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What's the Deal?: Putting Spirit's $19 Fares to the Test

Carol Sottili

Spirit Airlines is an upstart discount carrier that often offers crazy fares. "Can you believe it?" says its current fare sale. "Spirit has (fares) from only $19 each way."

So can we believe it? Is it possible to get a $19 fare? And where do these fares get you?

From Washington Reagan, there is no $19 fare, just a $74 one-way fare to Fort Lauderdale. The two $19 fares are from Fort Lauderdale to both Nassau and Freeport in the Bahamas. I put the sale through a test to see whether I could get the cheapest fares to Fort Lauderdale, combine them with the cheap seats to the Bahamas, and come out way ahead. Let's just say, you need to be very flexible to have a chance of getting everything to line up. Quick disclaimer: I tried this out on May 8 and the sale had started May 6, so availability was probably better early on. The sale ends at midnight tonight (Friday).

While the sale is good for travel from May 14-Aug. 19, the cheapest seats are available for Monday-Thursday travel between May 14 and June 18. I tried many different combinations of flight dates before coming up with $74 availability from DCA to FLL departing May 19 and returning May 28. (Hint: You're much more likely to get the fares in each direction if you stay longer. I had little problem getting them if I was willing to be away for 10 days or longer.)

Once I got that fare, I then plugged in the same dates from FLL to Freeport: No trouble getting the $19 fare each way, but the connection times wouldn't work unless I opted for a return flight from Fort Lauderdale to Washington that would cost $70 more.

I then got a brainstorm: Why not see if I could get a cheap flight on another carrier to Fort Lauderdale with better connections? I found a $186 round-trip fare on US Airways that worked: It cost $17 more than the cheap Spirit fare, but I could then make the $19 Spirit flights from FLL to Freeport. Ouch: Once taxes and fuel surcharges were added, those $19 fares ballooned to $136 round trip. But for $322 total, I could get to the Bahamas: Priced directly from Washington, the flights would cost at least $401, so I'd save $79.

But there are downsides. I'd have to either do carry-on only, or lug my bags between carriers. And if my first flight was canceled or late, I could be in trouble since US Airways and Spirit don't have a recipricol agreement.

Personally, I'd rather just pay the extra $79, but if I were traveling with my family, that type of thinking could change. What would you do?

Oh, and one more tip: When you're booking on Spirit, make sure you unclick the boxes that want to add an extra $21 to your fare for travel protection and to become a member of their club.

By Carol Sottili |  May 9, 2008; 12:24 PM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , Carol Sottili , Deals
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My dad regularly gets super-cheap fares on Spirit, even after surcharges. The key is schedule flexibility - he is retired and can go whenever the cheap flight is available which sometimes requires midweek flights, odd departure times, etc. It does not work as well for people who have schedule constraints due to jobs, kids, or school (i.e., most people).

Posted by: CJMiva | May 9, 2008 1:34 PM

Pay the $80 and not deal with a two-carrier itinerary, which are always more trouble than the savings are worth.

Posted by: Liz | May 9, 2008 1:36 PM

$80 for the direct flight is well worth it. Even if i traveled with my family the 360 cost would be worth the direct flight.

Posted by: Big Willie | May 9, 2008 2:04 PM

Some friends and I were able to take advantage of Spirit's crazy fares and paid 8 cents each way to fly from LAX to Guatemala City last year. Yes, 8 cents! (With taxes and fees, it came to about $85 roundtrip.) I get their daily e-mails and most of the super cheap fares are from their Ft. Lauderdale hub. As was mentioned, flights with cheap fares are often spaced far apart, so it may require a long time at the destination between departing and returning flights. And yes, be sure to uncheck the boxes when you buy your ticket so you don't pay the membership and insurance fees, etc.

Posted by: RobS | May 9, 2008 2:57 PM

Anyone flexible enough to actually use these promos could work in the Cirque de Soleil. Seriously, Sprit was great in the ol' daze. I "moved" to Ft. Lauderdale years back but kept my house and Govt. job here, commuting weekly for 2 years. Remember the $38 fares to FLL? Since I did it every week, I could book months in advance and keep rotating. Bought a FL car and kept it at FLL - cheaper then a cab every week. Man, have things changed. I came back to DC and wouldn't get on a plane again. If you don't HAVE (and I mean life & death) to fly, you have no room to complain about airports, cost, security, etc. My Euro ski trips ended 2 years ago...our local ski club canceled all future trips to Europe due to airlines (and the worthless American dollar). But...Spirit was really really nice back in the day!

Posted by: FL commuter | May 9, 2008 2:59 PM

Actually, having a family makes it even more worth it to pay the extra money and just get one carrier. Imagine the awfulness involved in trying to get an entire family to the destination when a flight gets delayed or cancelled.

Posted by: Ryan | May 9, 2008 3:16 PM

"Pay the $80 and not deal with a two-carrier itinerary, which are always more trouble than the savings are worth."

Seriously. It'd take alot more than $80 to get me to go through this convoluted flight plan, especially if it involved a crappy airline like Spirit. I guess you can use that $80 for a cheap airport motel after you miss your flight.

Posted by: Andy | May 9, 2008 3:41 PM

My comments have nothing to do with the article itself, but the language, what the heck is "recipricol", it should be reciprocal. Hint: Use specll check after composing an article.

Posted by: Raj | May 9, 2008 3:54 PM

You forgot the greatest part of flying Spirit. They charge for all checked bags. It is $10 for the first two if you pre buy online, or $20 if you don't. You also need to make sure that when you check in on the machine at the airport you uncheck the box which upgrades you to First class, or what they call "Deluxe Leather" for a hefty fee. And you have to pay on board for refreshments.

Posted by: myhojda | May 9, 2008 4:52 PM

Before getting involved with too many transfers apply the KISS test: KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID

Posted by: Jim | May 9, 2008 9:22 PM

I'd pay the $80 in a heartbeat. Too many chances you'll find yourself with a vacation in FLL rather than the Bahamas.

Posted by: Agreed | May 14, 2008 12:40 PM

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