Spirit Airlines is coming to Dallas in a big way with the recent announcement of hiring Dallas based workers.
The carrier is making Dallas a hub with its new crew base for pilots and flight attendants and even though Spirit is competing with American and Southwest in their headquarters, the airline will have an impact on fares.
A few months ago we predicted that Spirit was looking at Dallas for a new hub because Spirit was adding so many flights. The reason we believe the airline decided on Dallas as a hub was to have an edge over Southwest. When Southwest made the full acquisition of AirTran, Southwest had to give up AirTran’s gates at DFW unless it wanted to give up gates at Love Field.
This gave Spirit the green light to come to Dallas and the airline did it slowly by offering two flights per day each between Dallas and Fort Lauderdale and Las Vegas in May 2011 and the airline added to two daily flights to Chicago in August 2011. Spirit chose markets where Southwest had one-stop or connecting service due to the Wright Amendment.
Spirit currently offers nonstop service to 17 cities from Dallas and plans on adding 9 new cities between November 2012 and June 2013. Spirit only offers one flight per day to many cities from Dallas, but by making Dallas a hub, we could see Spirit offer two flights or more per day to select cities. Now that would be good for Dallas because as we have seen on flights to Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale and Denver, on routes where Spirit offers two or more flights per day, competing airlines have more incentive to match fares.
Spirit is very fee happy, but the airline will help to lower fares, especially on routes where it offers two or more flights per day. Spirit is going to put pressure on American, Southwest and others who fly on the same routes out of Dallas. I recently bought a ticket to Denver for a ski season flight and paid $108 roundtrip, with taxes and fees. I didn’t buy it on Spirit, which was actually $10 cheaper, I bought it on American, because I can get a free seat assignment and a free roller bag.
I can’t remember the last time I saw Denver for $108 roundtrip. Even the live agent who works for Bestfares.com and booked my flight was ready to fly to Denver when she saw the price.
From Dallas we see airfares to Fort Lauderdale for $188 roundtrip in the middle of winter on American and about $148 roundtrip on Spirit. Spirit offers two flights per day to Chicago for around $168 roundtrip and fares on other airlines are now in the $198-$228 roundtrip range, but we were paying $338 roundtrip before Spirit started flights. I’ve even seen the competing airlines like United and American offer fares as low as $144 roundtrip to Chicago.
Recently Southwest raised its fares to Houston to $153 roundtrip, but Spirit offers that route for $71 roundtrip. We priced flights to Spirit’s two furthest destinations from Dallas and found $110 roundtrip fares to Portland, OR for travel October 29-November 6, versus $410 roundtrip on nonstop flights on American and Alaska, and $130 roundtrip to Boston for travel October 30-November 7, versus $278 roundtrip nonstop on JetBlue (includes 1 free checked bag) and $296 roundtrip nonstop on American.
The destinations I’m getting really excited about are new flights to Mexico. Spirit will begin nonstop service to Cancun in April 2013 and to Los Cabos in June 2013. Spirit is already offering fares for purchase and flights to Cancun are as low as $302 roundtrip, versus $403 roundtrip on American. Los Cabos has been sky high, but we priced a 7-night departure on June 18 at $287 roundtrip on Spirit, versus $631 roundtrip on a nonstop American flight. Spirit likes to cut fares closer to the departure date, so we could see these fares drop even further.
What’s also exciting is that in 2013 Spirit will begin service from Dallas to New Orleans, Los Angeles, Oakland, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Not only will Spirit be second to American in offering nonstop destinations out of Dallas, but DFW Airport will be Spirit’s second largest hub behind Fort Lauderdale.
Believe it or not, Spirit will serve more nonstop destinations from the Dallas market than Southwest because of Wright Amendment restrictions. By the year 2013, Spirit will only be competing on two routes where Southwest offers nonstop service and that will be Houston and New Orleans. Also note that Southwest can never serve an international destination with nonstop flights from Dallas Love Field, which again gives Spirit the edge over Southwest.
Delta has added six flights to New York City, but that airline is the last one I’d want to set prices. Delta was the first carrier to raise the fuel surcharge to Europe to $516 and Delta has been the instigator for most of the fuel surcharge increases. For years Cincinnati, where Delta had little competition and controlled the market by as much as 90 percent, had one of the highest airfares in the U.S., including flights to the state of Alaska. When you look at Delta hubs like Detroit, Memphis, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City, the airline is still the champion of high airfares, especially when you look at fares to and from nearby airports.
Just remember that Spirit is a very fee based airline. If you are going to fly on Spirit, always prepay your fees to save money. As of November 6, a roller bag will cost you $100 if you pay at the gate, be aware that checked bags have a limit of 40 pounds, or you will pay even more, and you have to pay for advanced seat assignments. Make sure you add up the fees when you are comparing fares. If you are flying with another person, why not check one bag instead of bringing two roller bags? Just make sure it weighs 40 pounds or less.
Looking at some of Spirit’s fares, I’m not sure how the airline makes money, even with its fees. The good news for us is Spirit chose Dallas for a hub and air travelers will benefit not only from Spirit’s bargain fares, but also from lower fares on the same routes from the competition.
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