Skip to content

JetBlue, Spirit Airlines say leisure flyers beginning to return — slowly

May 07, 2020
4 min read
JetBlue, Spirit Airlines say leisure flyers beginning to return — slowly
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.

A few Americans are beginning to travel again for reasons other than essential work during the coronavirus pandemic with JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines each reporting a slight uptick in passengers.

Both New York-based JetBlue and South Florida-based Spirit are seeing slight improvements in May passenger numbers, executives reported during separate first-quarter earnings calls on Thursday. While both emphasized the gains were modest, the improvements give hope that a more meaningful recovery is in the offing as concerns of COVID-19 lessen.

"We’re simply finding is people are starting to want to move around a little bit," said Spirit commercial chief Matthew Klein. "As long as they’re traveling in a safe way, we’re starting to see that come back a little bit.”

Sign up for our daily newsletter

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

The green shoots are a positive sign for an industry hard hit by the pandemic. Airlines have cut the number of domestic flights by more than 73% in response to the near disappearance of demand during the week ending May 5, according to trade group Airlines for America (A4A). Passenger traffic was down nearly 96% year-over-year over the same period.

Most carriers have cut schedules through June, with executives universally saying they do not know when people will want to fly again in large numbers. Surveys show many potential travelers will wait for a broad relaxation in shelter-at-home and other restrictions before they will consider flying.

JetBlue is flying around 100 flights a day, or about 10% of its originally planned schedule, president Joanna Geraghty said Thursday. The airline has not regularly flown that few flights since 2002 — just its second year of operation — according to U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics data.

Related: Travelers are nervous about flying again after coronavirus, a new survey finds

(Photo courtesy of Spirit)
A Spirit Airlines Airbus A319. (Photo courtesy of Spirit)

“We’re starting to see some very small improvements in bookings but… it’s too early to tell if there’s a change in the trend," said Geraghty. The improvements are primarily on flights between the northeastern U.S. and Florida.

Both JetBlue and Spirit pointed to the "visiting friends and relatives" market — dubbed "VFR" traffic within the industry — as leading the uptick in travel so far.

Spirit is optimistic that more people will begin flying soon. The airline plans to resume some flying in June, walking back a planned 95% year-over-year capacity cut slightly to down just 90% compared to 2019.

"We expect the demand for travel in the summer to rebound a bit but still be significantly below last year," said Klein.

Related: JetBlue and Spirit Airlines can suspend flights to 16 hub airports

These trends fit general expectations that domestic leisure travel will return before business or international travel. This benefits leisure-oriented airlines like JetBlue and Spirit, but poses challenges for carriers like American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines that depend more on higher-fare business travelers.

The so-called "big 3" of the U.S. have all cut schedules dramatically through June, with United planning to operate just 10% of the capacity it flew a year ago.

The modest uptick in May passenger numbers comes as airlines continue to wrack up first quarter losses. Net losses at JetBlue totaled $268 million and at Spirit $28 million during the three months ending in March.

Related: Airlines flew empty flights to get coronavirus aid; now they’re asking Congress for help

Featured image by Bloomberg via Getty Images

TPG featured card

Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 3X points
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points60,000 points
For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$95

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent, Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases