Spirit Goes Into One of the Most Competitive Markets In the US, But Why?


It’s Spirit week here at Cranky, and not in the “ra ra, go team” kind of way. I’m talking about Spirit Airlines. I actually hadn’t planned on talking about them twice this week, but soon after the Cardinal’s guest post went live, I saw Spirit announce one of the strangest route additions I’ve seen in a long time. For some reason, the airline is going to fly five times a day from LA to Vegas. I don’t get it.

There are a few reasons you might decide to go into a market, but the best is that it’s commercially viable. I don’t see that as being the case here. Here is a table showing the number of flights from the LA Basin to Vegas.

Airport Airline Daily Flights Each Way
LAX Southwest 12
Delta 6
United 6
American 5
US Airways 4
Burbank Southwest 11
JetBlue 1
Ontario Southwest 8
Long Beach JetBlue 5
Allegiant .57 (less than daily)
Orange County Southwest 7
Delta 1

Yes, Vegas to LA is a big market, but as you can see, there is plenty of service including a lot from low cost carriers, not to mention carloads full of people who would rather drive anyway. So can Spirit come in and scrape a bunch of low dollar people out of the cars and put them on an airplane? Maybe. But I can’t see that being a profitable move, especially since a fare war is already in full effect. Even if the airline finds a way to make this profitable, is it really the best use for an airplane? I mean, these are brand new birds, and there has to be a better way to use them than this.

But there are other reasons airlines fly routes, like utilization. For example, Continental has an airplane sitting overnight at LAX, so it decided to send it to Hawai’i. It was either that, or sit on the ground. Heck, the entire America West Vegas Nite Flight hub was based on utilizing airplanes at night when they would otherwise just be parked. So is that what Spirit is doing here? It’s unclear, actually.

This isn’t one plane going back and forth all day. Three of the airplanes continue to Detroit, one to Dallas, and the other to Ft Lauderdale. So I suppose it’s possible that these airplanes had some extra ground time in Vegas before heading east again and this is how the airline decided to spend that time. But that doesn’t make a ton of sense either. There have to be less crowded markets that could be served from Vegas with similar distances. But why would that even need to be the case? There aren’t any slots in Vegas, and as an ultra low cost carrier, Spirit’s goal is to fly these airplanes whenever they’re ready to go, not necessarily at the best commercial times. For the people Spirit is courting, they’ll fly anytime.

Spirit Las Vegas to LA

I do, however, wonder if this is part of a larger assault on LA. These airplanes consistently sit on the ground in Vegas for 30 to 40 minutes. The times fit well. But in LA, it’s all over the map. I actually tried to connect the dots between airplanes the come to LA and I can’t. Some airplanes are sitting for almost two hours before there’s a flight going back. And one would actually require a 26 minute turnaround. It just doesn’t seem right the way these are scheduled. So I do wonder if more might be coming in LA to make this schedule fill out better. But then, why do you need 5 airplanes coming from Vegas every day? You don’t.

This could also be an old-fashioned ego fight. Maybe Spirit wants to send Southwest a message that it’s going to fight the airline on its turf, and this is a very good way to get noticed. These ego fights are just so stupid that I won’t even address it. If that’s the point, then Spirit is in trouble. I don’t believe it.

The last theory comes from Airliners.net. According to one poster, Vegas has two tiers of airport charges and part of the criteria to qualify for the lower rate is a certain number of flights per day. So Spirit is adding five more flights as quickly as possible to get to that point.

This one just doesn’t seem right either. I mean, Spirit has 9 daily flights this summer from Vegas before LA. Would it really make sense to fly 5 marginal-at-best flights to LA just to bring down costs on 9 other flights? The math just won’t add up on that unless we’re talking about an insanely big discount that I can’t imagine.

In the end, LA to Vegas is going to end up in an ugly fare war for the foreseeable future. It’s great for us Angelenos but not for anyone in the industry.

You guys have any theories on this?

[Original Vegas photo via Flickr user Bukowsky18/CC 2.0]

[Updated at 741a to reflect Delta’s flights from LAX]

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46 comments on “Spirit Goes Into One of the Most Competitive Markets In the US, But Why?

  1. Hey Cranky,
    It’s more crowded than you indicated – Delta flies seven flights per day between LAX and LAS (mostly on regional jets).

  2. If that’s the case with Delta, then this is more of a boneheaded move then we think.

    There was a time not all that long ago when US Airways had hourly flights between LAX & LAS, but now it’s 4 flights per day. How is Spirit going to compete?

