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]

Gadling Gear Review: EXO Hardside Luggage From eBags

With all that electronica the modern traveler hauls from Point A to Point B and back again, it’s natural to be worried about things getting crunched, crushed and smashed. Hard-sided luggage is the solution, especially if you’re checking a bag, and eBags has a new line of branded gear; I tested one out on a recent trip.

There were two less than perfect things I discovered right away about the EXO Hardside Spinner. The first: there’s no brake on the wheels so if you’re on a sloped surface, the bag will wander away if you don’t keep an eye on it. It’s an odd thing to discover, but there we are, saying goodbye on the airport drive and my bag is heading off for the car behind us, perhaps preferring not to board a coach flight to Seattle.

The other issue I wasn’t thrilled with? No outside pockets. There’s a packing strategy for this surely, but if your laptop and your baggie full of 3-ounce liquids is packed inside the bag, you have to open it up at the security checkpoint. I’m a carry-on traveler in most situations and dealing with my TSA scrutinized belongings at the checkpoint was more difficult than when I have a bag with external pockets to stow my stuff.

You do lose a little interior space with a four-wheel spinner (two-wheel rollers have a bit more), but there are some clear advantages. The bag holds its shape and that makes efficient packing a breeze. It’s really maneuverable and getting down the airplane aisle is a snap. It’s perfectly sized for the overhead and I did not worry about my belongings getting crunched by other travelers’ stuff in the game of luggage Tetris that takes place on every flight. Because eBags makes this line in crazy bright colors, it’s easy to spot on the carousel if you decide to check your bag. There’s a built-in TSA approved combination lock too – a nice detail.I also tried out a set of eBags’ packing cubes. They’re designed to fit the luggage perfectly. I’m a recent convert to packing systems, and a surprised one at that, but I like the sense of order a set of packing cubes gives to my otherwise haphazard packing method. I can’t honestly recommend the eBags set over the many others available, but know that if you choose this bag, you can get a packing system designed to work with their bags.

What’s more, eBags backs their brand with a lifetime warranty. On an anecdotal note, folks have told me that the company is very responsive when you give them feedback about their products; they really want you to like the gear and they’re eager to learn what makes great gear from the people that use their stuff.

The eBags EXO line comes in a carry-on size and a larger, 24-inch size. The carry-on retails for $119, and the larger bag for the packing system is $143.99. Check for the sales at eBags – these are back to school prices and subject to change.

Allegiant Air To Start Charging For Carry-Ons

Las Vegas-based, low cost carrier Allegiant Air will begin charging for carry-on bags as of Wednesday, April 4.

“Allegiant will begin charging for carry-ons for travelers booking new reservations beginning Wednesday (it will go live on our website late Tuesday night PDT),” said Jessica Wheeler, public relations manager for Allegiant, as confirmed by AirlineReporter.com.

This is policy the company has been considering since spring of last year.

A fee schedule has not yet been released, but an internal memo to employees says that paying for carry-ons at the airport will be about $35 and that advance payment online will be between $15 and $29, about on par with the airline’s checked bag rates.

This can’t be a popular move, even for an ultra low cost airline. Sound off in the comments below.

[flickr image via o5com]

Airline Madness: Lack of overhead space vs. Inattentive parents of crying babies

Airline Madness is Gadling’s tournament of airline annoyances. You can catch up on all of the previous tournament action here.

The first round of Airline Madness rolls on with #5 Lack of overhead space going head-to-head with #12 Inattentive parents of crying babies. Thanks to baggage fees and idiots who don’t know how to pack properly, there never seems to be enough room for everyone’s carry-on bags. Once the plane takes off, however, we’re often subjected to unprepared parents who don’t seem to care that their baby is causing everyone’s ears to bleed.

Only one of these aggravations can advance to the second round. Read their bios below and then vote for the one that you find the most obnoxious.#5 Lack of overhead space
When did people lose all sense of spacial relations? That massive bag isn’t going to fit inside that tiny overhead compartment. And your jackets don’t belong up there either. Why is the overhead space filled up before even half the passengers have boarded? Baggage fees and the fear of lost luggage have encouraged more fliers to keep their belongings with them in the cabin. However, there’s no place to put everything and too many idiots abusing the space.

#12 Inattentive parents of crying babies
Look, we’re not pointing fingers at the babies here (because it’s rude to point and babies will put your fingers in their mouths). The problem is the parents who either aren’t prepared (with toys, activities, diapers, etc.) or don’t seem to care that their child has become a 110-decibel problem. Take the kid to the bathroom, bounce him on your knee, give him a bottle. Exhaust every option and then start over again from the beginning. Show everyone that you’re aware of the problem and, at the very least, offer some acknowledgement of (and apology for) the disruption.

