Spirit Goes to Denver, But Why?

The next stop for Spirit’s growth train here in the US is in an unlikely place . . . Denver. Why would Spirit go into a market where there’s certainly no shortage of capacity? Something tells me that the airline wants to send Frontier a message.

Spirit Fights Frontier

Spirit will begin daily service from Denver to Ft Lauderdale and Chicago/O’Hare with twice daily service to Dallas/Ft Worth and Las Vegas. First flights are on May 3. Of all the places in the US that Spirit could tackle with its model, why go to Denver now, where three airlines continue to slug it out? It has to be at least somewhat about Frontier.

As we all know by now, Frontier wants to become an ultra low cost carrier and it has started making some big moves in its network to begin that process. While some airlines, like Allegiant, tend to stay away from competition when there are so many other opportunities out there, Spirit likes to get up in your face and let you know that it’s there to make life miserable.

Of course, this move won’t exactly make life miserable but more just be a pain in the butt. Spirit is only coming in with 1 or 2 flights a day and that’s barely going to make a ripple, but the airline is warning Frontier that it’s up for a fight. Need more proof? How about this gem in the press release from Spirit’s Chief Marketing Officer Barry Biffle (who I interviewed hear last year):

We understand that Denver has been looking for an ultra low cost carrier and we are here to satisfy that need. . . .

In other words, “Hey Frontier, this is our game. You try it, we’ll be there to fight you every inch of the way.”

So far, the two airlines seem to be taking different paths in their approach to ULCC-ness. Frontier’s new service looks more like Allegiant’s with sub-daily flights to smaller cities. But it still has its substantial existing service patterns which are more likely to overlap with Spirit.

Let’s take a look at the frequencies for this Friday in the markets that Spirit is entering:

Denver to

American

Frontier

Southwest

United

Chicago

5

3 (MDW)

9 (MDW)

10

Dallas

10

5

0*

6 (+3 DAL)

Ft Lauderdale

0

2

2

1

Las Vegas

0

6

9

5
*Southwest serves Love Field with a stop, but won’t begin nonstop until allowed in 2014.

Fares are already inexpensive thanks to the major competition, at least in some of these markets, but Spirit will still try to squeeze in below. Can it do it? Maybe, but you would think there would be better opportunity elsewhere. That’s why my guess is that Spirit wouldn’t have picked Denver next had it not been for Frontier making too much noise for Spirit to ignore.

[Original Frontier photo via Flickr user redlegsfan21/CC 2.0]

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23 Comments on "Spirit Goes to Denver, But Why?"

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Brad
Guest

Could Spirit also be testing the market for overall network synergies? After all, Frontier WILL eventually be mostly divested, if not completely spun off from Republic.

David SF eastbay
Member

This could back fire for Spirit if the other carriers match or closely match Spirits fares. They have more flights and can offer better service then Spirit. Plus AA/UA/WN has big mileage programs that can take people to a lot of places.

Zack Rules
Guest

I am curious about repeat business on Spirit. JetBlue claims to have made gains at FLL (or at least forced Spirit to take down some capacity) where the two compete. Also, Spirit seems at least in the past to have had difficulty sustaining markets once opened [or at least with the same capacity at the onset]. I wonder if this is still the case.

Unrelated, Cranky, if you have been following what is going on at Kingfisher, it might be a good time to dust off another “Worst Airline Ever” award.

Brad
Guest

Brett – Could this also be an exploratory move by Spirit? Might they be testing network synergies with the future (independent) Frontier ULCC model? After all, Republic is prepping a spinoff divestiture, correct?

Brad
Guest

Sorry for the double post… iPad gave me an error message on the first.

Eric the Italian Guy
Guest

I am not sure how much this move has to do with DEN, per se, as it does about its growing focus ops @ ORD,LAS,DFW and of course, FLL (their Mecca). Smelling animal tail blood is obviously a motivator in this decision….but I am betting that this has more to do with the 4 focus cities than the DEN market.

DesertGhost
Guest

Maybe Spirit feels it can board enough passengers in Denver to make a profit on the route. It really may amount to nothing more than that.

By the way, I do see the possibility of a future merger or buyout once Frontier has gotten to where it wants to be.

“The Frontier Spirit” has a nice ring to it.

Felix
Guest

Many airlines have deliberately avoided matching Spirit fares at the same level as they do not have the high degree of ancillary fees to offset lower base fares. If an airline like Frontier matches they will actually be undercutting Spirit fares.

Davywavy
Member

Based on what Spirit said in its earnings call, the decision to go into DEN is actually based on economics, their assessment of the market and their own developing hubs. It sees other opportunities as well, in other cities.

I have no doubt Spirit will have as much with DEN as it can but doesn’t see it as “an attack” on anyone.

I bet Southwest thinks it is jolly tedious, though. It just excluded DEN from its latest national fare hike and I doubt it wants fares there to go even lower.

Ian L
Member
What I found interesting was the lack of cheap fares right when Spirit made their announcement. You could get a few ~$30 fares here and there, but they required a round-trip purchase and everything else was rather expensive. Now the situation has changed a bit. DFW, which is rather expensive for the flight length (compared to, say, AUS/SAT), now has fares competitive with AUS/SAT ($80ish one way), albeit with a round-trip purchase, tight seating and no carry-on allowed. Add in a carry-on and you’re up to $115 one way, assuming you don’t pay $60 for Spirit’s $9 fare club, which… Read more »
Sanjeev M
Guest
DEN is centrally located, so Spirit can do several quick turns back to the bases where the aircraft came from. Frontier should not be worried and I think David Siegel knows what to do. Frontier has the kinda of connecting mass that NK wishes they had and the cost base that WN wishes they had and the brand loyalty that UA never had. F9 will go into the small midwest markets and nicely pull plenty of connecting traffic with no need to worry about UA, WN, or now NK. However, that being said I hope Frontier keeps up the marketing… Read more »
Cook
Member

Agreed. DEN is hardly an under served market. Spirit might have better prospects in several other places.

davidp627
Member

I wouldn’t be surprised if Spirit picks up some of the post SWA-AirTran merger slack at places like BWI…not saying they will announce anything soon, just at some time in the future.

Sanjeev M
Guest

There’s plenty of gates at BWI in Concourse D. However, Southwest is loved by the Maryland and DC crowd. And they’re not really cutting much. In fact I think with the merger BWI becomes the WN station with most daily departures.

NK however would be really successful in all the Latin American connections at FLL, and the Maryland Latino VFR market is huge. However, whether this warrants opening another station in the DC area is questionable given the operation at DCA.

Todd in CMH
Guest

I see little risk in this move by Spirit as I assume they will be the ‘yet-unnamed suitor’ to actually purchase Frontier from Republic.

Bret
Guest

I notice that SW has announced LAS-DTW service. One of the few Spirit routes out of LAS not also served by Southwest. Interesting.

Jim
Guest

You responded with similar skepticism when Spirit started LAX-LAS. That seems to be going quite well from what I can see.

Jay
Guest

Could this be a ?test the waters? market for Spirit to possibly look at Frontier as a partner and/or acquistion? Republic has stated it wants to divest Frontier so this may be a way for Spirit to pick up pieces such as aircraft, routes, and a possible customer base? Just a thought.