A lot of bloggers seem really excited about it and I’m at a loss as to why.
It’s certainly more rewarding, but it doesn’t fix its Achilles’ heel, the reward is more travel on Spirit. That’s hardly an aspirational award and is reminiscent of how I covered the launch of Greyhound’s loyalty program some 15 years ago.
Sure, Spirit has its fans (note to fans, don’t sign away your compensation rights), but I’ve taken more expensive connections to avoid Greyhound of the skies. No really, they put a friend of mine on a bus instead of a flight. But I suppose that’s better than an in-air brawl.
Caught on Camera: A fight over whether or not to wear a mask onboard a Spirit Airlines plane that had just arrived in Puerto Rico led to a woman – who police say was the aggressor – being tased by police who are considering filing charges.
— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) October 27, 2020
Spirit Airlines flight attendant threatens to arrest and no-fly-list any passengers who refuse to keep a mask on *for the entire flight!*
This tyranny will become the norm under Biden if we don’t stand behind President Trump! pic.twitter.com/qn4AzK2QRf
— Simon (@simonsasquatch) November 6, 2020
OK, but let’s talk loyalty.
They fixed the 2nd biggest flaw in their program, the 3 month hard expiration date of points. Now points won’t expire as long as you have activity every 12 months. Elite members and cardholders points will never expires.
- Non-elites will earn 6 points per dollar spent on flights and 12 points per dollar spent on bags, seats, and other extras.
- Silver elites will earn 8 points per dollar spent on flights and 16 points per dollar spent on bags, seats, and other extras.
- Gold elites will earn 10 points per dollar spent on flights and 20 points per dollar spent on bags, seats, and other extras.
Members can also pool points with friends and family, so that’s a nice benefit as well.
What is a Spirit point worth?
Picking a random Newark to Fort Lauderdale date shows flights for $22.40 (you’ll get $4 off if you pony up for a $70/year Saver$ Club):
An award flight is 2,500 points+$5.60, which means a value of 0.67 cents per point:
- Newark to Las Vegas on 2/27 is $30.49 or 2,500 points+$5.60, a value of about 1 cent per point.
- Cleveland to Los Angeles on 2/28 is $60 or 5,000 points+$5.60, a value of 1.09 cents per point.
As most of the Newark-Fort Lauderdale fare is tax, you’ll only earn points on the $4.66 base fares and $2.99 Passenger Usage Fee. That variable usage fee is the price you pay for online booking, it’s waived at the airport.
So you’ll earn 6 points per dollar on $7.65 of flight spending, which they round down from 45.9 to 45 points:
Points from flying count towards status, you’ll need 2,000 points for Silver status or 5,000 points for Gold status. At 45 points per flight, that would mean taking 45 flights to earn Silver or 112(!) flights between Newark and Fort Lauderdale to earn Gold status.
The real play that Spirit is after is for people to earn status on their new credit card. If you get their $79/year Free Spirit Travel More Card you can earn 3 points per dollar on Spirit flights, 2 points per dollar on dining and groceries, and 1 point per dollar everywhere. Those earning rates are low, but you also earn 1 status points for each $10 spent. You’ll also get the $50 close-in award booking fee for flights booked within 28 days of departure waived.
That means you can earn Silver status with $20,000 in card spending, or less when combined with status points earn from flight purchases. Gold status would take $50,000 in card spending.
Silver benefits are pretty boring, you’ll earn more points on flights, get same day standby, get an elite customer service phone line, and get overweight bag fees waived, though you still need to pay for baggage.
Gold status benefits on the other hand are pretty decent. You get a free carry-on, a free checked bag, zone 1 boarding, free seat selection at booking (including exit row seating, but not big front row seating), a free drink and snack when flying, and 1 free flight change when done more than 24 hours in advance of the flight.
But if you’re spending $50,000 a year on your credit card, I’m going to guess that you probably aren’t flying Spirit? And even if you are flying Spirit, you could afford to buy those benefits and then some by putting that $50,000 in spending on a card with a better spending proposition. The opportunity cost of spending on a Spirit card is simply massive.
AirTran Airways used to be have a business class section, with excellent redemption values. But even they offered aspirational travel awards on other airlines that they would purchase, in order to make their program more valuable.
Clearly Spirit is thinking creatively here and I give them credit for that, but isn’t there a disconnect between their product offering and the customer they’re looking for?
Will you spend or fly your way to Spirit Airlines elite status?