  3. See, this market is so clogged that I can’t even remember all the airlines! Thanks for pointing it out – I’ve updated the chart. Looks like on the random June day I’m using, Delta has 6 a day with one on a big jet.

  4. It could be a way to get noticed in the L.A. market for some other plans down the rode. A big splash with 5 flights in an already crowded market will get noticed and people talking and getting to know Spirit more. This way it will be easier for them to do something else from LAX as people will know them more.

    While those $19 fares will add up with fees, it may still be less then the gas all the locals who drive would be paying and if you are going to Vegas or living in Vegas and heading to L.A., you can still hit the casinos and try and win your plane ticket and fee money back.

    1. I don’t think it makes sense for anyone from LA who’s going Vegas (or vice versa) to fly. The drive is probably 4-5 hours (depending on traffic, which, granted, can sometimes get nasty), and probably $30-40 in gas (assuming you don’t get pulled over for speeding in the desert). Flying you probably break even on time (factoring in getting to/from the airport, TSA, waiting, possible delays, and the actual flight itself), and maybe you’re breaking even on money on a $19+fees ticket (especially once you factor in getting to/from the airport). If you’re splitting gas money with a group of people, its way cheaper to drive. Then you factor in the benefits of driving: flexibility, spontaneity, the joys of a road trip with the guys/gals, stopping at the In-N-Out in Barstow, and not having your privacy invaded until you get to the clubs. The only benefit of flying I can think of is being able to pregame in LA.

      The WN/US flights make sense because of their hub in LAS, and the DL/UA/AA flights make sense because they’re probably carrying mostly connecting Asian pax. But Spirit doesnt have either of those considerations. It makes no sense for an cost-conscious person in LA wanting to go to Vegas to fly. Unless spirit wants to set up a hub operation at LAS, I can’t understand the logic here.

      1. I agree. Maybe I would fly a “real” airline for $19 on the route, but I wouldn’t fly Spirit. Too much chance for “hassle.”

        For any real money, I’d drive. It’s easier, less stressful and not more time-consuming.

  5. i’m with ted. my comment on the other spirit thread was “i cannot think of one reason for spirit to get into this market that isn’t categorically insane.”

    1. They should start flights to Asia to connect in with those LAX ones. I’m sure you can get an A319 qualified for ETOPS if you pull enough weight off of it.. I’m quite sure that that makes excellent sense, and is categorically insane.

  6. But the fact is that Spirit is not cheap. You don’t get $19 fares as you do with Ryanair. Go look at Kayak, and you will see on domestic routes, Spirit is not much cheaper than the rest and AirTran and B6 are frequently cheaper. (Now for international out of FLL, they’re usually $100 cheaper than AA out of Miami)

    They have realized that in America, people are not as willing to drive to the secondary airport, so they will either connect two big airports or a big airport to a small airport.

    Good luck to them on the Vegas route, but I don’t see it working.

  7. A little off-topic from the Spirit conversation here, sorry…. What is the deal with 1x daily SNA-LAS on DL? I had not previously been aware of that flight, it seems quite odd.

    1. I think it’s to free up gate space at SNA for redeye’s to the east coast in prime evening hours.

      The A/C comes from ATL at 5:45pm and does a quick run to Vegas, getting back at 9:40pm. I think it’s sits overnight at SNA and goes to either SLC or MSP first thing in the morning. (all based on flightcaster’s inbound aircraft thing)

        1. Agreed SNA doesn’t have much room so they just move the aircraft out to LAS and back to free up space. SNA-ATL is 737 aircraft and SLC/MSP are airbus and a CRJ (SLC), so it’s just to free up space. The only other SNA-LAS is WN so Skymile members have a DL option if they don’t mind the one flight time in each direction. Plus any travel agent not using Sabre would only see the DL flight and just book that maybe. A lot of south Orange County is well heeled so DL is their only option if they don’t want to travel with the bus passengers that would fly WN or in coach period for that matter…..lol

      1. Thanks for the info Sanjeev. Based on the aircraft type, it looks it heads back to ATL the following morning, as MSP is all 319s and SLC is 319s and a CRJ.

  8. Maybe they will get some traffic from the legacy carriers with their $9.00 fares. On the east coast they have lines out the door for the flights to FLL and they are next to JetBlue and Southwest in LGA

    1. Should be interesting, but a lot of people like driving and seeing how fast they can go on that open highway across the desert…..lol. They have a lot of luxury bus travel also you can take.

      Also can’t forget about the Indian casinos that people can go to that are closer then Vegas.

  9. Hey Cranky

    I might be a little off on my dates but some of the departure numbers seem to not take into account summer increases.

    DL is adding more frequency in LAXLAS for instance.

