Q: Is the BofA Spirit Airlines credit card a good deal or not? (Updated for 2016)
A: Founded in 1980, Spirit claims to be “the ultra low cost airline for the Americas.” They’re mostly known for their flights down to Florida and the Caribbean. Personally, I used to fly them all the time because they offered direct flights to and from Detroit/Los Angeles.
I originally wrote a Spirit Airlines credit card review here several years ago. Back then it was issued/managed by Barclays and in short, the experience my family had with it was not good. I’ve dealt with many, many call centers and the Spirit credit card service department was by far the worst. They seemed to just read from a script. It doesn’t matter what you say or what your question is, these people didn’t seem to understand your issue or how to provide a resolution.
To add insult to injury, the promotional sign-up “bonus” wasn’t worth much. They claimed it was enough for free airfare (which technically is true) but afterward I saw fine print. They use language like “up to” and “off peak.” After we got the card, there wasn’t anywhere close to enough for the round trip ticket I wanted. In fact, a year and a half later – plus after it being the main credit card used during that time – there still were not enough accumulated miles!
That was then, but how about now?
Just to reiterate, those comments above were about the old Spirit MasterCard and were written around the end of 2009 and early 2010. Since then the credit card program has changed. Here’s a look at the newer version:
Spirit Airlines credit card details
- Issuer: The card is now issued by Bank of America.
- Name: Previously it was called the Free Spirit Onyx World MasterCard. Now it’s just called the Spirit Airlines World MasterCard.
- Annual Fee: $59 per year. There is a lower-tier version, Platinum Plus for $19, but it only earns 1 mile per dollar spent.
- Rewards: The card gives 2 miles per dollar spent. Admittedly this is much better than in the past, but I’m still not convinced it’s a competitive credit card offer and here’s why:
Complaint #1. You will be charged award redemption fees
Being charged to spend your reward points? This is not common among other frequent flier programs. The Spirit website lists these “non-refundable, per customer award redemption” fees:
- $100 – Award ticket requested 6 days or less prior to departure
- $75 – Award ticket requested between 7 and 20 days prior to departure
- $15 – Award ticket requested between 21 and 179 days prior to departure
- $0 (No Fee) – Award ticket requested at least 180 days prior to departure
Keep in mind, those are in addition to any applicable government taxes and fees you also will have to pay.
Complaint #2. Navigating the peak vs. off peak nightmare
Perhaps the biggest drawback of both the old Free Spirit MasterCard and the new version is the way this airline structures their mileage redemption.
You may have seen them advertise things like “15,000 bonus miles, enough for 3 round-trip off-peak tickets.” They reel you in with promises like that which are technically correct, but take a look at the complicated redemption maze and judge for yourself whether or not that’s what you will be paying: Free Spirit redemption (PDF file).
In my experience, when I would check for a round-trip domestic ticket for routes I typically fly (between the Midwest and the West coast) the required amount would often be 20,000, 25,000, or even 37,500 miles.
Sure, on short distances you may be able to snatch a low-mile deal but again, I urge you to take a close look at that PDF file and pay attention to all the date ranges they classify as “Peak” and “Standard” flights.
As mentioned I used to fly Spirit airlines all the time but now that they charge for both checked bags and carry-on bags and a slew of other fees, I have actually found it to be cheaper to fly the “regular” airlines instead. Plus, there’s less confusion when it comes to how far your rewards will get you. However, if you can figure out a way to travel without luggage and avoid all their ancillary fees, then it could potentially be the cheaper way to fly.
The bottom line is this: The Spirit Airlines credit card rewards have certainly improved relative to the past, but they still aren’t truly competitive. For the same $59 annual fee, you can also get 2 miles per dollar spent with the Capital One Venture and it charges no foreign transaction fees (which can be a huge savings if you travel outside of the US).
Plus, you can use your rewards to pay for any travel purchase (including the purchase of Spirit airline tickets). Your rewards are worth 1 cent each, always. I just think most people would be better off with a different reward card, whether you choose one like Venture or another with no annual fee that earns slightly fewer rewards per dollar.
To compare the Spirit MasterCard to other airline-specific card offers, here is a list of the top travel credit card deals.
Updated September 2016. Note that the the Bank of America version was launched in spring of 2011. Older comments are referencing a different issuer.