Spirit vs JetBlue: a ridiculously picky comparison (for picky travelers)

Spirit vs Jetblue

15 years ago, writing a detailed Spirit vs JetBlue comparison such as this would’ve been a lot more fun. These two airlines were much more scrappy (and similar) back then, and it would’ve been very entertaining to tell you all the ways in which they hated each other‘s guts. They were always trying to undercut one another.

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), JetBlue and Spirit are moving in different directions. Spirit has wholeheartedly embraced the ultra low-cost carrier thing, while JetBlue seems to have their eyes set on becoming a more respected global carrier.

Spirit vs JetBlue: a brief summary of all the similarities (and differences)

Despite these two airlines moving in opposite directions, there’s still quite a bit of overlap. The ways in which they run their individual operations are more similar than different in my opinion.

Similarities

  • Both spirit and JetBlue operate a point-to-point network (for the most part). Yes, JetBlue does have hubs in New York (JFK) and Boston, while Spirit has focus cities in places like Fort Lauderdale and Houston. For the most part, each of these two airlines operate a large number of flights outside of their hub network.
  • Both airlines are based primarily in the eastern half of the United States.
  • The route networks of both airlines are very similar, in the sense that nearly all destinations are in the continental United States and the Caribbean.
  • Both airlines feature a premium seating option. Each are an incredibly good value and highly competitive against other airlines.
  • Both spirit and JetBlue operate a fleet of Airbus aircraft. JetBlue does have a sub suite of Embraer aircraft for regional routes, but the majority of their fleet is Airbus.
  • Both airlines offer fairly attractive (and fully-featured) frequent flyer programs. This wasn’t always the case with Spirit however. It was only recently that they revamped their program to be more user-friendly (and competitive) with the mainline carriers.

Differences

  • JetBlue is starting to expand more outside of the United States, and has announced plans to serve London soon.
  • JetBlue Mint (their premium seating option) is classified as a business class seat, whereas Spirit’s premium seat (the Big Front Seat) is simply domestic first class quality.
  • Spirit Airlines has an unbundled fair structure, meaning that they charge extra for every little thing (seat selection, carry-on bags, etc.). You only pay for what you want.
  • JetBlue has codeshare and partner agreements with other airlines, whereas Spirit does not.

An oversimplified history of both airlines

The Spirit vs JetBlue history comparison is a fascinating one. Both of these airlines started life as budget carriers with one goal in mind: to steal market share from the huge and well-established mainline carriers by undercutting them in price.

Spirit Airlines has stuck to that methodology fairly well, though JetBlue seems to be swerving off track and turning into one of the huge mega-carriers they were trying to compete against.

Spirit Airlines

Unlike JetBlue, Spirit Airlines didn’t even start out as an airline. It was actually launched as a trucking company way back in 1964 with the best name for a nondescript trucking company ever: Clippert Trucking Company.

But it gets better. The name was changed to Ground Air Transfer in 1974. Airline service started in 1983, with the name of Charter One Airlines. Yup, it was a charter operation based out of Detroit with service to a handful of leisure destinations.

I could easily go on and on about how we got to the current Spirit Airlines as we know it today (you can read about it on Wikipedia), but that’s not the point of this article.

All you really need to know is that the Spirit Airlines execs were scrappy as heck and were unable to stick with a business plan the way JetBlue did. I appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit though (pun totally intended), and I raise my glass of water to them in a sign of appreciation and respect.

Spirit bright yellow a320
Considering how bold they’ve been from the beginning, it’s not hard to imagine that the Spirit execs would eventually ask for the airplanes to be painted neon yellow.

JetBlue

Unlike Spirit, JetBlue didn’t start out with the goal of making air travel as cheap as humanly possible. Founded in 1998 (and based at Kennedy Airport in New York), David Neeleman launched this airline as a low-fare alternative to the US mainline carriers. The twist (every successful airline needs a twist) was that they’d offer free live TV at every seat. It was revolutionary for the time.

Jetblue a321 at JFK
Wanna know how I know that the JetBlue execs aren’t as courageous as the Spirit Airlines execs? You won’t find any neon yellow on these planes…

Expansion happened much faster compared to Spirit, and many analysts thought that JetBlue was on a sure path to failure by growing too fast too quickly. However, they were able to keep costs down enough to push through the 2001 terrorist attacks, mounting debt during the mid-2000’s, and the economic downturn of 2008-09.

To me, the most important event in JetBlue history is the hilariously badass flight attendant incident. Everything else is boring (but you can read about the full history of JetBlue over on Wikipedia if you’re into that sort of thing).

Spirt vs JetBlue in-flight experience

Remember what I was saying earlier about this comparison being a lot more fun 15 years ago? Well, comparing the individual in-flight experiences of these two airlines will expose all of the reasons why.

Spoiler alert: the onboard experience you’ll get on JetBlue compared to Spirit is vastly different. However, it’s also the same. Weird, I know, but let me explain…

Seats

In general, I find JetBlue main economy seats to be far more comfortable than Spirit Airlines main economy seats. And while I find the Spirit Airlines Big Front Seat to be very comfortable, it’s nowhere near as nice as the JetBlue Mint premium seating option.

