Huge Rivalry: 83% Of Spirit’s Routes Have Head-To-Head Competition

Spirit has enormous direct competition, with at least one other airline on 83% of its routes. This is to be expected given the network strategy of the ultra-low-cost carrier (ULCC), but it is nonetheless significant. Spirit competes most heavily with Southwest, as we see in this story.

Spirit A320neo
Spirit has more route overlap with Southwest than any other carrier. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Spirit is the USA’s sixth-largest airline this year and one of the few to have exceeded its 2019 capacity. It has 367 routes, based on its schedule submission to OAG, with Fort Lauderdale-Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale-New York LaGuardia, Fort Lauderdale-Newark, Orlando-San Juan, and Fort Lauderdale-Detroit making up the top-five.

These five indicate two of the carrier’s three broad market types: large leisure destinations and big origination cities. Only international isn’t represented here. Interestingly, international capacity accounts for 13% of its total this year, based on San Juan being considered domestic, up from 10% in 2019.

Spirit A320neo
Spirit focuses on routes that it believes will produce margins in the mid-teens or higher and which have a sufficiently large population base to grow demand by reducing the current fare by an average of 25%. That’s based on its November 2019 investor presentation. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

83% of routes have head-to-head competition

Some 83% of Spirit’s routes have direct competition with another airline in 2021, up from 52% in 2010. That’s a finding based on comparing schedules with Alaska, Allegiant, American, Frontier, JetBlue, Sun Country, Southwest, and United.

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This development is predictable as Spirit ordinarily focuses on the ‘soft underbelly’ of typically fairly large markets that are therefore necessarily well-served. It actively targets the most price-sensitive with often a once-daily offering. As such, greater head-to-head competition is expected. It is in direct contrast to the network strategy of others, including Breeze, which focus on thinner unserved markets.

Spirit A321
Because of Allegiant’s network approach, it has the least overlap with Spirit of the eight airlines examined. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

One of seven airlines on LAX to Las Vegas

Spirit is one of five airlines (based on the eight examined) on multiple routes. Some of the more interesting ones include Austin to Cancun, Indianapolis to Orlando, and Los Angeles to Los Cabos internationally. Furthermore, some routes have six airlines, including Austin-Los Angeles and LaGuardia to Orlando.

Only airport-pair has seven carriers: Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Spirit entered this 236-mile market in 2011 with up to 35 flights a week. A decade later, amid a pandemic, it has up to 18 weekly flights and a 10% share of total seats, behind Southwest (32%), American (31%), and United (13%).

Spirit A321
Spirit has added 34 international routes this year versus 2019, including New Orleans to San Pedro Sula. While this particular market might seem unusual, a decent ~23,000 round-trip passengers transited between them in 2019. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Big growth with Southwest and Frontier

American is the legacy airline with which Spirit’s routes overlap the most. However, in recent years, growth in head-to-head competition has come more from Southwest and Spirit’s fellow ULCC, Frontier. In contrast, Spirit has the least overspread with Allegiant (just 13 routes).

Routes on which Spirit and Frontier overlap total 130 this year, up from 85 in 2019, a significant jump of 53%. Orlando-Philadelphia now has the most ‘overlap seats’.

Spirit’s overlaps the most with Southwest, with the pair head-to-head on 164 routes this year, up from 134 in 2019, 102 in 2018, and a mere four in 2010. This year, Orlando, Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale, and Baltimore are the core battlegrounds as they’re significant airports for both players. And this is just direct competition, where they both fly between the same airports.

Are you flying Spirit this year? Let us know in the comments.