There’s less to Spirit Airlines in MSP than meets the eye

As we guessed two days ago, the new airline flying out of Minneapolis St. Paul will be Spirit Airlines, starting at the end of May.

It’s a low-fare, high-fee airline, which has dampened some of the initial euphoria among travelers when the Metropolitan Airlines Commission teased them on Monday with news of a pending competitor to Delta.

Spirit will fly direct to Las Vegas (the most popular destination from MSP) and Chicago (from which you can make connections to civilized locations).

What does this mean for fares?

Let’s take a flight from Minneapolis to Las Vegas on June 1, spend the weekend, and come back on Monday.

Our first problem? You have to fly in the middle of the night.

The airline is advertising an $83 .29 fare, but that’s (a) only if you’re in the $9 “Fare Club” and pay the $60 to join and (b) only if you’re willing to fly at 10:15 PM.

If you want to fly at 11 a.m., you certainly can, if you pay $212 one-way, much higher than competitors on the route.

The two flights back are both red-eyes. One leaves at 12:35 AM Monday morning and is non-stop. The other leaves at 1 a.m. and doesn’t arrive until 10:20 a.m. with a stop in Chicago. Curiously the non-stop is cheaper: $88.79 ($10 cheaper if you join the Fare Club).

The total cost of the flight is $182.08, including fees which are:

Passenger facility fee: $13.50

Passenger usage fee: $33.98

Segement fee: $7.60

9/11 security fee: $5.00

Unintended consequences of DOT regulations: $4.00

If you buy your tickets online, you save $10 on Spirit’s baggage fee — $30 for checked baggage and carry-on (laptops and bags that fit under the seat in front fly free).

That’s another $60 for a total of $242.08.

What’s Delta got?

First, it’s got flights when people are actually awake. The fare is $328.60. Adding the cost of a checked bag (free if you fly with their credit card), the total is $378. Is the convenience worth an extra $156 to you? Spirit is betting it’s not.

But if you want to fly at night, Delta’s fare is $277.60, not including baggage, and $50 less if you apply for their credit card.

That fare matches Sun Country’s, but Sun Country provides flights that leave in the daytime. And Sun Country’s baggage fee is $5 less than Delta’s.

Southwest is a non-player on the route. Its lowest roundtrip fare is $434.

There is, however, an indication that Spirit’s entry into the market has already had an effect on fares. A Friday-to-Monday Las Vegas trip in May will cost about $355 (not including baggage).

If you fly a week before Spirit starts flying to MSP, it’ll be $379.60 on Delta, and a whopping $489.60 on Sun Country. Southwest — remember when it was a low-fare airline? — provides flights for $540 on the low end.

So Spirit’s contribution to the market may not be flights when few people want to fly, but lowering the cost of flying on airlines people would rather take.

That is likely to be a short-term benefit. Airlines that lower fares on other airlines while flying few passengers don’t stay in Minnesota for very long.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Would it be inappropriate to suggest that Spirit change their name to Fly By Night Airlines?

  • Jeb

    I’m sticking with the bus to Chicago. Flights are too expensive, even on Spirit. (Yes, I’m a poor college student.)

  • Jason

    May want to check on Las Vegas being “the most popular destination from MSP”, unless that was intended to be for Spirit Airlines only. Government statistics show Las Vegas to be the 7th most popular destination from MSP by passenger counts. The top 7 are:

    Denver

    Atlanta

    Chicago O’Hare

    Phoenix

    Seattle

    Los Angeles

    Las Vegas

  • RLS

    To add to the comment about the top 7 MSP destinations, I would say, as a frequent traveler, that I have traveled THROUGH Denver, Phoenix, Atlanta and Chicago ORD a ton in order to make connecting flights, but that they were never my actual destinations.

    I was secretly hoping for a British Airways service (real British Airways, not AA code sharing, thinking that maybe AA’s bankruptcy problems would have led to an opening.)

    Alas.

  • Bob Collins

    I believe the Las Vegas stat, source unknown at this point, refers to final destination. Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle are connecting cities. Denver is an interesting city in that list.

  • Jason

    I agree – may very well be connecting passengers that make the numbers look different. I don’t have good O&D passenger numbers in front of me.

    And actually, ALL of the cities ahead of Las Vegas offer connections – Denver has United, Frontier, and Southwest hubs, Atlanta has Delta and Airtran, O’Hare for United and American plus international options, Phoenix has USAirways, Seattle has connections with Alaska and Delta, Los Angeles also has Delta Connections and continuations.

  • Elizabeth T

    I refuse to ridicule Spirit over their fees. Check any other airline. jeez.

    I’ve been shopping for tickets from MSP to Dusseldorf, Germany. Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz, Etc. all have the prices listed that grab your attention, only to discover that the $700 ticket to Amsterdam is actually before fees/taxes/tips and is in reality $1500. I need to finish shopping when the kids aren’t around, in order to freely succumb to my rage in a verbal manner.

    I appreciate that the airlines at least specify what the fees are, rather than some mysterious black box they can blame on someone else.