Twin Cities travelers who want a bargain-basement flight south this winter just got four new options.
Low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines said Monday that it is expanding its presence at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport with new seasonal service to Los Angeles, Phoenix, Orlando and Tampa. Flights start Nov. 7, with online booking available now.
Spirit, which started serving the Twin Cities in June 2012, is known for keeping base fares low while charging for such “extras” as overhead baggage, water at $3 a bottle and $10 for airport agents to print a boarding pass.
Mark Kopczak, the airline’s vice president of network planning, said the unorthodox model provides an alternative that some travelers like.
“We need competitive air service and a menu of choices,” Kopczak said. “It’s important to look at price. Not all customers want first class.”
Kopczak said Spirit picked the new routes because of their popularity with Twin Cities travelers. In terms of passenger volume through MSP, Phoenix is third, Orlando fourth, Los Angeles seventh, and Tampa 19th.
Booking online at www.spirit.com, a flight from the Twin Cities on Nov. 7 to Los Angeles and returning Nov. 10 runs $198. One-way fares start at $59.
“One of the advantages of Spirit’s a la carte pricing model is that it enables savvy travelers to take trips they otherwise might not be able to afford,” said Jeff Hamiel, the Metropolitan Airports Commission’s executive director.
Not everyone sees the lower fares as a great deal. Molly McCurdy of Apple Valley said that by the time she paid $100 per bag each way at the airport ($35 to $40 per bag if reserved more than 24 hours in advance), it wasn’t such a bargain. “I would rather pay more upfront and get to pick my seat for free and carry on my bag for free,” she said.
Spirit also improves its bottom line, and further irritates some customers, by packing more people onto its planes, offering less legroom and a steeper seat pitch than other airlines.
Elementary schoolteacher and frequent Spirit customer Scott Kolman-Keen of Minneapolis said Spirit’s seats are more uncomfortable than most other airline seating, but he doesn’t see that as a deal breaker. “For the money I save, I can sit upright for a couple of hours,” he said.
He’s flown Spirit about once a month since January and likes being able to book a last-minute flight three weeks out or less and pay about $150 less than the competition.
As for the common complaint about baggage fees eating up the savings, Kolman-Keen thinks passengers who complain about the fees probably book on a third-party site like Orbitz, where baggage fees aren’t spelled out. “Spirit is very clear about their fees on their website,” he said.
Currently, Spirit flies from MSP to Chicago, Dallas, Denver and Las Vegas. It will resume nonstop seasonal service to Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers on Nov. 7.
Industry analyst Terry Trippler of www.theplanerules.com said the added routes are a direct response to the proposed merger between American and US Airways.
He thinks the new flights will compete with existing routes that either American or US Airways operate. Sun Country also flies to all four of Spirit’s new destinations, and Trippler said the competition should lead to lower fares.
Even though objections by the U.S. Department of Justice are holding up the American-US Airways merger, Trippler expects Southwest, Frontier, and possibly Sun Country to announce new routes as well.