Southwest dominates Las Vegas – California market; Virgin America boosts San Francisco

Image: Richard Branson Las Vegas Elvis
When Virgin America started its route from San Francisco to Las Vegas, not only did Richard Branson have Elvis attend the party – he also had a couple get married as part of the launch event. This publicity stunt clearly paid off: Since Virgin America entered SFO-Vegas traffic has risen by some 500,000 towards 2.5m

For the last decade, the number of passengers travelling by air between Las Vegas NV and California has hovered around the 10 million mark. Nine different airports each manage to generate at least half a million passengers per annum to the entertainment and leisure centre that is Las Vegas. In recent years, the dominance of the Los Angeles route has come under pressure from San Francisco, thanks to the launch in October 2007 of multiple daily flights by newcomer Virgin America. So far, the airline has chosen not to start services to Vegas from its Los Angeles hub.

Chart: Top 10 Las Vegas - California routes
Source: BTS

Latest BTS data for 2009 (to October) reveals that Los Angeles is just maintaining its lead over San Francisco, but by only 3%.

Southwest carries 60% of passengers in 2009

Data for the first 10 months of 2009 also reveals how dominant Southwest is on many of the routes. It has a greater than 80% market share on six of the top 10 routes, and a 60% share on one other route. Of the top nine routes (Fresno is much smaller than the rest), Southwest is only beaten by United on the San Francisco route. On the Fresno route, Allegiant, United and US Airways each have around one third of the market.

Image: Airline market share
Source: BTS

US Airways has a major presence on seven of the top 10 routes, while United is a significant player on just three (but this includes the two biggest routes from Los Angeles and San Francisco). Overall, for 2009, Southwest has around 62% of all Las Vegas to California traffic, followed by US Airways (16%) and United (13%). Virgin America, despite only being present on the San Francisco route, still manages a 4% share, ahead of American with 3%.

US Airways cheaper than Southwest

According to US DOT Office of Aviation Analysis data for 2009, on those markets where US Airways does compete with Southwest, it is marginally cheaper and always the lowest fare airline in the market.

Route Average Southwest fare Average US Airways fare
Las Vegas – Santa Ana $115 $100
Las Vegas – Los Angeles $109 $98
Las Vegas – San Diego $108 $92
Las Vegas – Sacramento $133 $114
Las Vegas – San Jose $111 $98
Las Vegas – San Francisco $89 $86
Source: US DOT Office of Aviation Analysis for 2009 Q2


  1. Vanni Gibertini says:

    The fact that US Airways is cheaper than Southwest may be explained by the fact that while Southwest still has a 2-piece free of charge baggage allowance, US Airways used to charge (in Q2 2009) $15 for the first piece and $25 for the second (now that has increased to $25 and $35 respectively). And considering that the typical Las Vegas passengers doesn’t usually travel with hand baggage only, that could have a serious impact on consumer choices.
    Furthermore, Southwest tickets are all changeable at no-fee and can all be refunded (in cash or credit), therefore providing higher value for money.

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