If everyone hates Spirit Airlines, how is it making so much money?

Everyone likes to make fun of budget airline Spirit, which charges extra for almost everything besides a small hard seat. And yet it is very profitable. In his new role as a Medium columnist, the inimitable Rob Walker explains why the derided brand is rolling in cash. The short answer: Spirit might not be an enjoyable way to travel, but passengers know what they are getting into.

Spirit is successful, Engel suggests, “because it is grounded in honesty.” By this, he means the carrier is quite clear about its value proposition and who its target customer is, and there’s none of the “brand confusion” a customer experience when a mainstream carrier suddenly offers a bare-bones experience. “Their customer proposition is easier to understand, and in some ways has more integrity, than the offering from many other airlines,” he says. “It’s just that the product offering is not attractive to all customers.”

Spirit has delivered on what it actually promises — not on what somebody else suggests it might have promised. The brand might be a joke to pop culture but not to its customers, and it’s the latter that counts. “There’s a sizable market segment who is willing to forgo the frills for rock bottom price,” Engel says.

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