Spirit to enter Miami with 30 routes in major competitive shake-up

Jun 8, 2021

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Things are getting really hot in Miami, and it’s not just the temperature.

Spirit Airlines announced on Tuesday that it will start flying to Miami, with a total of 30 routes taking off later this year launching in early October through mid-November. The airline will fly to a slew of domestic and international cities from Florida’s second-busiest airport, without cutting any of its existing service from its nearby hub in Fort Lauderdale.

The move to add Miami comes as the city has seen explosive growth in air service during the pandemic from both the incumbents and other new entrants.

But Spirit’s bombshell announcement is different from any other Miami-focused route-map adjustment we’ve seen recently. With its 30 routes, the airline will instantly become the second-largest carrier in Miami, according to vice president of network planning John Kirby.

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30 new routes to Spirit’s newest city

Though Spirit’s route map has grown steadily throughout the pandemic, Tuesday’s announcement is its biggest single expansion yet.

You’ll find the full list of 30 routes below, but highlights include ten international cities and twenty destinations in the U.S., with most of the routes operating at least daily.

Destination Flights Available Start Date
Atlantic City (ACY) Daily Oct. 6
Atlanta (ATL) Daily Oct. 6
Baltimore (BWI) Daily Oct. 6
Bogota (BOG) Daily Oct. 6
Guatemala City (GUA) 4x per week Oct. 6
Medellin (MDE) Daily Oct. 6
Newark (EWR) Daily Oct. 6
Port-au-Prince (PAP) Daily Oct. 6
Santo Domingo (SDQ) Daily Oct. 6
San Salvador (SAL) 3x per week Oct. 7
Barranquilla (BAQ) Daily Nov. 17
Boston (BOS) Daily Nov. 17
Cali (CLO) Daily Nov. 17
Chicago O’Hare (ORD) Daily Nov. 17
Cleveland (CLE) Daily Nov. 17
Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) Daily Nov. 17
Denver (DEN) Daily Nov. 17
Detroit (DTW) Daily Nov. 17
Hartford-Bradley (BDL) Daily Nov. 17
Houston Intercontinental (IAH) Daily Nov. 17
Las Vegas (LAS) Daily Nov. 17
Myrtle Beach (MYR) Daily Nov. 17
New York LaGuardia (LGA) 2x daily Nov. 17
Orlando (MCO) Daily Nov. 17
Philadelphia (PHL) Daily Nov. 17
Raleigh-Durham (RDU) Daily Nov. 17
San Pedro Sula (SAP) Daily Nov. 17
San José, C.R. (SJO) 4x per week Nov. 17
San Juan (SJU) Daily Nov. 17
St. Thomas (STT) 3x per week Nov. 18

 

As for how Spirit chose these initial routes, Kirby told TPG that it went with some of the largest markets in the region.

“We know the region very well and the customer base because of our large presence in Fort Lauderdale… So it’s a combination of big markets that we’re familiar with as well as smaller, more niche plays that are also markets we’re familiar with,” he said.

Spirit is releasing the list of destinations it intends to serve, along with the commencement dates, as part of the approval process for starting service in Miami. After this public filing, the airport authorities will assess the request and coordinate gate and ticket counter space for Spirit, assuming everything is approved. The airline will announce fares and put the routes on sale at a later date.

Kirby isn’t worried that Spirit will get the short end of the stick, saying that “we expect to get the space we need to operate.”

Spirit’s Miami expansion really hits home

Though the carrier has expanded rapidly throughout the pandemic, this latest route-map shake-up really hits home.

That’s because Spirit already operates a major base in Fort Lauderdale (FLL), just a 30-minute drive from Miami on the rare occasion when traffic is in your favor. Spirit’s Miramar, Florida, headquarters are just a short drive away as well.

Some might wonder if expanding to Miami would put the airline’s massive FLL operation in jeopardy — Spirit is the biggest carrier at FLL with 100 daily departures this July.

But downsizing isn’t in the cards, according to Kirby. Adding Miami has been in Spirit’s playbook for “several years,” with the stars only aligning now during the pandemic.

Additionally, he cited the fact that Spirit’s grown its FLL base by about 30 flights during the pandemic, and Miami is “going to compliment what we do in Fort Lauderdale… We actually think we are going to capture more guests by serving both airports.”

To fuel the growth, Spirit will deploy both newly delivered planes — “we’re taking 16 planes this year,” Kirby said — and existing ones that weren’t being used to full capacity due to the pandemic. The carrier will bring crews back from voluntary leaves to “give us the capacity to grow the marketplace,” he said.

A look at one of Spirit’s newest Airbus jets (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

It’s not often that an airline enters a market with enough routes to land a spot on its top ten list of airports served.

But, with the addition of 30 new routes — one of the largest market entries in recent memory — Miami suddenly becomes one of the top ten busiest airports in the Spirit network. “Miami, I think will be somewhere, probably tied for eighth through twelfth in our network, somewhere along those lines,” Kirby said.

A fortress hub under assault

Flying from Miami isn’t just about Spirit flexing its presence in South Florida. While that’s a big announcement on its own merit, it also pits the carrier against American Airlines, which has long operated a fortress hub there.

Of the 30 new routes, 28 are already served at least once daily by American Airlines, according to Cirium data. Atlantic City and Myrtle Beach are the only new Spirit markets that AA doesn’t currently serve from Miami.

With its 30 new routes, Spirit will become the second-largest carrier in Miami, both in terms of departures per day and seats per day relative to June 2021 and November 2021 data, according to Kirby.

Despite the splashy entrance, Kirby cautions that this isn’t an offensive against AA, adding that “we view this as offering complimentary service that really allows us to better serve the region.”

He did acknowledge, however, that the market has long been dominated by one major carrier. “The fact that 29 flights gets you the number two position means that obviously, the largest carrier enjoys a very dominant position,” he said.

For its part, AA unveiled a major Miami-focused expansion in February, adding a brand-new long-haul flight, two new route-map pins and increased capacity and frequencies across Latin American and the Caribbean.

In addition to going head-to-head with American on many of its bread-and-butter routes, Spirit will also leapfrog the other domestic airlines that have recently started service there.

During the pandemic, both Southwest and JetBlue made headlines for starting service to Miami, a city they’ve long avoided in favor of nearby Fort Lauderdale due to its lower operating costs.

However, the Miami Airport switched to a preferential-cost model during the pandemic, which has “probably led to the proliferation of new entrants into Miami over the last year,” according to Kirby,

American Airlines Boeing 777 in Miami (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

One of Spirit’s biggest ultra-low-cost competitors, Frontier Airlines, already has a sizeable presence in Miami. The Denver-based carrier added Miami to its route map in 2014 and has since classified the city as one of its hubs. Frontier opened a new crew base there last year and now flies to 34 destinations, according to Cirium schedule data.

Finally, Spirit’s splashy entrance brings competitive headwinds to Delta’s planned Miami expansion.

In July 2020, the Atlanta-based carrier doubled down on its proposed pan-American partnership with LATAM that includes a new “gateway hub” in Miami. Delta unveiled plans to add at least 20 new U.S. domestic departures under its proposed joint venture with LATAM, though the timeline remains unclear.

Delta took a 20% stake in LATAM in September 2019, wooing the carrier away from the Oneworld alliance and its former partner, American Airlines.

Altogether, entering Miami isn’t just good for Spirit, its network and its flyers. The move also brings fierce competition to Miami, where American Airlines has grown for years without significant competition.

Now that changes — and the mercury is rising.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

 

 

 

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