Looking for the best carrier? Compare Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines in terms of loyalty programs, fees, and service 🔎
Forget About Major Airlines
When looking for cheap flights, Spirit and Frontier are often some of the first airlines that come to mind. Known as “ultra-low-cost carriers” (ULCCs), these two airlines Manage to offer incredibly low fares by charging extra fees for services many travelers consider standard. But with bare-bones base fares and à la carte pricing models, is one airline a better pick than the other? Here’s how Spirit and Frontier compare.
Routes and Destinations – Frontier VS Spirit
Both Spirit and Frontier serve destinations across the continental U.S. as well as Mexico, the Caribbean, and parts of Central and South America. Spirit flies to major hubs like Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, New York, and Atlanta, with international service focused on leisure spots like Cancun and Punta Cana.
Meanwhile, Frontier’s network centers more around Denver, Orlando, Las Vegas, and Philadelphia, again with many vacation destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean.
In total, Spirit serves more airports – over 85 cities compared to Frontier’s 80-plus. So if you’re looking for the most options, Spirit narrowly wins. However, both cover most major U.S. airports.
Reliability and On-Time Performance
As ULCCs, neither airline has outstanding stats for on-time arrivals or flight completions. Budget carriers tend to operate tight schedules, fly older planes, and have less wiggle room when the unexpected happens.
Over the past year, Spirit landed on time around 73% of the time; Frontier’s rate was 68%. In terms of cancellations, Spirit scrubbed 2.6% of flights while 3.4% of Frontier flights were canceled.
So while the chances of delays and cancellations are higher than on full-service airlines, Spirit does beat out Frontier slightly for reliability.
Airline Fees and Extras
The base fare on Spirit or Frontier gets travelers a seat – that’s it. No options to pick a seat ahead of time, no carry-on or checked baggage allowance, no snacks or drinks.
To add those conveniences, additional fees apply:
- Carry-on bag: $35-$65
- Checked bag: $30-$75
- Seat selection: $1-$60
- Drinks and snacks: $3-$12
The costs for extras are similar between the two airlines. Frontier sometimes charges a few dollars more for desirable seats toward the front of the plane, while Spirit tacks on an extra fee at checkout for the “convenience” of booking certain add-ons online.
One difference is that Spirit offers Big Front Seats – a semi-premium economy section with more space and comfort – for not much more than Frontier’s Stretch Seats with extra legroom. So travelers willing to pay a bit more can get more value.
Airline Credit Card and Loyalty Program Perks
Like most airlines, Spirit and Frontier both offer co-branded credit cards and frequent flyer programs. These provide some opportunities to earn rewards and offset extra fees.
The Free Spirit® Travel More World Elite Mastercard® from Spirit gives cardmembers a free checked bag, discounted in-flight purchases, and more redemption opportunities. You can also earn loyalty status faster, which includes free bags and seat assignments.
Meanwhile, the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard® offers 5x miles on Frontier purchases and the ability to share miles with family members. Reaching Elite 20K status lets you waive checked bag fees.
In both programs, you earn one mile or point for each mile flown. Just note miles expire if accounts remain inactive too long. Overall, Spirit edges out Frontier for offering more generous loyalty perks like free bags and drinks to status holders.
Checked Baggage Policies
When it comes to checked baggage, both Spirit and Frontier charge fees based on the number of bags, weight, and when you pay. In general, expect to pay $30-$75 per checked bag on these low-cost carriers.
One key difference is that Spirit allows checked bags up to 100 pounds (for an extra fee), while Frontier caps bag weight at 50 pounds before excess charges apply. So if you tend to pack heavy, Spirit gives you more leeway.
Elite Status Qualification and Benefits
Frequent flyers can earn elite status on both airlines by hitting annual flight mile thresholds. Perks like free bags and priority boarding kick in at Silver/Elite 20K and expand further at higher levels.
However, Spirit sets a lower bar to entry while offering more rewards. You only need 2,500 flight miles for the first status tier, compared to 20,000 miles on Frontier. And Gold status on Spirit brings free drinks, snacks, carry-ons and two checked bags.
So Spirit makes achieving and enjoying elite status somewhat easier. Casual travelers may not benefit, but frequent flyers get more bang for their buck.
Booking and Change Flexibility
If your travel plans are prone to change, neither airline wins for flexibility. Flights booked through Spirit and Frontier are non-refundable.
You can pay extra (around $5-$70 depending on the fare) at booking for change privileges on Spirit. Frontier offers similar change coverage for a fee, along with bundle options that include flight changes.
But unless you proactively purchase changeability upfront, you won’t have much leeway if plans shift. It’s best to book early and lock in dates when flying these carriers to avoid change fees.
Spirit Airlines Big Front Seats
One area where Spirit clearly bests Frontier is premium seating. In addition to slim 28-inch economy seats, Spirit offers Big Front Seats with roughly 36 inches of legroom and almost 20 inches width in a 2-2 layout. These spacious seats resemble domestic first class on major airlines.