Spirit Airlines seats

The thing about Spirit Airlines is that it’s dangerous to expect too much. As long as you go into the flight knowing that all you’re going to get is a basic (rock hard) seat and not much else, you’ll have a fairly enjoyable flight.

Spirit Airlines A320 cabin
The main cabin of the Spirit Airlines A320. I’m not a mind reader or anything, but I can sense that these two women thinking something along the lines of “I don’t know what everyone was talking about…this ain’t so bad!

If you’re feeling a bit spendy (and you need a little room to stretch out), Spirit Airlines has you covered with the Big Front Seat. In my opinion, this is one of the best deals in commercial aviation at the moment.

spirit airlines big front seats
Whoever it was who decided these should be called “Big Front Seats” deserves a big fat raise IMHO. True to their name, the Spirit Airlines premium seats are big, AND located at the front of the plane.

The Big Front Seats, which are similar in size and comfort to the first class seats on the mainline carriers, are very affordable and easily obtainable. It’s far cheaper than what other airlines charge for their first class products.

Although I’m not a very big fan of the seats on Spirit Airlines aircraft, I do have to give them a lot of credit for offering the Big Front Seat on every plane that they fly. It’s very innovative, and very comfortable. It’s so good that I’ve often chosen that instead of paying more for a first class seat on another airline.

JetBlue seats

The funny thing about flying JetBlue is that you’re either going to have one of two experiences:

  1. It’s either going to be flat out amazing, or…
  2. It’s going to be just about as good as what you would expect on Spirit

The JetBlue main economy seat is OK. It’s certainly not much better than the seat you would get on any Spirit Airlines aircraft, but it is slightly more spacious. And there are video screens at every seat as well, which is a huge plus. However, the seats are just as hard and uncomfortable on long flights, so the only real benefit is that video screen.

JetBlue a320 seats with video screens and live TV
JetBlue A320 main economy. Not all that much better than what you’ll find on Spirit, but there are video screens with live TV. That has to count for something.
old JetBlue seats
Keep in mind that these are the old-style seats, and newer versions will feature larger video screens. Which will make judging people for their video entertainment choices so much easier.

Where JetBlue really shines is with its Mint business class product. It’s easily the best domestic first class seat in the United States, and there are very good reasons for it:

  • It’s a fully lie flat seat
  • The food is incredible
  • It’s typically priced lower than what other airlines charge for an inferior non-lie flat first class seat
JetBlue Mint seat
JetBlue freakin’ Mint. Setting the bar for domestic first class since 2013.
the JetBlue Mint experience
Spirit who? Ain’t no Big Front Seat out there that competes with this awesomeness.
SANspotter jetblue mint seat 4A
Looking rightfully smug for choosing Mint instead of a Big Front Seat.

Spirit doesn’t even come close to offering a product as good as JetBlue Mint. Yes, their Big Front Seat is an incredibly good value for the money, but it’s nowhere near as plush.

Food

Unlike how it was in my Southwest vs JetBlue comparison, comparing the food you’ll get on both JetBlue and Spirit is easy. It also gets a little complicated when talking about what you get in premium cabins. But for the most part, they offer the same type of food-for-purchase menus that are becoming so prevalent in the airline industry these days.

Spirit Airlines food

No matter what kind of seat you’re sitting in on Spirit Airlines, the food is the same. You will be offered a complementary beverage of your choice, followed by the option to purchase something off the menu if you want anything more substantial.

As you might expect, the food on their in-flight menu is expensive and somewhat limited.

spirit airlines full menu
“l’ll have the Cheez-It’s and a Heineken please.”
food for purchase spirit airlines
Unfortunately, I couldn’t say “Cheez-It’s and a Heineken” without gagging (and laughing hysterically), so I ended up with this on my last Spirit Airlines flight. No, I’m not proud of it, but…it is .003% classier than cheese crackers and beer.

JetBlue food

Similar to the way that Spirit does it, the only way to get a substantial meal in the main cabin on JetBlue is to pay for it. The food-for-purchase menu is quite similar, and provides those who need a bit more than a bag of snack mix the necessary nourishment to survive the flight.

JetBlue. food for purchase menu
Where’s the Cheez-It and Heineken option? Screw this dumpy airline. I’m never flying JetBlue again!
free jetblue food
You should know by now that I over-exaggerate sometimes all the time, and the Cheez-It and Heineken captions were just for comedic effect. In reality, the complimentary pretzels and water were more than sufficient on my last JetBlue main cabin flight (which means that I’m far more boring – and adult – than what I portray myself as).

Food is a completely different story when it comes to JetBlue Mint. If you’re seated in one of those seats, you will be served a full meal. A meal equivalent in size and quality to what is served in international business class on some of the best airlines in the world.

Jetblue mint lunch
This pic tells you all you need to know about how different JetBlue and Spirit are when it comes to premium cabins. JetBlue > Sprit (x100).

