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.
Benny the Bear, an Airbus A319 on approach for Denver International – Photo: JL Johnson | AirlineReporter
It has been a while since we here at AirlineReporter reviewed a mainline Frontier flight, four years to the month, in fact. Since then, Frontier has been freed from Indianapolis-based Republic and has made serious changes to its business model. Denver’s hometown airline and longtime low-cost carrier spent most of 2014 transforming itself into an ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC). This change was prescribed by the company’s new owners – Indigo Partners. Indigo co-founder William Franke has some experience with ULCCs; in fact he has successfully invested in a number of them, most notably Wall Street’s favorite: Spirit.
I have long wanted to experience Frontier, but the timing and opportunity never worked out. That is until they published a $76 round-trip from Kansas City to Denver. While I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a “fan” of the ULCC market, domestically they tend to be more interesting than say, the legacies. While I gravitate more to LCCs (like Southwest, Virgin, or JetBlue) it’s fun to check out their ULCC brethren. LCC and ULCC airlines like to suggest that their competitive prices create demand and with a crazy sub $100 fare, I suddenly found a two-day hole right in the middle of my work week.
Spirit’s first flight out of Kansas City receives a dual water cannon salute – Photo: Aaron Wright, KC Aviation Dept.
It’s true, people vehemently despise Spirit Airlines. Just the mention of the company elicits emotion-filled horror stories. Indeed they have a solid 1 out of 5 star rating on TripAdvisor, and they are frequently found at, or near, the top of various “worst airline” rankings. In direct contrast to these ratings and frequent “I’ll never fly Spirit again” claims, the airline continues to grow and increase market share. This begs the question – is the experience really THAT bad? Or, is there something else at play here?
BONUS: The Five Stages of Flying an Ultra Low Cost Carrier (Epic Comic Style)
In their own defense, Spirit argues that the mass dissatisfaction with them is in large part due to consumers not understanding their progressive, totally unbundled Ultra Low Cost Carrier (ULCC) business model. That assertion seems to hold water. The vast majority of complaints I hear and see are indeed related to “unexpected fees” and being “nickel and dimed” to death. As the well-known cliche goes: “The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.” Thankfully, Spirit recognizes there is a problem. To that end they recently hired Barkley, a KC-based marketing firm to assist with better educating consumers and promoting what they refer to as a “bare fare.”
“Bare Fare” crop circle spotted in a soy field just north of the KC airport – Photo: Victor Lazo
A few months ago, Kansas City International airport announced that ours would be a new market served by Spirit. Shortly after an unexplained crop circle appeared prompting a lot of curiosity. It turned out the image seen above is the logo for Spirit’s Bare Fare.
I was excited to finally have the opportunity to give them a shot, contrary to the advice of everyone who I’d informed of my intentions. I booked a seat on the first flight out, and this is my honest, unbiased review…