Allegiant and Spirit, Head to Head (Trip Report)

With Allegiant deciding to flee Long Beach at the end of this month, I sensed there was a unique experience that I would regret missing out on if I didn’t jump on it. I had the chance to fly Allegiant to Vegas and then Spirit back to LAX. This head-to-head comparison could be had for less than $50 total. Just to make things fun, I was determined to do it without paying a single fee. I almost succeeded.

Buying the Tickets
My first decision was to pick the day to go. I of course looked for the cheap days and the days where the flight times worked. Spirit keeps a fairly consistent schedule but Allegiant is all over the map. The morning flight on Wednesdays looked best, because it would give me 3 hours in Vegas to connect. I knew I needed a buffer in case Allegiant was delayed (and it was).

Spirit Allegiant Compare 1

I first went to AllegiantAir.com to buy my ticket. The website is a bit clunky but I found my flight on November 2 for $10.01. I declined the myriad of seat assignment fees, bag fees, car rentals, hotels, etc before finally getting to the final screen. My ticket had still ballooned from $10 to over $50. Why?

Spirit Allegiant Compare 2

Allegiant slaps on a “convenience” fee of $17 per ticket if you book online. The airline also snuck a transfer in on the website which I would have had to de-select. Knowing that I would be running by Long Beach Airport, I figured I’d just drop in and save the $17.

Tickets can be bought within an hour after every flight departure, but finding out when each flight departs wasn’t easy. I did figure it out, and it took me only 10 minutes to get ticketed so I was able to avoid a parking fee at the airport. Total ticket price was $20.71 with a mere $9.31 going to Allegiant and the rest to the feds.

With Spirit, I wasn’t so lucky. I went on the website and got the same kind of experience as Allegiant though the fees were displayed more clearly and the site looked more professional. On Spirit, there’s an $8.99 passenger usage fee each way, and I wasn’t about to drive up to LAX just to avoid that. I gave in and paid $28.69 for the trip with $8.37 going to Spirit for the fare plus $8.99 for the passenger usage fee. That was the only fee I’d pay on the whole trip.

Checking In
The day before departure, I went to check in for both flights. Allegiant just gave me an error message saying that since I hadn’t paid for an assigned seat, I couldn’t check in online. If I wanted to pay for a seat, I could call Allegiant. I knew that was the case, but this was very poor presentation. Why not let me pay right there? (Not that I was going to . . .)

Check In Error Allegiant

Spirit does things differently. When you check in, they try to upsell you more on bags, seats, etc. If you pass, then they just assign you a random seat, which is, of course, a middle. I ended up in seat 19B, printed my boarding pass, and I was set with them.

When I bought my Allegiant ticket, the people at the counter said it was a madhouse and people usually really did need to arrive 2 hours before departure. But they said that the Wednesday morning flight was lighter so I could get there 1.5 hours early and I’d be fine.

I parked on a side street off the airport and walked the 10 minutes into the terminal. Once there, I found nobody waiting at the Allegiant counter. I checked in and the first thing the agent said was that the flight was delayed “about 30 minutes.” Had Allegiant actually offered flight status on its website, I would have known this when I checked. Unfortunately, it just redirects to you FlightView and has no delay info. Boo. She then said the airplane was only half full so I’d have an easy time picking an open seat. I got my boarding pass, which was Z17 and went to wait at the gate.

The Flights
There is no Allegiant presence in the gate area – they just board from the Delta gate. When the airplane finally arrived, they started boarding and there was some confusion. First they did some pre-boarding for those who paid. Then they board those who paid for assigned seats (about 15 boarded). After that, they boarded families and then open seating in groups of 10.


November 2, 2011
Allegiant 551 Lv Long Beach 1005a Arr Las Vegas 1110a
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 23, Runway 12, Depart 54m Late
Las Vegas (LAS): Gate D1, Runway 1L, Arrive 51m Late
N868GA, McDonnell Douglas DC-9-83, New Darker Sun Allegiant livery, ~50% Full
Seat 9F
Flight Time 46m

I did the long walk to the airplane and saw it in shiny new paint. What a beauty, especially with the iconic Fly DC Jets sign in the background. I figured this might be the last chance I’d have to fly a Douglas aircraft out of its Long Beach home.

