Can San Juan handle all of Frontier and Spirit’s new flights?

Dec 20, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Competition is rising with the tide in Puerto Rico, with Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines piling on new flights to sun-soaked San Juan.

In just the past week, Frontier has announced four new routes, and Spirit four additional flights to San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport (SJU). These additions come even as Wall Street analysts flag the market as one seeing high levels of competition — something that can be good for travelers in the short term but, potentially, not in the long term.

Denver-based Frontier will connect San Juan to Baltimore/Washington (BWI), Boston (BOS) and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (SDQ) in April, and Chicago O’Hare (ORD) in May. South Florida-based Spirit, which launches new service to the city from Boston and Newark (EWR) this month, will add flights to Newark and Orlando (MCO) in February, Philadelphia (PHL) in March, and Baltimore in May.

Sign up for the free daily TPG newsletter for more airline news!

San Juan’s largest carrier, JetBlue Airways, has not announced any new routes or additional frequencies to the city for 2020. On top of that, while the New York-based carrier’s seats in San Juan will be up 10% year-over-year in 2019, they remain nearly 2% lower than in 2016 — the last full year before Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, taking a major bite out of the island’s economy.

“Capacity to San Juan, Puerto Rico, remains elevated,” wrote Raymond James analyst Savanthi Syth in a report Thursday. Frontier and Spirit, and to a lesser extent Southwest Airlines, are the main drivers of the added capacity, she added. JetBlue, on the other hand, faces “pressure” from these additions.

Related: Frontier adds four San Juan routes amid 25-route growth spurt

Elevated capacity tends to be good for consumers by driving fares down, while at the same time shrinking profit margins for airlines. This can be good over the short term as carriers duke it out for market share but long term, particularly if there is an economic slowdown, weaker airlines may raise a white flag and pull back — ultimately leaving fewer options for consumers.

San Juan has seen this before. American Airlines operated a hub at the airport from 1987 but, following the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing recession, closed the hub in 2011. American’s decision coincided with JetBlue’s expansion at the airport, which it officially named a “focus city” in 2012.

Room at the casa?

“Definitely, there is room for growth not just for Spirit and JetBlue but for all others,” Jorge Hernandez, CEO of San Juan airport operator Aerostar Airports, told TPG. “There are still many destinations that remain unserved with direct flights.”

Hernandez said San Juan’s forecast 12% year-over-year increase in passenger numbers in 2019 is “healthy” growth, and added that Aerostar expects this trend to continue into 2020. The airport anticipates passenger traffic to pass the 10 million mark next year.

Echoing Hernandez’s comments, Spirit spokesman Field Sutton told TPG that the airline sees “additional opportunities between Puerto Rico and the mainland” and plans to announce more new routes soon.

Related: Spirit Airlines to take on JetBlue with 2 new Puerto Rico routes

A Spirit Airlines jet at San Juan's Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport in December 2019. (Photo courtesy of Spirit Airlines)
A Spirit Airlines jet flying the Puerto Rican flag before a flight to San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport in December 2019. (Photo courtesy of Spirit Airlines)

Spirit is on track to nearly double in size in San Juan this year, with seats up an impressive 95% year-over-year, Cirium schedules show.

“Demand and competitive capacity challenges… ramped [up] significantly through the summer,” JetBlue president Joanna Geraghty said of the airline’s Caribbean and Latin American business in October. She specifically named the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico as markets where JetBlue is “committed” despite competitive pressures.

Asked about Frontier and Spirit’s recent additions, JetBlue spokesman Philip Stewart said the airline is “very pleased” with its San Juan operation. He added that local customers like its complimentary inflight amenities, including seatback entertainment, Wi-Fi, and snacks and non-alcoholic beverages, that are either only available with a fee or unavailable on its ultra-low-cost competitors.

Stewart said JetBlue plans to continue to grow in San Juan, dependent on demand, in 2020.

What JetBlue growth in San Juan will look like is unknown. The carrier is publicly focused on growing at Boston and New York John F. Kennedy (JFK), and particularly the former where it faces increased pressure from Delta Air Lines. Recent announcements emphasized added service to Boston, including an expanded shuttle to New York LaGuardia (LGA) and Washington Reagan National (DCA), and new routes flown with its new Airbus A321neos from JFK.

Related: JetBlue boosts LaGuardia shuttle amid Boston expansion

Growth in San Juan does not appear to be abating. Frontier plans to grow by roughly 15% in 2020 suggesting more new routes are coming. Spirit is even more direct with its definite plans to continue expanding in Puerto Rico.

“The prospects for growth remain quite favorable in the out years,” said Hernandez looking beyond next year. He reiterated that, at least according to the airport, there is demand for both more domestic and international markets.

Featured image courtesy of Spirit Airlines.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 100,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Our best offer ever! Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 100,000 points are worth $1,250 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.