We evaluate a number of loyalty programs for the value of their points and the program. Here is what Spirit Airlines’ Free Spirit points are worth.
How To Earn Free Spirit Points
Spirit Airlines’ loyalty program, Free Spirit, was revamped in the last couple of years to form a fairly compelling program even for seasoned road warriors in the US. In fact, with the exception of complimentary upgrades to Spirit’s Big Front Seat (comparable to domestic First Class on United, Delta, and American) the program offers more in Spirit elite status Gold level than any other carrier at a comparable 50,000 mile/year level.
Like other carriers, Free Spirit loyalty program participants earn points for flying based on the tier level and cash prices of the airfare, status members earn more. But what Spirit did that no other carrier has matched, is incentivizing ancillary purchases at an even higher level. For example, buying wifi onboard can earn up to 20 points per dollar regardless of the credit card issuer, while travelers on American, for example, would have to be American Airlines credit cardholders to earn ANY points for the same purchase. This extends to seat selection, food onboard, etc.
Check out this comprehensive post about the new program.
The Free Spirit credit card also has an elevated offer of 60,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 within three months of account opening. (Editorial note: we don’t receive compensation from the Free Spirit card, it’s just information.)
Establishing A Value
Some travel writers will speculate about the value of points based on the maximum possible value a redemption can incur. For example, I once booked a business class ticket using American Airlines Advantage miles for 110,000 roundtrip to Southeast Asia that retailed for $18,000; in this example, each mile would be worth 16.36¢. That, however, doesn’t reflect the value to me because I would never pay $18,000 out of pocket, it didn’t replace that for me. For others who may only use their miles for trips to Mexico, their value is closer to 1¢/point as that’s what it replaces from a cash price they would pay for the same route and flight.
However, unlike those cases of intrinsic value, Spirit Airlines uses a fixed value. They will never tell a consumer this value per point, it has to be ascertained through planned bookings. While redemptions start at 2,500 for elite Free Spirit members and cardholders, that doesn’t really speak to the value Spirit places on each point.
I took an example for a route today from Fort Lauderdale to Pittsburgh on a simple one-way fare. The cost was $108 in cash, or 11,000 points, or 4,400 points and $86.
On a full redemption (remember that this will exlcude any redemption fees the carrer charges), the airline is giving members just less than one penny per point or 0.98¢.
Using a cash and points redemption, we take out the co-pay ($108-86 = 42) and then do the math: $42/4,400 points = 0.95¢/point.
I did the same experiment with a flight today to Los Angeles. The cash rate for this flight is $280 for saver’s club (slightly lower airfare, lowering the overall value for standard members) but we find different math when looking at the other options and from the prior redemption.
For cash and points on this booking, we start at $280 subtract the $200 co-pay leaving 12,600 points for an $80 savings. This equates to a rate 1/3rd worse at 0.63¢/point.
The points-only redemption is 31,500 points in exchange for $280 or 0.88¢/point.
One more round was Fort Lauderdale to New York Laguardia. The cash price (not saver’s club) was $132, points redemption was 13,000, and the cash and points price was $97 and 5,200 points. The value on a redemption was just over 1¢ per point, but on a cash and points basis, the value was 0.67¢/point.
Based on these three examples, I assess the value of Free Spirit points to be 0.83¢/point.
This is a certain case of your miles may vary based on which Spirit flights you fly and how you use your points. The most consistent factor is that cash and points are not a good value if you have enough points to pay for the full flight redemption outright.
How Does Free Spirit Compare?
Many programs have stated fixed values for their points. Southwest is at just under 1.4¢/point, JetBlue is closer to 1.3¢/point, but other programs are not so clear. As I mentioned before, value is personal and I find the most value in Alaska Airlines miles (2.0¢/point), Delta has some bright spots on extreme mileage discounts or when premium awards can be booked at saver rates for partners like Air France and Virgin Atlantic, but generally speaking I rate them about equal to Spirit. United and American have slipped some to about 1.2¢/point though again, there are bright spots smattered around the programs.
For what it’s worth, American Express points when converted to cash are worth exactly 1¢/point.
Spirit Airlines points value is between 0.63 and 1¢/point though we found the average to rest at about 0.83¢/point. If you fly Spirit, there are some good opportunities to accumulate points and there’s more value than critics would suggest. That said, the swing is larger than I would have imagined, and other than points that are accumulated from Spirit flights or potentially the credit card, I would encourage most to use cash instead to buy their tickets.
What do you think? Is the value of Free Spirit points what you imagined? Have you had a better/worse experience redeeming points?