Walking to Allegiant MD-83

The interior was clean but the fixtures looked old. I loved it. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry and in the end, we left about an hour late. The Santa Ana winds were kicking up so I had the chance to experience my first departure from runway 12.

As you can see in the video, we took off like a rocket, and circled over Long Beach before heading toward Vegas. Being in the front of the airplane, I could hear nothing but the slipstream. I love that airplane. It’s so funny, because were I stuck sitting in the back next to the engine, I would have a very different opinion.

The flight was quick as we went by Disneyland and Ontario Airport. By the time we had passed over the Cajon Pass, the flight attendants had already done their beverage-only service. Sticking with my no-fee plan, I passed. Soon we were descending over the desert, and we landed straight in to the north.

Allegiant Seats

I got off the airplane and noticed that half of the D concourse we were using was fenced off. I took the train back to the main terminal and went through security at the B gates, where Spirit flew out of. This time, I opted for the Millimeter Wave scan instead of opting out, and they really have sped the process up dramatically. It was quite efficient.

By now, I had about 1.5 hours until my flight back, so I wandered. I strolled down the A concourse where Spirit uses a couple gates and US Airways uses a couple more. One whole part of it is fenced off and it’s really quite empty. (And THIS is an airport that’s building another terminal. Yeah, that’s a good idea.)

Vegas Closed D Gates

I went back to the B gates and found my airplane waiting there in the old black cube colors. I went up to the gate and asked if I could change my seat or if that would cost money. The agent laughed and said that no, he could change my seat at the gate without charge.

He asked if I wanted an exit row, and I stared at him wondering what the catch was. He said that it was again no charge at the gate – first come first served. And since the flight was less than half full, there wasn’t much demand.

Spirit No Carry On Boarding Pass

I parked myself in the empty gate area and waited until it was time to board. Spirit has a much more normal boarding process, using zones. They boarded zone 1 and 2 but apparently, that’s only for exit rows and people sitting in the Big Front Seats. Only three of us boarded.


November 2, 2011
Spirit 411 Lv Las Vegas 2p Arr Los Angeles 310p
Las Vegas (LAS): Gate B2, Runway 7L, Depart 8m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 67A, Runway 25L, Arrive 5m Early
N507NK, Airbus A319-132, Black Cubes Livery, ~30% Full
Seat 11F/9F
Flight Time 42m

The first thing I noticed was the advertising on the bulkhead, on the overhead bins, on the seatbacks…. It didn’t bother me , but the advertisers are certainly getting their money’s worth.

Spirit Advertisements Everywhere

I took my exit row seat and found it to be horribly uncomfortable. The seat lacked padding, as exit rows often do, and it felt like it was reclined forward. I moved up a couple rows to a standard row and found the seat pitch tight but it was for more comfortable. Certainly nothing that would bother me on a short flight like this.

But I couldn’t stay long. The flight attendant said that everyone had to sit in their assigned seats for weight and balance. Really? Ok, so I went back to my generous exit row legroom. I did notice that the seats were very well worn and there was a lot of junk in the seatback pockets, but it was just fine.

Spirit Seatback Ad

Soon, we were pushing back to take off, but then we sat. Other airplanes passed us to depart, so I assumed there was some sort of flow control delay into LA. The pilots never said anything and after about a 10 minute wait, we were on our way.

We had barely made the turn back toward LA after our westbound departure before the flight attendants started pitching the Spirit credit card. That was followed by a pass through the aisles asking if anyone wanted “purchased items.” Then they came back through and handed out credit card apps. Believe it or not, people actually took them.

Unlike on the Allegiant flight up, the Spirit pilots turned the seatbelt sign off quickly. As soon as they did, I headed back up a couple rows to the more comfortable seat.

After the early quick passes, the flight attendants went back to the galley while travelers slept or read. I just stared out the window as we headed toward LA.

It was an uneventful landing and we pulled in to our gate in the war zone known as Terminal 6 a few minutes early. Terminal 6 is under massive construction preparing for the Alaska move next year, and it’s a mess right now. My wife picked me up at the curb and we headed back down to Long Beach.

