Spirit Turns Its Focus to the US and Canada After Caribbean Build-Up

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:

Pasty White Canadians

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.

27 Responses to Spirit Turns Its Focus to the US and Canada After Caribbean Build-Up

  1. James Burke says:

    IAG has free parking, which is attractive – but I looked at the Spirit sched out of Niagara, and it is not going excite many people in Toronto… the 0200 departure to FLL keeps the Spirit planes in the sky, but BUF is literally 20 minutes away from IAG, and you can fly at real times that allow you to sleep at night. Direct Air is popular at IAG, but with mid-morning, afternoon flights their schedule is much more attractive…

    • CF says:

      Agreed on the schedule. When you have other low cost options close, then it’s a tougher sell. But Spirit can also connect people into the Caribbean. I don’t think that’s a huge draw for Canadians since they would again have to pay international taxes, but it’s something.

      As for free parking, I think that’s one of the dumbest things an airport can do. Have you ever considered the cost of parking when buying a ticket? I highly doubt it. Parking revenue can help offset the operating costs for the airlines at an airport, so giving parking away is a waste of money.

      • The free parking point was a good one, and unless it was part of the deal to get local backing to build an airport in some out of the way place, they should charge even if it’s a small amount.

        But maybe at a real small airport with few departures, it might cost more for gates, ticket machines, exit booths, and to pay the salary for booth attendants then they would make on parking fees. Some airports are small and in small areas that maybe locals just drive each other to the airport even with free parking.

        Does make you wonder why some airports don’t charge for parking?

        • David – I think that’s a great point, there is probably an airport size that is small enough such that the costs of charging for parking would exceed the parking revenues.

        • CF says:

          That’s a good point, but I do wonder how much it actually costs. You don’t need booth attendants anymore. You can just require people to prepay at a machine. I would imagine the investment is fairly minimal to put gates in and a machine or two.

          • Oliver says:

            Many people definitely consider the cost of parking or airport transportation when buying a plane ticket. If it was irrelevant, why would hotels bother to offer Park, Sleep and Fly rates?

            As for machines… well, sure, but then they break when you arrive right before your flight and what then?

            Bottom line — I can think of many things that are dumber that airports can do.

          • CF says:

            The Park, Sleep, and Fly rates come in handy at different times, usually after the ticket is bought. When it comes time to figure out how to get to the airport and park, then people do the research and figure out the best option.

  2. Brett you were late in posting today, I was starting to worry something happen to you.

    I always thought it was odd that Spirit flys to more cities outside the USA then in the USA. But it seems to have worked for them, taking people from a few select cities to mostly vacation destinations and not all with daily service.

    I still think DCA-MYR is a waste of a valuable slot. That’s from the point of all the people who want to fly directly into DCA to do business compared to locals wanting to play golf in MYR.

    • CF says:

      It was a strange one today. I had it scheduled to post as usual at 345a PT and then when I woke up this morning it showed “missed schedule.” I have no idea how that’s even possible, but apparently it is. Way to go, WordPress.

    • AirBoss says:

      “I always thought it was odd that Spirit flys to more cities outside the USA then in the USA.”

      Just targeting markets that don’t yet avoid them.

    • oh yeah, DCA-MYR is a total waste. guessing they were sitting on slots when they flew a couple DCA-DTW flights and they probably have as many DCA-FLL flights as they need. especially now with B6 throwing their hat into that same ring. i know i would bend over backwards to get on that B6 flight in lieu of taking any of the spirit flights.

      i checked out the spirit website and located another new flight starting very soon that was not mentioned in this iteration of new service, probably b/c it had already been announced. ORD-LAS. really? that sounds like a suicide mission! AA and UA loyalists at ORD will fly their respective airlines, there are a bunch of WN flights from MDW, an infinite amount of connecting possibilities and even allegiant flights from rockford. not exactly an underserved market?!?!?!

  3. Brett – as a pasty white Canadian from the Toronto area (and now based in the Ottawa area) I absolutely consider cost of parking when thinking about jumping the boarder for cheap flights. Buffalo has some decently-priced long-term cheap parking that I’m pretty sure they put in place to directly appeal to the Canadians who have to drive down and leave their car for the duration of their trip. If I’m flying out of Pearson, I can just take a public transit / a cab / get a ride from a friend; if I’m flying from the states I absolutely have to drive and thus parking-costs enters my price equation.

    As an aside, Plattsburg is just a bit too far to really help Ottawa-based Canadians… any chance of more flights out of the booming metropolis of Ogdensburg!?

