After routinely getting bashed in consumer surveys, Spirit Airlines is overhauling its brand to better explain its prices and policies. The gist is that travelers should lower their expectations.
Spirit Airlines refers to itself as the “dollar store of the sky,” and at every opportunity company CEO Ben has told the media (including TIME) that the carrier’s ultra-low fares come as a result of an across-the board a la carte business model. The way it works is that base price of a flight includes the bare minimum (a seat on the plane) and nearly everything else (including the right to a carry-on bag and a reservation for a precise seat on that plane) costs extra.
Spirit’s fee-crazed policies shouldn’t come as a surprise to passengers, and yet because they stand out as extreme even in the fee-heavy airline industry, the company regularly gets ranked dead last by travelers and advocacy groups like Consumer Reports. Compared to other airlines that rely heavily on business travelers, Spirit attracts an inordinately large portion of the leisure segment—people who are paying their own way, and who are very likely to be drawn in primarily by the cheapest fare possible. They’re also people who don’t fly nearly as much as business travelers, and they’re therefore less likely to know the ins and outs of carrier policies, especially a smaller operator like Spirit.
Apparently, a broad swath of consumers hasn’t gotten Spirit’s message—that its low fares buy a seat and almost nothing else—and now, the airline is relaunching its brand and kicking off a new ad campaign to explain its model better. Overall, the point is to lower the expectations for what’s included in a flight, or what’s now being called a “Bare Fare.” The hope is that when passengers understand that the base price includes only the bare minimum, and that the tradeoff for a cheap fare is that customers encounter fees at every turn for anything extra (bottled water, bigger seats, you name it), they’re a lot less likely to complain about being nickel-and-dimed—because, again, that’s the model.
Spirit isn’t explicitly saying that travelers should expect less, of course. Instead, the airline is trying to eliminate unpleasant surprises on the part of customers by stressing that it works differently from other carriers. Baldanza told Fox Business News that these differences benefit Spirit customers in the form of fares that are 40% lower than the competition. “Yet to get that price successfully we have to do some things that are a little bit different and if a customer is not expecting those differences, they can get frustrated by those or be surprised by those and we don’t want them to be surprised,” Baldanza said. “So this new brand identity or brand unveiling is helping to educate our customer to understand what it is to fly Spirit Airlines and how to feel smarter about getting those 40 percent lower fares.”
In particular, the relaunch is supposed to stop travelers from feeling duped, ripped off, or caught off guard by Spirit’s fine print and fees. “Let’s not have any more gotchas,” Baldanza said to USA Today. “Because the thing we do best is give you a really low fare. And these are the things it takes to get the low fare. So understand that, and you decide whether that trade-off is good for you.”
For travelers, the takeaway is that when you book a Bare Fare, you shouldn’t expect much. You should expect the bare minimum. That’s what Spirit promises, and that’d what Spirit delivers. For anything more than that, expect to pay extra.