I’ve mentioned that few months ago, I got Bank of America Spirit Airlines MasterCard. It was a bit of an impulse application, as it looks like my original plan of going to Costa Rica isn’t going to materialize. Hey, I never said I’m 100% or even 90% perfect. So, since I plan on canceling the card before March in order to avoid an annual fee, I’m looking for ways to burn the miles.
You see, as a cardholder, you can take advantage of a special 2,500 miles one-way off-peak pricing. But is it really a good deal? The answer is, you guessed it, “it depends.” Let me show you an example:
My sister-in-law needed a roundtrip ticket to see her parents in Pennsylvania. Spirit flies to Philadelphia, but there is a connection involved. Alternatively, you can fly to Atlantic City, which is 40 minutes further than Phily. No biggie, so we looked into booking her that flight. Since she wanted to fly in early December, I was able to take advantage of special 5,000 miles roundtrip pricing:
Why this price? Well, there is Spirit bogus booking fee of $15 each way, $5 legit government tax and $30 for prepaid checked bag. So, the total price came up to 5,000 miles+$101, not bad, all things considered. In the process, Spirit tried to upsell on everything under the sun, but I was strong and just said NO (see listing of all their optional fees here). I had to use Spirit co-branded credit card to cover charges in order to qualify for this special pricing. We went ahead and booked it because other legacy airlines wanted $200 and would still charge for checked luggage. But what about Southwest?
Well, I found non-stop roundtrip flight from Tampa to Philadelphia (her preferred choice) for 13,000 Rapid Rewards points. As you probably know, bags fly free and you can cancel and redeposit your points at no charge. Also, Spirit only has one daily flight from Tampa to Atlantic City, compared to several from Tampa to Philadelphia on Southwest. If your Spirit flight gets canceled, you may find yourself in a pickle (please, see reader comments) None of those things are deal breakers by any means, just something to be aware of.
There are instances when Spirit will probably beat Southwest:
- You need to fly to/from their hub city, which happens to be more convenient for your situation. See Spirit map of US coverage. Otherwise, Southwest has more extensive route network by far. Also, you are not tied to certain time periods when it comes to special mileage pricing. In most cases, each Rapid Rewards point is worth 1.6 cents when you factor in tax, giving you more flexibility.
- You need to book your ticket last-minute and it happens to be during their off-peak period. When I put in a flight leaving the next day, the special pricing of 2,500 miles was available, but booking fee was $50 each way instead of $15. Apparently, it varies depending on how far ahead you book your tickets. Still, in most cases, it will be cheaper to go this route compared to other carriers, including Southwest.
- You need to fly to Caribbean or Central America during off-peak time. Also, some airports are served by Spirit but not Southwest. An example: the island of St. Thomas. You can fly from Fort Lauderdale to St. Thomas for only 5,000 miles roundtrip+ tax during certain times of the year, including few weeks in January. By comparison, you will pay 15,000 Avios to fly from Miami to St. Thomas. Unless you qualify for free checked bags on American Airlines (Avios program partner), Spirit will probably be a better option.
So, I do still think Spirit card can be a terrific deal for some. I see it as a gap-filler in your miles and points arsenal. It can be a cheap way to see relatives for a weekend, when you can get by with only 1 checked bag for the whole family. Free Spirit (or shall we say, Fee Spirit) is very much a “niche” product, and you have to watch out for extra fees and be aware of potential drawbacks. Read my post on this card and Spirit program here. You may also want to read this Spirit Airlines trip report on Travel Codex.
So, which one was the winner in our case? To me, it was Southwest, without any doubt. Rapid Rewards pricing was fairly reasonable, airports were more convenient, and there was an option to re-deposit the points at no cost. Spirit charges $110 fee per award, so if you need to cancel, it probably would make sense to just cut your losses. As you can see, the programs are quite different in their business model.
Of course, it’s only fair to take into account the ease of earning points. Spirit card is issued by Bank of America and therefore, can be “churned.” You can only receive sign-up bonus on Southwest card as long as you haven’t gotten it in the last 24 months.
As far as earning goes, Spirit card gets 2 miles per dollar on all purchases, while Southwest card gets 1 point on most categories. Of course, Rapid Rewards program is a transfer partner of Chase, so you can increase your earning potential if you have a combination of Chase Ink Plus (or Chase Sapphire Preferred) and Chase Freedom.
My conclusion: Comparing Free Spirit and Rapid Rewards programs is similar to comparing apples and oranges.
So, why didn’t I use Southwest points instead? Well, I want to save my Rapid Rewards for a specific upcoming trip, and was giving my Spirit miles to my sister-in-law for free. You know what they say about a gift horse. I didn’t really offer my Southwest points and they don’t happen to have this currency. In case you are wondering, no, they don’t read my blog! Hey, I try to be generous, but I need to be practical too. Driving extra 40 minutes each way won’t kill her… I hope.
If you are thinking about signing up for Chase Southwest card, now (or within the next few weeks) may be a good time. The offer on both personal and business versions is currently increased to 50K points. See my page “Best credit card deals for family” The only reason you may want to hold off applying for a week or so, is if you are planning to go for Companion pass. You would want the points to post in January of 2016, which would give you two full years to take advantage of it. It’s an incredible deal, and you can read more on it in the same page.
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Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.