    • CF says:

      I think you’re probably fairly unique, at least that’s what I understand from others who are looking at this from the airline side of things. But maybe you’re right in the case of Buffalo vs Niagara. But my understanding is that very few people look at parking in advance.

      As for Ogdensburg, you would think that would be on the list. I mean, might as well start with Montreal and Toronto, but if that works, then Ottawa seems like a good target as well.

  4. Ed says:

    A really off-the-wall thought: What about an Allegiant / Spirit merger?

    • Given that Allegiant is public, and Spirit is private, coupled with the fact that that’d be one hodge podge of a route fleet, and route network, I doubt it.

      Also, Spirit’s pilots are unionized, and I’m not sure about Spirit’s so that might enter in too.

      • Ed says:

        I was being a bit facetious. Maybe I should have added lol! But the public / private thing isn’t a big deal. If the boards agree to a merger of buyout, it could be done. Spirit is in the middle of an IPO (Initial Public Offering) so they’re going public. However, the fleet thing could be a major impediment.

  5. scott says:

    Canadian airports don’t stand a chance under the current US funding model for airports.

    The USA government (via the FAA) gives grants to airports whereas Canadian airports are entirely funded with AIF/PFC charges. Add to that, the US Govt charges “Immigration” and “Agricultural Inspection” fees which aren’t charged at land borders.

  6. Andrew says:

    Growing up, my family lived about 20 minutes from the Latrobe PA airport…US Air (not “Airways” yet!) had a number of flights each day between LBE and their PIT hub. We always flew from LBE because my parents didn’t like driving the hour to PIT.

    It’s about as small an airport as you can get with commercial service–literally, you walk inside, there are one or two ticket counters 20 feet from the “terminal” entrance, then you walk out the other side of the terminal onto the tarmac.

  7. Trent880 says:

    It’s odd that these are their next best adds, rather than some glaring holes in their Latin/Caribbean network from their hub. I think this says more about their current main business plan than their “new” direction. Throw in the handful of fairly senior job openings prior to an IPO and you have to wonder…

  8. cstclair says:

    Some of this may work – if we pasty faced Canadians are headed to FLL – a lot are, but, MCO, TPA & RSW are just as popular and served from Canada by Canadian carriers. If the truth be told, real budget minded Canadians go to Cuba – where for about $400 a person you get a return flight (with meal service) plus seven days in the tropics at a fairly decent hotel (transfers included) and all the food and booze you can manage all included.

  9. Zack Rules says:

    “I still think DCA-MYR is a waste of a valuable slot. That’s from the point of all the people who want to fly directly into DCA to do business compared to locals wanting to play golf in MYR.”

    I think the 6am departure time and 11:30p arrival to DCA falls outside of the slot restricted time frame so they are not wasting a slot. B6 did this with their DCA service, making their eight slots into nine daily flights.

    And Trent880 has a good point.
    There are a ton of areas in Mexico (Guadalajara, Merida), Belize, El Salvador, Ecuador etc that come to mind, Liberia CR as well.

  10. Zack Rules says:

    “I still think DCA-MYR is a waste of a valuable slot. That’s from the point of all the people who want to fly directly into DCA to do business compared to locals wanting to play golf in MYR.”

    I think the 6am departure time and 11:30p arrival to DCA falls outside of the slot restricted time frame so they are not wasting a slot. B6 did this with their DCA service, making their eight slots into nine daily flights.

    And Trent880 has a good point.
    There are a ton of areas in Mexico (Guadalajara, Merida), Belize, El Salvador, Ecuador etc that come to mind, Liberia CR as well.

    Glad to see someone flying out of that brand new Falls terminal though!

  11. scott says:

    LBE is and hour-and-a-half from PIT, with the city of pittsburgh directly in-between. while arnold palmer airport is by no means capable of sustaining any significant commercial presence, seasonal flights to a sunshine destination may work. having lived near LBE, i can tell you that getting to PIT was a pain in the butt. i think there’s a moderate possibility of some success carrying vacation travelers south.

  12. mld says:

    OMG it would be terrific to have someone fly in and out of latrobe pa. It would be nice it was at least twice daily…the nice commuter between Pburgh and Ltbrobe or from Ltbe to chicago…how nice to not have to drive to pittsburgh and park. The free parking at LBE is a plus

  13. With Allegiant strongly considering a319 aircraft as a replacement to the MD, the service overlap, and allegiant’s new flag/ETOPS status, a merger between G4 and NK seems inevitable. The question would be who buys who. Allegiant has a lot of money in the bank, fantastic credit, and a big presence on wall street. Rumors are running rampant to include sightings of NK management at G4 headquarters.

    This could get interesting.

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