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!