Do you hate overhead space issues or the parents of crying babies more? Only one of these annoyances will be moving on to the next round. Which one do you think deserves it? Vote and then voice your opinions in the comments.
First round voting ends at 11:59PM EDT on Friday, March 16.

More Airline Madness:
#1 Annoying passengers vs. #16 Disgusting bathrooms
#2 Legroom vs. #15 Inefficient boarding procedures
#3 Lack of free food/prices for food vs. #14 Cold cabin/no blankets
#4 Baggage Fees vs. #13 Obese people who take up two seats
#6 Change fees/no free standby vs. #11 Lack of personal entertainment/charging for entertainment
#7 Rude airline staff vs. #10 Having to turn off electronic devices during takeoff & landing
#8 People who recline their seats vs. #9 People who get mad at people who recline their seats
Hotel Madness: Gadling’s tournament of airline annoyances

Catch up on all the Airline Madness here.

Gadling gear review: Hummingbird Carry-on Zip

Picking the right bag to carry with us on our travels can be almost as important as selecting the items we put inside of it. Our baggage must be versatile, rugged, distinctive, and now days, easily fit inside an overhead compartment. The Carry-on Zip from Hummingbird meets all of those criteria, and then some, providing travelers with a simple, but very useful, bag for active excursions. Especially ones involving water.

Before getting into what the Carry-on Zip brings to the table, it is important to understand what it doesn’t. In terms of design, this is most definitely a no-frills, minimalist bag. There aren’t a lot of pockets – in fact there is just one large 40-liter compartment – and the bag doesn’t have wheels or feature a retractable handle. It is, for all and intents and purposes, a simple duffel bag.

But to call the Carry-on Zip “just a duffel bag” is to greatly underestimate its value for travelers. This bag is designed for those that prefer to travel light and are looking for something they can take with them anywhere they go. Made from a tough, but flexible, vinyl material, the Carry-on Zip takes a beating without showing the wear and tear that comes from frequent travel, and its large, comfortable shoulder straps make it a cinch to carry, even when packed to the brim with gear. Those same straps can be easily adjusted to wear the bag like a backpack, and its single, cavernous, compartment has plenty of room to store everything you need for weekend escapes, or even week long adventures.

The vinyl material that makes the Carry-on Zip such a tough, durable travel option also makes the bag waterproof as well. Hummingbird has matched those materials with heavy duty zippers that when locked into place, they seal the bag up tight, keeping everything inside safe from the elements. The waterproofing is so good in fact, that I recently carried this bag on a trip to the Virgin Islands, where I spent my days snorkeling, scuba diving, and sailing the beautiful ocean waters there. Thanks to the Carry-on Zip, I was able to take my camera, cell phone, and laptop with me where ever I went, without fear of damaging those expensive items within. On more than one occasion, I found myself wading into chest and neck deep waters to meet a waiting boat, and each time this bag kept my gear completely dry. It was very reassuring to know that I could trust this pack with my most fragile gear, even while swimming in the Caribbean.As the name implies, this bag was designed to carry-on any flight, and it does indeed store nicely overhead. But upon returning from the Islands, circumstances dictated that I check the bag on my return home. Waiting at the baggage carousel as the luggage was unloaded from the flight, I discovered another great feature of this bag – it is very easy to spot in a crowd. The distinctive bright yellow coloring and unique shape of the Carry-on Zip allowed me to identify it from a distance and grab and go very quickly. That might not be a feature on the manufacturers spec sheet, but being able to quickly pick-out your bag from the sea of other luggage is greatly appreciated, especially when you’re not use to waiting for the airline to offload it in the first place.

Hummingbird designed the Carry-on Zip to be highly packable in its own right. That means that while it may not be your primary bag on an extended trip, it can still be taken along very easily. This is piece of gear that is highly useful in a variety of situations ranging from a simple day at the beach to an extended kayaking excursion through remote regions of the world. The waterproof nature of this bag makes it very unique and useful for adventure travelers and beach combers alike, and with a price tag of just $149.95, it is affordable enough to add to your gear closet without breaking the bank.

The Carry-on Zip certainly isn’t for everyone, but anyone who spends a decent amount of time in or around water will definitely appreciate what this bag has to offer. Paddlers, surfers, and scuba divers will especially find it valuable, although I think plenty of other travelers will as well.