( USAToday.com )
Frontier Airlines is buying larger rival Spirit, a move the budget airlines say will create a cheap flights powerhouse and more formidable competitor to the big four U.S. airlines.
The airlines released few details on Monday’s deal beyond the financial terms and expected timeline. The merger, which would create the fifth-largest U.S. carrier based on seat capacity and seventh-largest based on revenue, is expected to be completed in the second half of the year barring any major regulatory obstacles or other challenges.
The pressing questions on travelers’ minds won’t be definitively answered anytime soon. Executives say they haven’t even decided which airline’s name or look will survive the merger, or who will run the combined company.
Until the deal is done nothing changes for Spirit and Frontier passengers as the airlines will remain independent, with their own websites, fares, flights, planes, airport gates and policies.
Looking ahead, here’s what travelers need to know, and what remains up in the air, as the Florida airline with the neon yellow planes merges with the Colorado carrier that puts animals on the tails of it planes.
Will Frontier and Spirit still offer cheap flights?
Frontier and Spirit have made a name for themselves with eye-popping fares aimed at vacationers and travelers visiting friends and relatives who otherwise might not fly or take as many trips. Frontier’s website on Monday was touting one-way fares as low as $25 from Cleveland to Florida, Spirit, $43 from Detroit to Las Vegas.
They are no-frills fares, with extras charged for everything from carry-on bags to seat assignments to inflight soft drinks.
Frontier and Spirit executives are adamant their cheap tickets will not only remain but will be added to more routes as the airlines grow aggressively. They said they have immediately identified more than 300 new routes just by combining their flight networks.
The executives said they will reconsider cities previously abandoned, including Washington Dulles and Jackson, Mississippi, and add new ones including Eugene, Oregon, and Worcester, Massachusetts.
“Together we will democratize travel even further,” Frontier CEO Barry Biffle said on a conference call Monday.
The merger of two rivals in any business is often the recipe for fewer choices and higher prices, despite early promises of a win for all.
“Clearly, if you have less competition you have less incentive to reduce your fares,” said veteran travel industry analyst and consultant Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research Group.
Biffle maintains that the Frontier-Spirit combination is unique because the airlines’ route networks are complementary. Frontier is strong in the Western United States, Spirit on the East Coast. He said there are only three small international routes out of Florida where only Frontier and Spirit offer service, meaning the merger would leave just one carrier.
“This merger is completely different than everything else you’ve seen in the industry for the last 20 years,” Biffle said. “We are not interested in constraining (seat) capacity and raising prices.”
Harteveldt said one advantage for bargain-hunting travelers is that two like-minded airlines are combining to create a national budget airline, versus a larger airline scooping one of them up and folding the business into their full-service airline model.
Kerry Tan, associate professor of economics at Loyola University Maryland, has researched airline competition and calls the merger of two discount airlines “uncharted territory.”
Still, Tan and Harteveldt expect the merged airline to continue to dangle ultra-low fares in a continuing effort to compete against giants American, Delta, United and Southwest.
“If it’s the case that Spirit and Frontier try to exploit their market power after merging, it makes Southwest (and others) a bit more of an attractive alternative for these families,” Tan said.
Spirit and Frontier airline fees: What happens after the merger?
One thing travelers can count on with the merger: the combined airlines’ fees will remain a staple.
Spirit and Frontier, along with fellow discounter Allegiant Air, pioneered the airline a la carte model, with the ticket price covering no more than transportation between two cities and room for small bag underneath the seat in front of you. Travelers pay extra for anything else and do so in droves.
In the first half of 2021, the combined airline brought in $465 million in baggage fees alone, according to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics. That ranks second only to American Airlines at $520 million. Spirit alone collected more in bag fee revenue than much larger JetBlue Airways. Full-year statistics have not been released.
Spirit collected $58.64 in nonticket revenue per passenger per flight in 2021, more than the $46.16 it collected in airfare.
The airlines have similar, but not identical, fee structures so changes are ahead there. Frontier this month quietly changed its overweight bag limit from 50 pounds to 40 pounds, a move that aligns it with Spirit (and Allegiant.)
Airline meltdowns: Will Spirit, Frontier merger help or hurt stranded passengers?
Airline meltdowns have been a persistent problem for travelers, especially as travel surged back from pandemic lows.
Spirit had a bad spell in late July and early August, with thousands of flight cancellations that stranded travelers for days and cost the airline $50 million.
7 HOURS AT SPIRIT’S BIGGEST HUB ON 7TH DAY OF SPIRIT MELTDOWN: The good, the bad and the ugly
The airline temporarily grounded all flights because of a technology outage that left the airline unable to dispatch flights. The airline canceled 25% of its flights before the problem was fixed, and delayed an additional 24%. More than 260 flights were affected as of Monday evening.
As part of their pitch to Wall Street on the benefits of the merger, the airlines’ executives said the combined airline will have more planes and flights to rebook passengers on when things go wrong.
Biffle used the example of Baltimore to Orlando. The combined airline will have five daily flights on the route at current flight levels, compared with three today for Spirit and two for Frontier.
“So now, in the event of inclement weather or other challenges, our customers will have at least two additional ultra-low fare options to reach their destination,” Biffle said.
During Spirit’s meltdown in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, CEO Ted Christie attributed the hourslong lines for help in part to the time it takes to find seats and rebook passengers, especially on other airlines.
“They’ve got to physically go in and buy tickets. That’s literally what we’re doing, is going on their (other airlines’) website and buying their tickets,” he said at the time.
Spirit has Wi-Fi, Frontier doesn’t. Will Wi-Fi be offered on all flights after the merger?
In-flight services and amenities will also have to be eventually aligned.
One big topic that will need to be addressed: inflight Wi-Fi. It is standard on major airlines, usually for a fee, but rare on budget airlines.
Spirit has installed Wi-Fi on more than 100 of its 173 planes and is testing the service before rolling it out.
Frontier does not offer Wi-Fi, with its website saying it’s a money-saving move.
“We would rather pass the cost savings on to our customers and offer the lowest fares possible,” it says.
Spirit has popular first-class-like seats; Frontier doesn’t. Which prevails?
Spirit doesn’t have first class but the airline sells cushy seats at the front of the plane and gets a premium for them. They are called Big Front Seats.
For a nonstop flight from Dallas to Cancun, Mexico, in early May, the going price is $130 each way for the seats, which the airline says have up to 11 extra inches of legroom. That’s in addition to the roundtrip ticket price of $240.
Frontier does not offer a similar option.
Spirit and Frontier airlines discount fare clubs: Which one survives
Unlike most airlines, Spirit and Frontier offer fare discounts and other perks if you pay an annual membership fee. That’s why travelers see an asterisk in most fare sale promotions because you have to be a member to snag that price.
Adult entertainment icon Logan Long, who racked up more than … Continue reading Porn star Logan Long dead at 34 after health battle￼
The pandemic may have restricted travel over the past two … Continue reading Underrated National Parks You Should Visit
ASAP Rocky and Rihanna are officially parents. This afternoon (May 19), TMZ revealed that Rihanna … Continue reading Congratulations to Rihanna & A$AP Rocky! Baby boy is here.