Spirit Airlines has direct competition on 84% of routes; Southwest is #1 by route overlap

Spirit Airlines has direct competition on 84% of routes; Southwest is #1 by route overlap

This celebration marked Spirit Airlines’ new routes from Nashville to Baltimore, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Orlando. This year, Spirit has 10 routes from the Tennessee airport: the above and Austin, Cancun, Los Angeles, Newark, and Tampa.

Spirit Airlines had 319 routes last year, with Fort Lauderdale – New York La Guardia, Fort Lauderdale – Atlanta, Dallas Fort Worth – Las Vegas, DetroitOrlando, and Las Vegas – Seattle its top-five routes. 

Its top airport-pair, Ft Lauderdale – New York La Guardia, was its number-one in 2010 as well, although its seats have fallen by one-fifth, OAG Schedules data indicates, primarily from using A321s and reducing frequency.

Its top-five indicate two of the carrier’s three broad market types – large leisure destinations, big origination cities, and international – which it emphasises in its investor relations documents:

Spirit Airlines has direct competition on 84% of routes; Southwest is #1 by route overlap

Source: Spirit’s February 2020 investor relations presentation.

International routes down to 18% of total network

International routes have always been important to Spirit Airlines on an absolute basis. 

However, the carrier’s strong growth since 2010 – it added 258 routes between then and 2019 – was clearly focused greatly on domestic service.  This pushed its percentage of international routes from almost half of its network (48%) to 18% last year. 

A number of Spirit Airlines’ routes have no direct competition, such as Houston Intercontinental – Oakland, Chicago O’Hare – Oakland, and Boston – Myrtle Beach.  Spirit focuses on routes that it believes will produce margins at mid-teen or higher levels, and which have a sufficiently large population base to stimulate demand from reducing the prevailing fare by an average of 25%.

84% of Spirit’s routes had head-to-head competition last year

Spirit is far less interested in whether direct competition exists, as shown by 84% of its routes last year – 269 in all – having head-to-head competition with one or more of the nine airlines analysed:  Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Sun Country, Southwest, and United.

The ULCC’s approach to routes in comparison to start-up Breeze – which for now says it only expects to operate unserved routes – could not be starker.

Back in 2010, Delta was a key competing airline because of Spirit’s strong focus on Detroit and Florida generally.  Delta remains Spirit’s leading legacy airline by route overlap.

Spirit Airlines has direct competition on 84% of routes; Southwest is #1 by route overlap (2)

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser.

Growth in overlap with ‘the nine’ faster than Spirit added routes

In all but one year, Spirit’s year-on-year percentage growth in net routes was lower – sometimes markedly so – than the percentage growth of routes overlapping with one or more of the nine.

Last year, Spirit added 14.3% more routes against 18.5% more overlapping for the nine’, equivalent to 40 and 42 routes respectively.

Spirit Airlines has direct competition on 84% of routes; Southwest is #1 by route overlap (3)

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser.

LCCs and ULCCs mainly responsible for recent strong overlap

Most of the ‘route overlap’ in the past two-to-three years has come from LCCs and other ULCCs, especially Southwest and Frontier.

Routes on which Spirit and Frontier coexist more than doubled to 85 last year.  The two carriers had the greatest volume of ‘overlap seats’ on Orlando – Philadelphia, followed by Denver – Las Vegas, Orlando – San Juan, Detroit – Orlando, and Chicago O’Hare – Las Vegas. 

Philadelphia – Orlando’s ‘overlap seats’ with all of ‘the nine’ carriers will increase further this coming winter, with JetBlue’s new twice-daily service.

Southwest is Spirit Airlines’ #1 competitor by routes…

Despite the above, Southwest is Spirit’s leading competitor.  Last year, the pair overlapped on 134 routes, up from 102 in 2018 – and four in 2010.

The degree to which they directly compete has grown faster than Spirit has added routes, at least on a percentage basis.

Of course, Spirit Airlines and Southwest do not directly compete in various major markets, including Chicago, Dallas, and Houston, with Spirit at each city’s primary airport.

Baltimore, Las Vegas, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, and Denver are core battlegrounds for the two by overlapping seats.  This is primarily because they’re significant airports for both operators.

Las Vegas – San Diego, Los Angeles – Oakland, Baltimore – Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas – Oakland, and Las Vegas – Los Angeles were the pair’s top-five routes last year by overlapping seats.   

All five are very high-frequency Southwest markets, and last year Spirit had between 14% (Los Angeles – Oakland) and 34% (Las Vegas – Oakland) of the pair’s combined seats.

Spirit Airlines has direct competition on 84% of routes; Southwest is #1 by route overlap (4)

Source: OAG Mapper. The routes on which Spirit and Southwest directly competed on last year.

… while Allegiant was Spirit Airlines’ ninth competitor of ‘the nine’

Not surprisingly, Spirit had the lowest route overlap with Allegiant, with just 10 routes last year. 

Allegiant’s top overlap routes were Las Vegas – Oakland, Las Vegas – Los Angeles, Asheville – Fort Lauderdale, Austin – Las Vegas, and Indianapolis – Las Vegas.

Spirit has since ended Asheville – Fort Lauderdale.  Despite Allegiant’s low-frequency approach given it broadly operates on days when demand is stronger, Allegiant had higher frequencies and seats on this airport-pair than Spirit – with this route being Allegiant’s number one across its whole network by seat capacity and frequencies.

In the week starting 1 October, Allegiant will operate 17-weekly on it.


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