It has been rumored for years, but yesterday it became reality. Spirit will start flying from Miami International Airport beginning in October, and by the end of the year, it’ll apparently be the second largest airline at the airport. Yesterday’s announcement cements Miami’s newfound status as a low-cost airline haven. All it had to do was… lower its costs. I’m sure American is thrilled.
Spirit will go into Miami in two tranches with the first 9 daily flights to 10 destinations starting October 6 and the other 20 daily flights to 20 other destinations starting November 17. That means that by Thanksgiving, there will be 29 daily flights to 30 destinations. That is a staggeringly quick ramp-up, but I suppose when you already know the market well thanks to the airline’s Fort Lauderdale home, you can make moves like that quickly.
Here’s what the route map will look like:
Every single one of these routes will operate 1x daily except for LaGuardia which goes 2x daily and two splits: One airplane will fly to Guatemala 4x weekly and San Salvador the other three days. Another airplane will fly to San Jose (CR) 4x weekly and St Thomas the other three days.
Whew. This announcement follows an already-torrid pace of growth in the low-cost space for Miami. Here’s a route map:
Southwest entered the airport late last year and now has flights to 14 destinations. JetBlue started this year with five destinations. And while Frontier has served the airport since 2014, it has grown massively since the pandemic. In the map above, the green lines are all routes added since the pandemic began.
What on earth is happening here? This is Miami, the airport with the most bloated cost structure thanks to terrible overspending and waste on airport projects over the years. Now, the low-cost airlines are flocking to the airport. This must be thanks to those pigs that I saw flying around the other day.
John Kirby, Spirit’s VP of Network Planning, explained to me that during the pandemic the airport switched from a variable to preferential cost model. Don’t worry about what that means technically. What matters is that it means costs to operate have plummeted for Spirit.
John was hesitant to give me specifics, but he did say this. Historically, it would have been roughly twice as expensive to service Miami per passenger vs. Fort Lauderdale. Now with this model, it’ll only be a couple bucks different. For reference, Fort Lauderdale’s cost per enplanement has been around $7 before the pandemic, but it is expected to be $12 this year.
Does this mean that Spirit is going to pack up and walk away from Fort Lauderdale? No, not at all. In fact, John was clear in saying that Spirit will keep Fort Lauderdale as the primary gateway to the Caribbean and Latin America. Miami will just be another way it can serve South Florida.
The operation in Miami will be set up for origin and destination flying. This is not going to be a hub with connectivity the way that Fort Lauderdale is. Details are a little fuzzy right now, because Miami requires airlines to publicly announce service before assigning gates and ticket counters, but John says they’ve been assured the airport has room for them.
Spirit will be working toward having 5 gates. Where? We’ll find out when Miami decides, but we can narrow things down.
The North Terminal (D gates) is American’s fortress, and I can’t imagine Spirit would have any way to go in there. The South Terminal (H/J gates) is the primary international terminal, and it’s also where Delta operates its meager flying. If Delta follows up on its promise to actually build a Miami hub to feed LATAM, I’ll be curious to see where that goes. Meanwhile the Central Terminal (E/F/G gates) is for the cats and dogs.
F is actually currently under renovation and as I understand it, it’s supposed to be finished in the fourth quarter. As of now, the E gates are for American spillover (and its partners) plus JetBlue and a whole host of other little guys. The G gates are domestic-only and are for Frontier, Southwest, Sun Country, and United. Once F opens up, we’ll see what that means for the shuffle. I’d assume that Spirit will end up either in the new F or E gates… or possibly split between G and somewhere else where it could operate the international flying. But we’ll have to wait and see.
I wondered how much of this was a competitive response. After all, with Frontier, JetBlue, and Southwest all making moves in Miami, there’s now plenty of data in the market for Spirit to decide if that was a good move or not. John said that it was useful to have that information, but ultimately this was a decision about costs. Spirit has talked about going into Miami for years, but it’s only now that the costs have been low enough to justify it.
Going forward, Spirit will plan on using Miami as a complement to Fort Lauderdale. Some destinations will get service from both airports, and John gave the example of Chicago. Is it better to serve Chicago 4x daily from Fort Lauderdale or keep it at 3x and then start 1x from Miami? Chicago starts on November 17, so you can see how that decision panned out. That being said, there could be some places that get service from only one of the airports. It will all depend on what the passenger flows demand.
In the end, this is going to make things very interesting in Miami, moreso than they already were. American will remain the 800 lb gorilla with big frequency in a huge number of markets, but these low-cost carriers are going to give American a headache. If anyone wants to see an example of what lowering airport costs can do, you need to look no further.