The bottom line is this: if you gotta eat on your flight, and you wanna eat good, this Spirit vs JetBlue comparison ends here.

Comparing the JetBlue and Spirit frequent flyer programs

15 years ago, this section of the comparison would’ve been a huge rant from me about how crappy the Spirit Airlines frequent flyer program was. However, they recently made some changes. The really good kind that bring it up to snuff with what JetBlue is offering.

JetBlue Mosaic

I’m not going to go into the specifics of the JetBlue Mosaic program (you can read about it here if you need the details), But I will say this: I really like the JetBlue frequent flyer program – mainly because of the vast number of partner airlines and other programs they’ve integrated it with.

For example, I earn a lot of American Express Membership Rewards points with my Platinum card (which earns 5X points on all airline purchases). JetBlue is a partner with the American Express Membership Rewards program, and it’s super easy to exchange my hard-earned points for a seat in JetBlue Mint. I’ve done it many times.

Not only that, you can earn and redeem JetBlue Mosaic points on a variety of other airlines. At the time of this writing, JetBlue is getting fairly intertwined with American Airlines. This is really nice if you fly American Airlines internationally, but prefer to fly JetBlue domestic.

Free Spirit

The Spirit Airlines frequent flyer program (Free Spirit) has finally matured to the point where it’s not the laughingstock of the industry anymore.

Again, I’m not going to go into all the details here, but all you need to know is that it’s a very competitive points and loyalty program that is competitive with nearly any other airline in the world. Points are both easy to earn and redeem, and it’s nice to see them taking their frequent-flier program so seriously.

Be sure to head on over to the Spirit Airlines website to read more about it. You’d be a fool not to sign up for this if you fly Spirit Airlines somewhat frequently.

Why would you choose Spirit over JetBlue?

Despite how similar both Spirit and JetBlue can be in some aspects, they are quite different as well. Deciding which one to fly on your next trip can be difficult at times – especially if they are offering a nonstop flight to your exact destination for relatively the same price.

Choose Spirit if:

  • There’s a flight going to your exact destination without the need to change planes. Spirit Airlines focus airports are notoriously crowded and chaotic, so it’s best to avoid those if you can.
  • All you want is the cheapest fare with no frills
  • You want a large first class seat for the fraction of what you would pay on other airlines

Choose JetBlue if:

  • You like having a TV screen at every seat
  • You want the ultimate business class experience for a fraction of what you would pay on other airlines
  • You want to fly on an airline with a vast number of partners (for code share opportunities and fun/convenient ways to earn and burn points)
  • You need an airline that flies to Europe

When it comes right down to it, choosing one of these two airlines over the other is way more difficult when simply comparing the main economy product of each.

To be honest, there’s really not that much difference in the main cabin. For me, if it’s a short flight, I won’t mind flying Spirit. However, on flights longer than 3 hours, JetBlue is a better option simply because of the TV screens at every seat.

There’s also the stigma of Spirit Airlines that needs to be taken into consideration. I mean, when’s the last time you heard about a brawl breaking out on a JetBlue flight? All I’m gonna say is that Spirit tends to attract a certain type of customer that makes these experiences more likely. That’s all I’m gonna say about that.

Which airline has the better livery?

Without dragging this out too long, I’m just going say that I much prefer the Spirit Airlines livery over the JetBlue livery. When comparing them both side-by-side, JetBlue looks stodgy and corporate. On the other hand, Spirit appears to be more like that fun-loving (and always-drunk) party guy we all knew in college.

JetBlue livery

What more is there to say about the JetBlue livery that I haven’t already said? These colors are stale and careful, and it’s a bit of a bummer that they don’t take more of a risk with their corporate branding.

The JetBlue livery.
The JetBlue livery. And yes, I’m yawning just as much as I did when I posted this exact same pic in my JetBlue vs Delta comparison.

However, I do give JetBlue a lot of credit for taking the initiative to have an entire collection of different tail designs for different aircraft. This livery may be plain and simple, but at least they’re having a little fun with the details.

Spirit Airlines livery

Love it or hate it, the Spirit Airlines livery looks so much better than the JetBlue livery. I personally hated the yellow at first, but when you compare it directly to the JetBlue delivery above, you can see why it’s so brilliant.

Spirit Airlines livery A320
Ugly AND brilliant! JetBlue execs could only dream of being so bold.

These airplanes stand out quite well at crowded airports, whereas JetBlue aircraft tend to get lost in the mix. Well done Spirit Airlines!

A few final thoughts about this JetBlue vs Spirit comparison

As much as I picked on Spirit Airlines in this comparison, the fact of the matter is that it’s a fine airline that offers a darn good product. I have enjoyed every single flight on Spirit that I have ever had, and I very much look forward to flying with them again.

That being said, they fall short when being compared directly with JetBlue. This is very much to be expected, and does not in anyway reflect negatively on Spirit. These two airlines are moving more and more in the opposite directions every year, and I suspect there will be far less of a need to compare them directly within 10 years or so.

Southwest vs Spirit, however…now that’s a legitimate comparison.

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