The Verdict
Both of these airlines gave great value for the money, and that’s no surprise. I mean, if you pay $48 roundtrip, it’s hard to get poor value as long as the flights get you there. Most of the things that bugged me could easily have been resolved by paying for an extra level of service. And that’s great. I’m more than happy to have the choice to pay for what I want. So, who was better?

While I loved the MD-80 ride on Allegiant, I have to give the nod to Spirit for being more polished. Spirit seemed to be more clear about the model throughout the entire process. The website was pretty easy to use and the nature of the product was very clear throughout the process. My biggest complaint about Allegiant is really on the operational side.

Allegiant has no flight status on its website so it’s impossible to know for sure if your flight is delayed unless you just look for an inbound flight on a flight tracking service. There’s no reason they have to be so difficult with those kinds of things. I also found Allegiant’s boarding process to be pretty confusing with some assigned seats and some open seating. The whole process just ran more smoothly on Spirit.

But in the end, both did a good job.

[See more photos from the trip]

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32 Comments on "Allegiant and Spirit, Head to Head (Trip Report)"

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Bill from DC
Guest
interesting comparo, Brett. that D concourse at LAS is rather new, why are gates closed off already? i know that some of the old concourses, where US used to dominate, are already emptying out but will be surprised to hear if that’s the case out in D. seems like allegiant should employ a few more web type people to get their online offerings more in line with spirit. i was very surprised to hear that an airline that loves to maximize ancillary fees would not sell you a seat assignment online when you went to “check in.” then again, maybe… Read more »
Sanjeev M
Guest
Also, Spirit originated as a full service airline with a real reservation system and such, so making the transition to ULCC left behind some legacies of “normal” airlines. I’m just still glad that Spirit is still in OTA’s and easily comparable online. Now what happened to the whole AA/Sabre brouhaha? Theoretically did LAS build a new terminal to upgrade the experience for international carriers? Cause the current T2 or whatever is probably fairly old. Even the Southwest C gates seem old to me. You would think in such a leisure focused place they would focus on controlling costs, with US… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member

Flying LAX-LAS is nothing, but both carriers fly multi hour flights using those same planes. Could you have traveled say 3 hours in your original seats?

For fun did you figure out if you had purchased all the up sale fee items what that short round trip flight would have cost?

I’ve checked out the Allegiant website and I never found it to be easy to use or to give basic info people would need.

Roger
Guest

Was the “crying baby” class on Allegiant a free upgrade or did you have to pay :-)

robert
Guest

I have to question @ 50% and 30% full how long are these guys going to survive on these routes @ these prices … great review though – many thanks ..

David SF eastbay
Member

Just because the flights were not full on that Wednesday doesn’t mean other flights/days are not full.

Allegiant/Spirit are not the type of carriers who would stick around a market/day/time if there was no money to be make.

Drina Murphy
Guest

These low cost airlines make me laugh, they start off low cost then they just add on all kinds of different fees and you end up paying the same amount as you would for a non low cost airline….go figure!

Hunter
Guest

I think that was CF’s point with this trial. Yes, if you add on services and up-sells, your price might come close to the more “mainstream” carriers. But, if all you want is a seat from A to B, these carriers offer you the opportunity to pay for what you want. Nothing more, nothing less.

A
Guest
Very interesting since I don’t have a hometown opportunity to fly either of these guys. Clearly it looks like both are going after the European model of cheap seats and then making money on everything else. That’s fine, but with planes that aren’t full?!? I’m just not seeing how this business model will work without packing those planes 100% full. Clearly the only people that made anything off CF’s flights were the feds with their taxes/fees. I’m not particularly a fan of cheap air travel. A R/T flight that would cost more in gasoline to drive just sends the wrong… Read more »
DesertGhost
Guest
I have to wonder how much future airline revenue will come from ads on aircraft. I would imagine we’ll see more and more of it. Why not? “Free” TV is funded by advertisers. So are many Internet websites. You can’t watch or go to a sporting event without seeing a bunch of advertising (a long tradition; look at pictures of Ebbets Field). Diamondbacks home runs are given the name of a sponsor. Chase Field also has a Circle K sponsored “K” sign to indicate the number of strikeouts by D-backs pitchers. Even Sun Devil Stadium has billboards galore. So why… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

I don’t think the economics can hold. A TV show can be shown to millions. An A380 can only fit a fraction of that. On the other hand Family Airlines might succeed at this.

jaybru
Member

Based on your observations, somebody is actually flying these airlines. But, how did these people actually get to take these flights…why? Would be fascinating to interview each passenger.