Frontier, on the other hand, simply offers extra legroom seats toward the front of its planes. While nice for tall travelers, these are still slimline economy seats in a cramped 3-3 layout.
So if you want a truly comfortable experience on a ULCC, Spirit’s Big Front Seats provide vastly more space and padding. You’ll pay $40-$200+ for the upgrade depending on route and demand, but some may find it worthwhile.
Inflight Entertainment and Amenities
As ultra low-cost carriers, neither Frontier nor Spirit are known for creature comforts once onboard. Both airlines charge for soft drinks, snacks, Wi-Fi, and other amenities often free on full-service airlines.
However, Spirit recently began installing high-speed satellite Wi-Fi fleetwide. So you can stay connected or stream entertainment you’ve downloaded to personal devices. Frontier offers no onboard Wi-Fi at all.
And while basic economy seats are tight and lack amenities overall, Spirit again wins for offering Big Front Seats. These have more padding and space akin to domestic first class—a welcome upgrade for longer flights.
So if staying connected or comfortable enroute is a priority, Spirit bests Frontier thanks to Wi-Fi availability and its roomier Big Front Seats.
Route Networks and Flight Schedules
Both airlines aim to offer ultra low fares for point-to-point routes in major U.S. markets plus leisure destinations in the Caribbean and Latin America. However, when comparing overall route maps and flight frequency, Spirit has a clear edge over Frontier.
Spirit flies to major hubs like Los Angeles, Atlanta, and New York up to 8 times daily while serving smaller markets less frequently. So you’ll have options scheduling around your needs.
Frontier does have a strong presence in Denver, Orlando, Las Vegas and Philadelphia. But route maps show Spirit’s network covers more airports nationwide. And with Spirit operating over 160 aircraft to Frontier’s 110, flight schedules tend to be more frequent across Spirit’s route map.
So for both major airports and smaller city markets, Spirit offers travelers more scheduling flexibility. If having flight times to choose from is a priority, Spirit is the best low-cost option.
Key Differences Between Spirit and Frontier
To recap the biggest differences:
- Spirit serves more destination airports overall
- Spirit has better rates for on-time arrivals and completed flights
- Extra-space Big Front Seats on Spirit beat Frontier’s Stretch Seats for premium economy comfort
- Spirit loyalty status includes more valuable perks than Frontier
So while both budget airlines offer ultra-cheap getaway fares, Spirit Airlines is the slightly better ultra-low-cost carrier compared to Frontier.
When comparing the basics of flying Frontier airlines and Spirit airlines, the overall experience is quite similar. Both function as ultra low-cost carriers with à la carte service models. However, looking closer, Spirit does come out ahead in several key areas.
For example, while Frontier offers a basic economy fare for just getting from point A to B, Spirit allows travelers a reasonably-priced upgrade to Big Front Seats. These provide ample legroom and width for far less than what premium economy would cost on a major airline. Having flown Spirit several times myself, I can attest the Big Front Seats make red-eyes or longer flights reasonably comfortable even as a taller traveler.
Additionally, Spirit has made more headway installing satellite Wi-Fi fleetwide over the past couple years. So guests can stay connected, text family meeting them at baggage claim, or stream their own downloaded entertainment. Frontier trails Spirit when it comes to useful inflight amenities like Wi-Fi at an affordable add-on price.
And for frequent travelers, Spirit simply offers more opportunities to offset costs through status perks or co-branded credit card benefits. Between waived bag fees, bonus earning potential, and extra flexibility to change flights, Spirit rewards loyal customers better than Frontier managed by its current loyalty program.
So while Frontier and Spirit still lag behind the experience and reliability Delta, American or Southwest offer, Spirit does manage to exceed Frontier across critical categories. The differences may seem minor, but do add up to make Spirit the best ultra-low-cost carrier overall for budget-conscious travelers.
The Bottom Line: Is Spirit or Frontier Better?
When comparing Frontier vs Spirit Airlines head-to-head, Spirit comes out ahead across critical categories like routes, reliability, premium seating and loyalty perks. These advantages make Spirit the best ultra-low-cost carrier overall for budget-conscious travelers.
Most travelers prefer Spirit Airlines because they narrowly beat Frontier in a head-to-head matchup of ULCCs. With more route options, better operational stats, and nicer seating for paying a premium, Spirit comes out ahead across our key criteria.
However, both airlines still lag behind full-service carriers like the major airlines for amenities, legroom, and overall service. So expect a bare-bones experience – bring your own food and entertainment, understand all fees upfront, and pack light.
Just remember the base fares on Spirit airlines and Frontier airlines usually undercut other airlines by hundreds of dollars for the same route. If you prepare properly and keep expectations realistic, flying a ULCC can still mean big savings versus the competition.