Budget Justice: How To Survive On Spirit Airlines

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]

Airlines have best quarter ever … thanks baggage fees!

Airlines have best quarter thanks to baggage feesEvery time you pay to check an extra bag you’re making someone’s life better. The latest data from the U.S. Department of Transportation reveals that the third quarter of 2010 was the most profitable for the U.S. airline industry since the department began keeping score in 2002. The industry’s operating profit margin hit 10.5 percent in aggregate. Low-cost carriers, as a class, had an operating profit margin of 11 percent, its best performance since hitting 11.2 percent in the third quarter of 2006.

How did the airline industry pull this off? Recovering economic conditions helped, of course, but so did the stuff that passengers have gotten comfortable complaining about. More than $900 million in third-quarter revenue came from baggage fees, with another $590 million from reservation change fees. Then, there was another $646 million in ancillary fees. It all adds up to more than $2 billion for a single quarter.

So, while we’re all complaining about these extra fees, it looks like many of us are paying them, too.Spirit picks up the highest percentage of its revenue from ancillary fees at 26.9 percent, up from 24.2 percent in the second quarter of 2010 and 20.6 percent in the third quarter of 2009. Allegiant was next at 9.7 percent. Delta and US Airways derived 7.7 percent of their revenues from ancillary fees, with Southwest at 6.7 percent.

Of course, the money isn’t just going into the pockets of airline employees and executives. The six network airlines spent 25 percent of their operating expenses in the third quarter on fuel. United Airlines spent the most on fuel among network carriers – 25.7 percent of total revenue – with Allegiant leading low-cost carriers at 44.1 percent.

Before you feel too sorry for airlines when it comes to fuel costs, remember those profits. Four network airlines had double-digit operating margins, along with four low-cost carriers.

[photo by Tracy O via Flickr]

Spirit Airlines to Congress: paying for overhead bins helps the poor


You just don’t need to take your bags on vacation, said Spirit Airlines CEO, Ben Baldanza. He’s told Congress that his airline, which brands itself as a “super-low-cost” carrier, actually makes it easier for the proletariat poor to take to the skies, even if it does require that they plop down $45 to stuff a carry-on into the overhead bin.

In a sense, it does. If you choose not to check a bag, that’s $5 bucks shy of half a C-note you’re tucking back in your wallet, but the cheap tickets can run a tad costly if you go with all the up-charges, according to a report by ABC News. So, the poor are all set as long as they exercise some restraint, it seems.

According to Baldanza, “We are certain that Spirit’s decision to unbundle services not essential to the transportation of passengers, has enabled more passengers to fly at lower cost.” He added, “Indeed given our low fares, it has allowed many to travel who otherwise simply could not afford to do so.”

So, what’s next for Spirit? I’m guessing that cake will be served on every flight, for a fee of course, which the airline will gladly let the poor eat.

Top spots for mind-body-spirit revival

Sometimes you just need a little “om.” The daily stresses of life can pile up, the chaos of corporate life can get to be too much or maybe the kids are just getting on your last nerve. You can escape to the gym, or you can escape to a more serene environment where mind, body and spirit are the focus of your journey.

Yogis unite — the following are some of the 10 best spots around the world for a perfect yoga revival.

1. Azeda Beach, Buzios, Brazil
With 21 beaches and an ultra-loose local attitude, the Brazilian resort town/fishing village of Buzios, made famous as a favorite of Brigitte Bardot, is sure to make a more than adequate ashram. Azeda Beach, only accessible via a walking path from Osso Beach or by boat, has great space to spread your mat and relax while you gaze out at the ocean. Azeda rarely gets overcrowded, but if you want privacy, go early in the morning.

2. Cape May Lighthouse Park, Cape May, New Jersey
Cape May is a spot on the Jersey Shore unlike any other. The historical resort town has a calming vibe that, in part, is created by its award-winning beaches and colorfully painted Victorian homes. But the best place to take in the scenery and the harmony of the sea, as you practice your asanas, is near the Cape May Lighthouse.

3. Battery Park City, New York, New York
You may forget you’re even in New York City while enjoying the parks of this southern Manhattan neighborhood, except for the excellent view of the Statue of Liberty. The best park to practice in is Robert F Wagner Jr. Park. You’ll have plenty of space and a bit of peace while you ashtanga as sailboats breeze by along the Hudson River.

4. Ventura Pier, Ventura, California
Located on the coast of southern California between Santa Monica and Santa Barbara, Ventura is a city that feels more like a small-town. The pier and promenade, located just off Harbor Boulevard, won’t get as crowded as the Los Angeles attractions, and you still get to soak in the ocean atmosphere during sun salutations.

5. MacArthur State Park, Singer Island, Florida
Claim one of the pavilions in this peninsula park where you can breathe in the sea air among the subtropical coastal habitats. Well worth a hike after your practice.
6. North Avenue Beach, Chicago, IL
Ponder the marvel of the great Lake Michigan from a grassy spot in front of one of the best beaches in the city. While a park that ranges in activities from volleyball to bicycling to swimming off the sand, you can find a place along the beach to take in all in and let it all go.

7. National Mall, Washington, DC
Immerse yourself in the powerful vibes of the country’s capital, and a view of the Capitol, as you perfect your downward dog. The lawns of the mall are active with tourists and local employees, but expansive enough for you to maintain some of your own space.

8. Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, Vancouver Island, Canada
You’d be hard-pressed to not find a spot on this gorgeous island that’s good for meditation. In Victoria‘s Beacon Hill Park, you’ll be surrounded by the colors and scents of the garden scenery, which will make your pranayama all the more powerful.

9. Wrigley Drive, Lake Geneva, WI
Any one of the lake-front inns in this city located across the great lake from Chicago will provide ample atmosphere for reviving your spirit. But you can also grab a grassy spot near the Riviera Ballroom, on the main Lake Geneva strip of Wrigley Drive. For more tranquility than the summer tourist-season might provide, try going in the spring or fall.

10. Parc Guell, Barcelona, Spain
Balance will be your intention at Parc Guell, a garden complex designed by Antoni Gaudi. Pick a high spot overlooking the incredible colors of the structures so you can take in the genius of the artist while you chant your “Om.”

M. Fuchsloch is a Seed.com contributor

Spirit Airlines strike continues – 600 flight attendants furloughed

The two day strike at Spirit Airlines turned into a three day strike, and then into a five day strike. And with no end in sight, the airline just sent its 600 flight attendants some bad news – they are all furloughed.

The move means these staff members will be without a pay check until the 500 Spirit Airlines pilots reach an agreement on their new contract.

The pilots are currently talking with the airline at an “undisclosed location”, but it is pretty clear that the airline is ready to play hardball. It also makes the pilots look like the bad guys, even though they are just trying to fight for what they (claim they) deserve.

The airline has been on strike since June 11, and is most likely losing millions – they usually carry 10,000 passengers a day, and without that revenue, it’ll take quite some time to catch up. The current talks involve the airline, the pilots union and the National Mediation Board.

[Image from Getty Images]