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Allegiant and Spirit Are Smart to Add/Increase Fees. Why Not?

Allegiant MD-80 and Spirit Airbus A319 hanging out in Las Vegas. Photo by Joe (JX).

Allegiant MD-80 and Spirit Airbus A319 hanging out in Las Vegas. Photo by Joe (JX).

With Spirit Airlines raising their carry-on fee at the gate to $100 ($35 if you pay ahead of time after November 6th) and Allegiant Air starting to charge for their carry-ons, it has a bunch of people very upset. But why? If an airline comes out with a policy you do not agree on, do not fly them. They will get the message and either change their policies or go out of business. Even though people state they won’t fly either airline, both Allegiant and Spirit continue to grow, so why would they want to reverse their fees?

Yes, I realize that some passengers do not have many choices at their closest airport. However, there is a reason why other airlines are not able or willing to fly into those airports — they can’t make it profitable. So, you are either stuck with an airline that charges fees, one that runs turbo-props or you  take the bus.

What interests me are the people that do have a choice, complain about fees, yet continually choose either of the two ultra low-cost carriers.

Being human, most people want their cake and eat it too. Passengers want a first class experience at an ultra low-cost carrier price. Sorry to break it to you — that is not going to happen.

When asked how Spirit Airlines views its fees, Misty Pinson, Director of Spirit Communications, told AirlineReporter.com, “Our ultra low fares with optional add-ons are very consumer friendly. We give customers the opportunity to save money with our low fares and give them the power to choose the extras they want, and they only pay for those they use rather than being forced into paying a higher fare that includes extras that they don’t even want or use.”

Some of you might be rolling your eyes thinking that Spirit is just spinning the fees as a good thing, but Pinson actually gives some good points. If I fly on another airline that might not have as many fees, but I don’t want a soda, I don’t have a bag to check and I am not interested in food, I am still paying for all of those things in my ticket price. Yet airlines, like Spirit, give you the option to pay less overall, if you are not going to use all the options. How is that unfair? Especially when you do all all the fees to the base fare, the overall price still comes under most other airlines.

I also reached out to Allegiant to check in on charging for carry-on bags is going. “Inevitably, when you start to charge for something that used to be free, there will be some people who are vocal about it, but ultimately, we have seen that only about a third of our customers are purchasing overhead bin space when they make their travel reservations online,” Allegiant spokesperson explained over email. “As we unbundle our product and drive down base fares, we are able to stimulate demand and see growth in the number of people who can afford to travel.”

Let’s take a closer look at how both airlines have been doing; comparing the first quarter of 2011 to 2012, both airlines did very well (all data from SEC):

ALLEGIANT
Revenue Passenger Miles (RPM) are up 17.2%
Passenger revenue is up 25.8%
Average fare is up 6.7% to $94.95
Average fare (ancillary revenue) is up 4.2% to $37.75

SPIRIT
RPMs are up 18.8%
Passenger revenue is up 17.5%
Average fare per passenger flight segment is down 6.9% to $76.65
Non-ticket revenue per passenger flight segment is up 21.3% to $51.68

That 6.9% decrease is important to note. It indicates that the people who don’t buy anything else are getting a better deal on Spirit flights.

If you were an airline and  wanted to make profit (when it comes down to it, that is what every airline wants right?) and you have this business model that makes you profit, while you continue to grow your passenger load, why wouldn’t you do it? There is obviously enough demand for airlines like Allegiant and Spirit to exist with other  domestic carriers Southwest, Alaska and Virgin America as well.

Many feel that ultra low-cost carriers have started a race to the bottom for overall experience. I disagree. They have provided a cheaper option for people who care more about getting from point A to point B as cheaply as possible than they do about amenities. If you want to ride in style, you can still pay more to fly in first class on another airline, not have to pay any fees, get more room and even a meal. The “golden-age” style of flying still exists, but it will just cost you much more (like it did in the “good ol days”).

If you are still angry about all those airline fees, it is okay to be angry — just don’t blame the airlines. If you are going to blame anyone, blame those passengers who see them as a better overall deal and create the demand for airlines like Allegiant and Spirit to come along and fill.

Alright, let’s hear it… what do you think of these new/higher airline fees?

A huge thanks to Dan Webb for helping me with these numbers and to Joe (JX) for letting me use his photo.