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Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines this week announced a definitive merger agreement under which the companies would combine, creating what the two are calling “America’s most competitive ultra-low fare airline.”
Plenty of people have taken to social media and late-night talk shows to ridicule the idea of what many consider the worst airlines in America becoming one. Mock the Spirit-Frontier proposed merger as you will, for there’s certainly the potential for a combined mega-airline chock full of hidden fees and lacking service.
But there’s one group in particular that could truly benefit — the people most likely to already be flying Spirit or Frontier, regardless of whether a merger is approved.
Those are travelers heading to leisure markets like Orlando, Florida, or Las Vegas. These places are more likely to draw people planning a trip for a vacation or for hobbies like attending sporting events (as opposed to people traveling for business). And typically, these trips are paid for by the person taking them, not an employer, meaning costs tend to be a bigger factor.
And for leisure travelers on a tight budget, like families, the proposed merger is a win for a few reasons.
Why budget travelers will win if the merger happens
More route selection
If the merger is approved, travelers might be able to expect more than 1,000 daily flights to over 145 destinations in 19 countries.
Routes are especially focused on leisure destinations. If the two airlines combine and maintain their current flight schedules, Orlando International Airport will become the new airline’s busiest airport, with 7.4 million seats (versus 4.1 for Spirit alone or 3.3 for Frontier alone), according to aviation data provider Cirium. Fort Lauderdale International Airport in Florida will become its second busiest, and Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas will come in third.
That’s good news for travelers, as it means more options for routes, thus fewer layovers (or at least more favorable timing and routes should layovers be necessary).
Potentially fewer chaotic delays
Delays happen regularly, but were especially brutal amid Spirit’s operational meltdown last summer. Over 2,800 flights were canceled in about a week’s time due to a combination of bad weather, staffing shortages and technical problems that left passengers stranded.
“While a merged airline might not necessarily be able to control the weather, it could have a better way of handling other delays.”
While a merged airline might not necessarily be able to control the weather, it could have a better way of handling other delays.
“The issue with Frontier, in particular, is that they commonly service routes a few times a week, so if your flight gets canceled, then the next flight won’t be for a couple days,” says Kerry Tan, an associate professor of economics and an air travel expert at Maryland's Loyola University.
If an airline operates multiple flights on the same day to a destination, a canceled flight can be irritating, but it often might only set you back a couple hours if the airline can rebook you on the next scheduled flight. When schedules are limited, your next best option might be to book a pricey last-minute flight from a competitor.
“These two airlines aren’t necessarily known as being the best with performance and on-time arrivals,” Tan says. “But by being able to increase the number of planes in their fleet, you increase the chances for a solution.”
Better ability to rack up loyalty rewards
If you’re primarily looking for the cheapest airfare to your destination and previously weren’t allegiant to Spirit or Frontier, now you can better rack up loyalty points. Rather than earn some Free Spirit points on spring break and rack up Frontier miles on summer vacation only to have mediocre status in both airlines, you’ll be able to consolidate and conquer.
In turn, you’ll more quickly earn enough points to redeem for a free flight, or earn airline elite status.
Prices likely won’t rise significantly
While mergers typically bring fears that reduced competition could incentivize the new combined company to raise prices, Tan said he doesn’t think that will be the case in this situation — purely because both companies are founded on the premise of low prices.
“Their primary value to passengers is that you can fly on them for really cheap,” he says. “The quality might not be the best, but if you’re looking for no frills, then Frontier or Spirit might be the airline for you. Raising prices would destroy their value proposition to passengers.”
The bottom line
The $6.6 billion merger deal is expected to close in the second half of 2022. And if the deal goes through, expect more options for flight routes especially appealing to leisure travelers — just in time for what many are expecting to be a massive resurgence of travel.
Some of the legacy carriers have been hit especially hard by the pandemic due to their reliance on business travel, which has not returned yet — and might not ever. But budget airlines that have historically leaned into leisure travel, like Spirit and Frontier, might be able to use the pandemic to their advantage.
“It makes sense, because what Frontier is trying to do is to take advantage of the current market opportunity to strengthen one of their strengths,” Tan says.
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