Like many others, I operate on a shoestring budget, more often than not, out of stubbornness. I prefer to call it budget justice, a principle of savings that guides people like me to needlessly circle the block for a free parking space only to miss the event that got me into my car in the first place, or, worse yet, to time and time again book flights on Spirit Airlines, the ultra low-cost carrier known for luring in customers with absurdly low air fare and then assaulting them with excessive fees, uncomfortable cabins and culturally offensive advertising.
When faced with the choice of true comfort or the perceived value from Spirit, I will always choose Spirit. Fortunately, my experience has prepared me with some survival techniques for the ultimate budget justice. Here’s my advice.
Book without bait
Spirit is almost always running a promotion to get you to the site in hopes that as you book you’ll concede to one of their many aggressive offers before checkout. When enticed with low fares, it always helps to first double check for promo codes on Retail Me Not. If I missed a promo by a few days, I zoom over to Orbitz, where the deal might still be alive; there, I’ll have a higher chance of finding the best fare.
While booking, read each page carefully, and just say no! Decline to choose your seat, decline to check your bag, decline to carry on, decline to rent a car, a hotel, just about everything. You’ll be glad you didn’t take the bait to extend your relationship with Spirit any further than you had to.Perfect the personal item
A shoestring traveler already knows that to avoid fees, checked luggage is off limits. But Spirit often surprises passengers by charging for carry-on bags as well. A non-member can pay online in advance $35 each way for their carry-on bag, or get gouged at the airport kiosk and pay $50. Worse yet, if you bypass pre-paying for your carry-on luggage, you can be stopped at the boarding gate and charged a $100 fee. Suddenly, that $99 round-trip flight is starting to look more like a $300 nightmare.
To fight for your budget justice, perfect the personal item – a purse, briefcase or backpack that you can carry on and stow under the seat for free. A backpack meeting the required dimensions of 16 x 14 x 12 inches is much larger than you think. I often load up my personal item with a MacBook, and four days of clothes. I’ve even traveled with friends who have gone as far as to wear a comical amount of layers in order to skirt the charges.
Side-step the seat selection
When flying budget airlines, sometimes the only comfort you can count on is traveling with a partner, but let’s be realistic – just how memorable is your flight together? I’d wager about as memorable as sitting in a doctor’s waiting room. You’ll get where you’re going regardless of where you are seated, and the worst-case scenario is you are separated from your party for a few terrible hours.
Still, there are ways to increase your chances of sitting together without paying, and it’s based on a system of trusting that everyone else is just as stubborn as you are.
When Spirit asks you to choose your seat ahead of time ($12-$199 each way), simply decline. Each time I purchased two seats on the same transaction, I was able to sit with my partner for free. I simply checked in online early, selected that I would like a random seating arrangement, and the computer put us together.
Recently, when traveling with a group of friends on Spirit, we had all purchased tickets separately and were still able to sit together without paying the price (though we accrued some small fees). Instead of checking in online, we arrived early at the check-in counter ($1 per customer, $5 per boarding pass printout). Even though we had separate confirmation numbers, we approached the counter together and the attendant kindly seated us together as one party. Granted, you may be at the mercy of an airline employee’s mood; it’s still worth a shot.
Fight for free “water”
On a recent flight I sat near an elderly veteran. When the Spirit flight attendant passed by to collect credit cards for pricey drink and snack orders, the gentleman kindly asked, “Do you have free ice water?” With a big smile simulating the pleasant demeanor reserved for a 4 year old, the attendant responded, “I can give you ice. That turns into water.” The veteran accepted his cups of free ice and waited patiently for them to melt. I couldn’t help but admire him for many reasons, not excluding his tenacity for a deal!
[Photo credit: Flickr user theskinnyailurophile]