I’ve been doing airline reviews for over 10 years now, so an in-depth Frontier vs Spirit comparison feels like the right thing to do. I’ve got loads experience on both of these low cost airlines, and believe me – there’s a lot I can say about each. Some of it good, some of it bad (and laced with expletives that would make a drill sergeant blush).
Is Frontier better than Spirit? Which airline is worse? I’m going to answer all of these questions (and more), so hopefully you’ll have a better idea of which airline is better for you by the time you scroll all the way to the end.
Frontier vs Spirit: a brief summary of all the similarities and differences
I guess I never really thought about it before trying to organize my thoughts for this comparison, but Frontier and Spirit are more similar to one another then they are different. Check this out:
- Both are classified as ultra low-cost carriers (ULCCs)
- Both operate a point-to-point network system – foregoing the structure of a traditional hub-and-spoke network (such as how other US airlines like Delta, United, and American operate)
- Both have horribly uncomfortable seats in the main economy cabin
- Despite having the most uncomfortable seats in economy, both offer a surprisingly decent premium seat option
- Both Frontier and Spirit operate a fleet of Airbus narrowbody aircraft (A319, A320, A320NEO, A321, A321NEO)
- Both offer a food-for-purchase option – which isn’t all that bad actually
- The pricing structure of both is similar: they “bundle” their fares, which means that customers have to pay extra for every little thing (such as checking bags, choosing a seat, being allowed a carry-on bag etc.)
- Frontier actually started out as a”traditional” airline in the sense that they had a hub-and-spoke network based out of Denver Colorado (DEN). On the other hand, Spirit’s route network has been point-to-point right from the beginning.
- Frontier is focused primarily in the western United States, while Spirit is focusing on the east. It is worth noting that both are expanding nationwide as the years go on.
- Spirit is a much larger airline than Frontier – and is growing at a faster rate.
History of both airlines
Both Frontier and Spirit have fought long and hard to get to where they are today. These aren’t evil airlines that popped up just a couple years ago that were purposely built to make you curse (and give you ulcers in the process). Believe it or not, they were started by real (compassionate) human beings with the best of intentions.
Anyway, one of the most interesting things about Frontier and Spirit is the fact that they both feel like relatively new airlines. The average age of aircraft in each respective fleet is relatively young, and both have experienced major growth over the past several years. However, it goes a lot deeper than that..
An oversimplified history of Spirit Airlines
Did you know that Spirit originally started as a trucking company? I didn’t. Anyway, founded in 1964 as Clippert Trucking Company, the air service didn’t actually begin until 1983. Back then, it was called Charter One and was based out of Macomb County, Michigan (Detroit-ish). Scheduled operations began on April 2, 1993.
An oversimplified history of Frontier Airlines
Compared to Spirit, the current iteration of Frontier is just a baby still. Founded in 1994 by an ex-United pilot (Fredrick W. Brown), scheduled flights began with a small fleet of 737-200 aircraft serving regional destinations out of Denver, Colorado. There’s a lot more to it than that though – the original “Frontier” launched way back in 1950, and went out of business in 1986. The Frontier we have today is not the same Frontier of old.
Comparing the seats
I’d describe the seating options on Frontier and Spirit to be both good and bad. I say “good” because both airlines offer a fairly decent premium seat option which rivals anything you would find on the major US airlines. However, I say “bad” because the basic economy seats are pretty much the worst in the sky.
Which airline has the better premium seat?
Based on my own personal experience, I tend to like the premium seats on both Spirit and Frontier equally. Let me explain:
The Spirit Airlines premium seat (officially referred to as “Big Front Seats“) is large and spacious. As a matter of fact, they are very similar to what you’ll find in the first class cabin on other airlines. They’re comfortable too!
My most recent experience in Spirit Airlines Big Front Seats came on a flight from Fort Lauderdale to San Diego with an intermediate stop in Houston. While I didn’t write a trip report for that specific flight, it did inspire me to write an article which asked the question of whether or not Spirit Airlines is actually as bad as everyone says they are. Spoiler alert: No. They are not bad at all.
Frontier Airlines, on the other hand, doesn’t use a different seat for their premium seating option (officially referred to as “Stretch Seats”). They are the exact same seats you’ll find in basic economy, but they are spaced out much further and the legroom is quite generous.
Additionally, where the seats lack in overall space and padding, they make up for in style and design. The new Frontier Airlines seats are nothing short of beautiful with black leather and diamond stitching – similar to what you would find in a decently priced car nowadays.
Which airline has the better basic economy seat?
I can’t help but chuckle when thinking of an answer to this question – because it’s kind of like asking: which proctologist gives a better colonoscopy? Quite frankly, I’ve found the basic economy seats on both Frontier and Spirit to be incredibly uncomfortable.
Both airlines have adopted the “slim” style of economy seat. This means that the padding is minimal, and it’s likely that you’re going to end up with a sore derrière and / or a sore lower back once you reach your destination. Yes, I know I just praised Frontier Airlines for having a decent premium seating option using these exact same seats, but trust me. The extra legroom makes all the difference since it will allow you to squirm around a lot more in order to find a comfortable position.
Don’t expect a lot when it comes to innovative seat features on either airline either. Tray tables are tiny, and recline is extremely minimal.
Comparing the food
Frankly, there isn’t much to talk about in the Frontier vs Spirit competition when it comes to mealtime (just as it was in my Spirit vs JetBlue main cabin comparison). Both airlines won’t give you anything but water for free, and you’re going to have to pay extra if you want anything with anything more than just a wee bit of substance and flavor. Here’s a quick look at the in-flight menus on both airlines:
As you can see, there really isn’t all that much difference in both the food (and the prices) on either airline. I know very little about the business of airline food, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they get their food from the same source. It’s just got that feel to it.
Since the airline industry changes so fast, it’s likely that the food options that you will be presented with will be different than the food options I had on my most recent flights. For the latest information, do be sure to check out the following links:
Overall bang for the buck
At the end of the day, the Frontier vs Spirit debate comes down to the following question: which airline offers the better value for the money? In other words, Do you get a better bang for your buck on Frontier than you would on Spirit? Or is it the other way around?
Honestly, in my personal experience, it all depends on the route(s) you’re flying. Both airlines offer incredibly cheap base fares. They also offer pretty much the same basic service.
However, Spirit is a much larger airline, and therefore, you get the perks that come with that. Things such as more flight options (which is especially convenient when flights get canceled), and better gate space at major airports. That second point is debatable, I know, but my experience has been that the Spirit Airlines corporate office has deeper pockets and thus has the ability to spend more to get better gate space.
That said, when things go right, I still believe that the bang for the buck is quite good both on Spirit and Frontier. Frontier is a good airline (most of the time). Spirit isn’t all that bad (usually). Both will make you curse like a sailor when things go wrong though. I promise you that.