The new Free Spirit program is now live. And with it comes some change in the company’s approach to airline loyalty.
We started with a clean sheet of paper so we could focus on what travelers and their families want, which is points that add up fast and generate rewards just as quickly.– Bobby Schroeter, Spirit Airlines SVP and Chief Marketing Officer
Most of the new details were outlined in late October when the Free Spirit refresh was first announced. New earning rates, including a boost for ancillary offerings, should be lucrative for passengers. And for those who truly fly the carrier frequently the elite status benefits are an outsized win relative to what one might expect from an ultra low cost carrier.
As the program formally launches this week we also learn details on two critical facets of the program: Co-brand credit cards and redemption rates.
Penny a point, give or take
The redemption value of the points is, as promised, tied to the price of the airfare being redeemed. But it is not a strict dollar conversion. Rather, the value of the points floats based on the cash price of the ticket being purchased. A spot check of fares under the new program suggests points are worth about a penny compared to cash fares, though the rate varies depending on the ticket in question.
Perhaps the best news comes on international itineraries. While taxes and fees to be paid in cash are generally higher on these trips, especially returning to the United States, the points appear to be more valuable relative to the cash fare component. A handful of routes and dates show value in the 1.2-1.3 cents per point range, compared to values closer to 1 cent per point on domestic itineraries.
Given the relatively generous 6 points per dollar base earning rate and double earning on the “A La Smarte” ancillary fees and services the program suggests a minimum of 5% return for airfare spend and some potential to boost that significantly with some luck and planning.
A new Co-Brand Credit Card Option
The other major shift opening up with the new program is the addition of a fee-free co-branded credit card from Bank of America. The new Free Spirit Travel MasterCard comes with a slightly less rich suite of earning possibilities and benefits. Spend on the card does not qualify towards elite status nor does it earn the $100 companion voucher, for example.
But it still includes the core credit card holder benefits of Zone 2 boarding, points pooling, and no expiry of Free Spirit points. For even the occasional Spirit customer just holding that card (with no annual fee) could prove very valuable.
The Travel More card is similar to the legacy product and is where those cardholders will convert to. It adds increased earning rates on Spirit spending, plus bonus points for groceries and dining.
Access to a new customer segment
Historically Spirit’s loyalty program has bordered on punitive rather than rewarding. Short points expiry timing and mediocre earn/burn rates made it much less compelling for the occasional customer. That approach shifts massively with the new Free Spirit launch.
Between the extended points expiry and the free co-brand card the carrier is targeting a new segment of traveler – one likely already familiar with travel on the airlines – to join and benefit from the loyalty program as well.
Finally, in a nod to the bright yellow branding the carrier is known for Spirit Airlines also had some fun with the setup of its dedicated customer service phone lines for elite members in the program and co-brand card holders. It promises that they’ll receive access to a “Yellow Glove Concierge specially trained in maximizing the value of their loyalty and making every trip even more enjoyable.”
What that means in reality is hard to say. But going for yellow glove service rather than the traditional white glove option is worth a chuckle.
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