Spirit has spent the last few years remaking itself in the public eye. It has gone from a Detroit-based low cost carrier to what is now considered a Ft Lauderdale-based ultra low cost carrier. The focus has gone from domestic flying to the Caribbean, but now Spirit is turning its eyes back on the US and yes, Canada. With a profitable operation, new airplanes coming online, and a fantastic cost structure, Spirit is now hunting for its next growth opportunity.
There are several new routes being announced, and I think they can be grouped into a couple different categories.
Ft Lauderdale and Myrtle Beach to Plattsburgh, NY; Niagara Falls, NY; Latrobe, PA; and Charleston, WV with less than daily service
Dallas/Ft Worth to Ft Lauderdale and Las Vegas twice daily
Myrtle Beach to Washington/National daily
So what’s going on here? Most of these are an attempt to get Spirit in on the Allegiant-model. Plattsburgh and Niagara Falls are without question targeted at those pasty-white Canadians looking for sun:
Allegiant long ago figured out that if you fly close enough to the Canadian border, Canucks will flood across to save on all the insanely-high international taxes. That’s why Bellingham (near Vancouver) has been such a boon for Allegiant, as have other unlikely places all along our northern border. Now Spirit wants in on the act. Niagara Falls is tougher because Buffalo and its low cost carriers are nearby, but Plattsburgh is all alone far from, well, anything. Granted, Spirit won’t be alone at Plattsburgh since Allegiant already has a substantial presence there, but it’s still worth taking a shot.
Latrobe and Charleston look like more traditional Allegiant-style flights carrying people from small towns to big city vacation destinations. Charleston isn’t exactly a small town, but it does serve many small towns in the state of West Virginia with little low cost service around. Allegiant chose to fly 50 miles down the road in Huntington instead, so this is an opportunity for Spirit. Latrobe is only 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, but that one has me scratching my head. I mean, Pittsburgh’s airport has low cost service already and is an easy airport to use. I’m not so sure that this one makes sense, but my guess is that Latrobe is paying for the privilege somehow so Spirit figures it can see what happens.
The Dallas moves are obviously completely different. This to me looks like an effort to finally crack that nut, something that has escaped airlines until now. Spirit has gone into Dallas before and quickly pulled out. Maybe now with a better cost structure and Virgin America coming in from the West Coast, Spirit thinks it can withstand the inevitable American onslaught. Spirit’s twice daily flights to Ft Lauderdale will help give strong, low cost connecting opportunities into Caribbean destinations, so that should be the focus. After all, American has kept Caribbean fares high for a long time. Not so sure about that DFW-Vegas run. I suppose the closest thing to a low cost carrier on that route is US Airways, so maybe there is an opportunity. If it doesn’t work, I’m sure it can disappear quickly.
And that last Myrtle Beach – National flight? Bleh. Just taking advantage of slot actions at National, I assume. Might as well lump that into the rest of the announcement.
While I’m lukewarm on some of these cities, I think Spirit is doing the right thing. The airline is going to start experimenting further with its ultra low costs. There have to be more places that will work for them, and they aren’t all in the Caribbean. Look for more cities to come online as Spirit looks to see what works and what doesn’t.