When you look at their websites, you wonder…what business are these companies(?) in? Flying people? Are they really airlines?

Anyone pay the $59.99 to become a member in the “$9 Fare Club,” providing “access” to Member only fares, SOMETIMES as low as $9?

To each his or her own, I guess!

David M
Guest

Allegiant is a travel services company. Note the company name is Allegiant Travel Co. and a while back they changed their Twitter account from @allegiantair to @allegianttravel. When they moved their headquarters from Fresno to Las Vegas, the business model became to focus on packages with things like hotels and shows that they’d get a commission on, rather than air-only tickets.

David M
Guest
One thing that doesn’t quite hold up is that you were able to avoid baggage fees on Spirit. Since this was just a day trip, you didn’t have any bags at all, but most people are going to end up paying either to check or carry on. The only other traveller I think could avoid the fee would be someone on a weekend trip to Vegas (or similar) that’s smart enough to fit everything in a small bag that fits under the seat, and thus doesn’t have to pay the carry on fee. I think what gets me about Spirit… Read more »
Ron
Guest
I tried the same trick of buying tickets at the Allegiant counter at LGB, but in the 5 days it took me to get there the fare went up, so it would have been more economical to have paid the convenience fee with the original fare. Ticketing wasn’t quite professional — the agent said she didn’t need the infant’s name, though later I saw there wasn’t an infant on the reservation and I had to call Allegiant to add him. While ticketing itself was quick, I was there with my 5-year-old and we ended up at Legends, so I did… Read more »
Ron
Guest

Unrelated (or loosely related) — yesterday I flew out of the new jetBlue trailer at LGB and found it to be quite pleasant. I actually like how they separated the concessions from the gate area, though I might feel differently about it when it rains…

ptahcha
Guest

Interesting that Allegiant charges for using the website but not ticketing in person. Most other airlines, including JetBlue, charges for NOT using the website instead.

David M
Guest

Allegiant charges the fee for the option most people will use. Very few people will go to the airport to avoid paying the fee, so they get the most fee revenue by charging for online purchases rather than for airport ticketing.

tharanga
Guest

Spirit’s webpage looks professional in comparison to something else? I shudder. The spirit webpage looks quite intentionally kitschy, perhaps to reinforce the idea that this is the cheap airline.

Mike
Guest

Cranky,

weight and balance is especially an issue when flying with small loads and no cargo. (sounds like your scenario?).
obviously the plane will still fly if you change your seat but i am sure you appreciate the crew operating by the book.
can actually be that on low-load flights certain seats are assigned last to make sure its inside the envelope and the FAA would be happy if they made their checks…

what is needed to be a pilot
Guest

I would fly with either. As long as you get to your final destination. They sound no different than any other airline in my opinion.

Ron
Guest
Hi Cranky, I said I’d add a comment if there was something interesting on my Allegiant flight. Can there be an Allegiant flight without something interesting happening? Here’s the trip report. Thursday, November 10, 2011, Allegiant 336. Leave Los Angeles (LAX), gate 65, scheduled 14:15, actual 15:27; arrive Springfield-Branson (SGF), gate 2, scheduled 19:35, actual 20:32. Aircraft N876GA (MD-80), row 16, 99% full. We decided to purchase seats this time because Allegiant no longer assigns seats at the airport but rather has open seating after all the preassigned seats have boarded; we really wanted to sit together at the front… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

“We left the airport without a safety demo — I gather this is not required after a fuel stop?” AFAIK, since no one got on or off (did they even open the plane’s doors?) everyone still had the safety info.

There are bunches of variations allowed, I know you can take off without the part on using an oxygen mask, as long as passengers get this info before 10,000 feet. Yup, that means while the plane is climbing the flight attendants get out in the aisle and demo the masks.

Ron
Guest

The doors were opened and there was some minimal servicing, but no passengers got on or off.

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