fare club member $23 at booking per trip


Yosef, so your logic of saving $2 really costs—— 1. Annual purchase of $9 fare club. 2. Booking all the checked baggage you’ll need at the exact time of booking 3. Forty pounds of baggage, not the standard fifty pounds.


Just to point out, in every single post about Spirit, you just HAVE TO refer to the time you had to take a bus from DTW and Cleveland..! I understand (I really do!) that it was a real pain in the rear and the way they dealt with it was sh*t, but that happened ONCE!!! That’s never a “rule” to the way they generally are. The rest of the details (like seat and snacks etc) can very well be true, but I’ve flown with them ALL MY LIFE (DTW to LGA and FLL) and the worst that ever happened were simple delays, and there was always the option of simply getting a refund (and rebooking with another airline) in the case of major delay or cancellation.


On a different topic but related to United airlines, does anyone have advice which mileage program is better between United and Lufthansa. PLEASE keep in mind I do not have any credit cards and don’t plan on getting in the near future, I would be flying in economy only (nothing fancy), and i don’t fly that much. I have a ticket to fly to Israel with all flights on Lufthansa (DFW FRA TLV and back) so just wondering if I should sign up for miles&more or mileageplus. Thank you in advance


Have a spirit flight from FLL to Newark scheduled for 8:55 PM. They keep pushing it off and now its taking off 1:06 AM and landing at 4:00. They expect me to sit in the airport for 6 hours. They write on the email “Things change quickly and we recommend that you arrive at the airport at least 2 hours prior to your original departure time” Anyone know if they are required to compensate me?


Now pushed off to 1:47. Called them and they were no help on the phone. I will never fly spirit again


My only problem with United Economy is the extremely dismissive rude staff. I’ve used it three times because it was a last minute flight. They were super cheap and I only had a backpack. And both times I was treated like a second class citizen. I have very low tolerance for this. Not worth the $40 I saved in comparison to whatever else Priceline offered.
David C in all pink at gate 75 B in LaX is the most unpleasant and the worst gate person I’ve ever dealt with. Jerk didn’t even listen to my question.

Not doing them again.