Spirit Races Toward the Bottom

Allegiant, Ryanair, Skybus, Spirit

07_03_06 nkulccIt’s interesting to see how low cost carriers developed differently in the US versus Europe. Over here, Southwest was always considered the standard for low-frills and low fares. When compared to what Ryanair has done in Europe, Southwest looks downright pricey and opulent.

Since Ryanair has taken off, plenty of people have made an effort to bring that model over here. Allegiant has fashioned themselves in a similar way but their fares aren’t nearly as low and their route network focuses on small cities that don’t help most of the US. Skybus has announced its intention to bring the model to the US, but they are still in the process of getting started. It appears that Spirit is now going to be the first to give this model a real shot here in the US.

The basic idea is to offer very low fares just to get people on the plane and then charge them extra for every little thing they’d like above and beyond basic transportation. Spirit has definitely been heading this way for some time – you’ve seen fares as low as a nickel popping up for a few months now. Today, they’ve decided to take the next step to becoming what they call an “Ultra Low Cost Carrier.” This all begins today for travel starting June 20.

First off, they’re killing their premium cabin, Spirit Plus. Instead of taking the seats off the plane, they’re just renaming them the “Big Front Seat.” The service will be exactly the same, but you can pay more just to get a bigger seat. Looking at random dates in the middle of July, a one way from Los Angeles to Ft Lauderdale is $124 in what they now call “Deluxe Leather” (also known as “Coach” in non-marketing, normal person language). The Big Front Seat is going for $544. I can’t imagine anyone is going to pay that much more simply for a larger seat, so I imagine they’ll have to reevaluate their pricing soon.

They don’t offer too many details in their press release, but the South Florida Sun-Sentinel seems to have the scoop. They say that you will be allowed one carry on bag for free and that’s it. All checked baggage will now cost you. It’s $10 a bag for the first two and then $100 a bag beyond that. By June, you’ll be able to pay online for your checked bag and then it’ll only cost $5 per bag for the first two.

And yes, even beverages won’t be free anymore. Soft drinks will now cost $1 and snacks will remain $2 to $4. To round things out, there is also a plan to make money from hotels, car rentals, event tickets, airport parking, and all that stuff.

Personally, I don’t mind this model at all as long as I can pay for what I want up front. I hate the idea of having to carry around a bunch of cash to pay for a drink, a checked bag, etc. If they can integrate all of these things into the booking process, it may work, but it’s still a tough adjustment for people used to the Southwest model. Trying this in the Caribbean where it’s a lot of leisure travel might actually pan out for them.

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