Who doesn’t like low prices? I know I do. But I also know with low prices, there is probably a “catch,” or I might not get the same experience as if I paid more elsewhere. This concept seems to be pretty simple to understand (the whole “you get what you paid for”), but many it all goes out the window when you start flying.
There are many passengers out there who are not fans of super cheap airlines (and ala cart) airlines, like Spirit and Allegiant. These are probably two of the most aggressive ultra low cost carriers and I think this post speaks to why these airlines can be so successful. These are the airlines who provide rock bottom prices and the ability to pay more for the services you want/need. A few years back (first published in April 2011), my creative side decided to make a little comic strip showing the five stages of flying an ultra low cost carrier. It has been of my all time favorite stories, because it rings true so often. I am guessing that these five stages might seem pretty familiar to many of you!
Stage One: The Search
There are many out there who could care less about what airline they fly on — all they care about is price. They remember flying from Los Angeles to Topeka in 1996 for $79.00 round trip and refuse to pay more than that ever again. They will check every airline site possible, spending hours, maybe even days trying to find the best deal possible. Then, amazingly they find one airline with prices way less than their competitors. Why is it so much cheaper? Who the heck cares… for that price, you are willing to fly in a cardboard box! After getting your ticket, you gloat to as many as you can on how much you saved. You title yourself the “Airline Fare Master.” Oh… just wait my friend.
A Spirit Airlines Airbus A321 wearing the Bare Fare livery at TPA – Photo: JL Johnson | AirlineReporter
I paid a mere $16.11 for a one-way Spirit Airlines Bare Fare flight from Kansas City to Dallas. Crazy, right? It gets crazier… $14.24 of that ticket went to the “Government’s Cut,” (Spirit’s words, not mine) that is, various government-imposed fees and taxes. Of the remainder, a single penny went towards the base fare, with the final $1.86 going to what Spirit refers to as “Unintended Consequences of DOT Regulations.” Depending on where you sit on the regulatory fence, the actual revenue from my Bare Fare was either a penny or $1.87.
Spirit Airlines Bare Fare cost structure breakdown – Image: Spirit.com
Either way, the airline was bound to make money off of me from their various fees, right? After all, that’s what Spirit is known for: evil fees. But, what if I went totally bare and instead just paid only for “ass plus gas” (again, Spirit’s words, not mine). Do people actually do that? I did… for science.
Frontier Airlines’ new livery in 2014 – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter
Looking at the market today, and lots of talk about additional airline mergers, it seems that Frontier and Spirit joining forces would make sense.
With the recent completion of the American Airlines and US Airways merger, there are officially four major U.S. airlines that control over three-quarters of the domestic air travel market. The four airlines are: Southwest, United, American, and Delta. All of them have been through mergers in the last decade. The remaining twenty-five percent of the market is divided up amongst carriers such as JetBlue, Alaska Airlines, Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines, amongst a few others. There is a very small likelihood that another merger would occur amongst the major four airlines due to antitrust regulations. Therefore, any airline consolidation would most likely happen among the smaller carriers that control the remaining twenty-five percent of the market, in an effort to better compete with the four mega-carriers.
One potential merger that appears to be the most promising is a deal between Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Spirit and Denver, Colorado-based Frontier. Spirit operates around 250 daily domestic departures, while Frontier operates at somewhere around 230 departures daily. The merger would combine two companies positioning themselves fighting to be the top ultra discount airline in the United States.
I am a big fan of Spirit Airlines. They offer some of the lowest fares and push to promote their a-la-carte-style pricing. Although it seems that many customers see them as the enemy and “extorting” people out of their money, I see them as a viable, cheap option to get from point A to point B. Are they going to be like riding in business class on a Qatar A380? No… not even close. But that is not what they are about, nor should that be the expectation flying them.
Last week, I posted a letter from a reader complaining about his experience with Spirit and my hope was that people would see him as ridiculous and defend the airline. Many did, but some I saw (via the story and social media) agreed with the passenger. That surprised me.
I reached out to Paul Berry, who is Spirit’s director of communications, advertising, and brand to see what he thought. Although I was just looking for a few lines, I was very impressed with how seriously he took this complaint; he gave a very thorough reply. Below, you can see how he breaks down each topic and gives a detailed description on how Spirit operates.