  10. Some good chat here about Spirit and this new service. Makes me wonder what people in the know at Spirit who would read these type blogs are laughing about that everyone is saying, after all they would really know why they are doing this.

    1. you’re assuming that there are people in the know at spirit. weren’t all the fired US execs like steve wolf and ramesh gangwal reincarnated at spirit? hence, the insanity?

  11. I personally think Spirit is in a separate category from Southwest or JetBlue. Southwest and JetBlue are low-cost carriers, Spirit (and Allegiant) are ultra-low cost carriers. Just as the first wave of low-cost carriers started out by flying to small airports and established themselves before making any attempt to compete with the legacy airlines, the ultra low cost carriers have now established themselves at small airports in vacation markets and need to take the plunge and move into the major markets if they want to make progress.

  12. I believe that LAX-LAS is now the only route in the country that is served by 6 airlines: American, Delta, Southwest, US Airways, United and Spirit.

  13. Even though its crazy, this move has gotten them a ton of publicity. I know every local news station here in Sacramento has covered it. Aren’t they offering $0.99 introductory fares?

  14. I think this is actually a great idea. Sure you can drive there for almost the same money but definitely not the same time. Have any of you sat in traffic for 6-8 hours going to Vegas? Believe me not fun at all.. and then the same thing on the return… I think this is definitely a great way to get people to try out Spirit… Southwest and United are really the only other competition from LAX as the others are mostly fly baby jets. Who needs a car in Vegas anyway? Las Vegas Blvd is a parking lot on weekends.. plus when drinking you shouldn’t be driving anyway.. I say … Good Luck Spirit!

    1. Traffic is bad on Friday evening out and Sunday afternoon back. That’s it. So if Spirit wanted to throw 5 airplanes in there on Fridays and Sundays, it would probably work. But this goes every day. That’s a problem.

  15. I think there will be less airlines flying between the LA area and Las Vegas soon. I’d put money on Allegiant and US Airways being likely contenders. Since I can’t figure out why Spirit is flying this route, who knows how long they will hang around.

    It’s notable that Virgin American does not fly this route – I think LAS is the only city on their route map they don’t fly to out of LAX, with the exception of SAN. Now that says something that even Virgin doesn’t want to bother.

  16. I would be curious to see to the ULCC model on such a high volume route. The other high volume route NK flies is LGA-FLL. Their pricing may pry enough folks away from existing carriers, due to the volume of passengers. I wonder if WN or anyone else will add a few more in response. Intra-Hawaii is one place where a ULCC would do very well, short hops, perfect weather etc.

  17. NK has been dropping quite a bit of international flying as well this Summer, which makes you wonder when they backfill it with something like this.

  18. First, nice use of the correct apostrophe in Hawai’i.

    One possible reason: I will guess that Vegas flights generate more ancillary revenue than any other destination. If you’re going to take a flyer on a new route, why not do it where you’ll have strong uptake on hotels, tickets, etc? I’m not going to say that there’s almost no downside to this (that’s not true), but I would guess that barring their ability to send more planes to Mexico (where I would bet we’ll see lots more flights like the one just announced to Toluca), why not put them somewhere where you can make a few dollars on the side?

    As crazy as the LAX-LAS assault sounded, it seems less crazy than Latrobe – FLL. In fact, if those were your two choices, wouldn’t you choose the route with lots of traffic and tons of ancillary revenue options?

    1. Yeah, I don’t think anyone is arguing that Latrobe is a good place to put these airplanes. I understand what you’re saying about Vegas being a good place for ancillary revenue, but then why not go into a market from Vegas where you can really increase traffic. LA is already pretty cheap – there are other markets around, granted many served by Allegiant, where they could enter.

      1. If their hypothesis is: if we throw 5x/day LAX-LAS, and we can give away the seats for free because of the ancillary revenue, why wouldn’t they do one high-volume city 5x/day instead of the complexity of starting Elko-Vegas (or wherever they’d put the planes? They already have staff and a presence at LAX – what other markets would offer them the opportunity to go 5x? Maybe they cut that to 2x. Spirit has no problem dropping those routes 2 weeks from now if it doesn’t work.

        I’m just not sure there’s as many opportunities as we may think to Vegas from tertiary cities. Allegiant has pretty much maximized that market.

  19. Desert Xpress is super lame.. who wants to drive half way to Vegas to then take a train? The main traffic tie-up is where the 215-15-210 meet up… on weekends you will still sit for 2 hours on your way up to Victorville.. not very well planned out…

  20. Its obvious, Spirit is trying to get in before Family Airlines starts up. Because they have 747’s and entertainers!

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