Spirit Airlines goes all-in on its newest city with 5 additional routes
Despite the pandemic, Spirit Airlines' route network continues to grow.
The latest addition comes to the airline's newest city, Milwaukee (MKE), which saw its first-ever Spirit commercial service take off on Thursday. At the launch event for the inaugural, the carrier unveiled a five-route expansion from MKE, with the new flights slated to take off at the beginning of the fall season.
The Miramar, Florida-based carrier will start flying daily to the following four cities on Nov. 17:
- Fort Lauderdale (FLL)
- Fort Myers (RSW)
- Phoenix (PHX)
- Tampa (TPA)
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In addition, Spirit will launch its first international route from Milwaukee — to Cancun (CUN) — with three weekly flights commencing on Dec. 23, during the peak winter holiday travel period.
Flights to Florida will be operated year-round, while service to Cancun and Phoenix will be seasonal, though a carrier spokesperson confirmed that the airline would upgrade those routes to annual service depending on demand.
The five new routes nearly triple Spirit's MKE service which launched on Thursday, and includes daily flights to Las Vegas (LAS), Los Angeles (LAX) and Orlando (MCO).
“We see a vibrant future full of new opportunities for travel here in the Badger State,” John Kirby, vice president of network planning for Spirit Airlines, said in a statement. "We can’t wait to take more Milwaukee Guests to ‘sun and sand’ destinations and bring travelers from all over to enjoy Wisconsin’s great festivals, sports scene and fun outdoor activities.”
Based on Kirby's statement, it appears that the carrier views Milwaukee as a market for both originating and terminating traffic. However, the latest five-route expansion seemingly fits more of the former than the latter. During the cold and snowy winters, local flyers will likely seek warm-weather destinations with plenty of outdoor activities. Cities in Florida, Arizona and Mexico fit the bill, and align with Spirit's existing leisure-focused network strategy.
In particular, by launching flights to its Fort Lauderdale base, Spirit can offer one-stop connections to 16 destinations across Latin American and the Caribbean, giving flyers even more opportunities to escape the cold.
While Spirit seemingly hopes for a splashy launch, the competitive headwinds are strong. Milwaukee is already saturated with ultra-low-cost carriers, including flights with Frontier and Sun Country on most of Spirit's new routes. Plus, the carrier also will go head-to-head against Southwest and other network carriers like American and United.
In particular, the MKE to Fort Myers market could present the biggest challenge for Spirit. Frontier plans daily flights in January 2022, while Sun Country and Southwest are both slated to operate two weekly flights during the month, averaging 280 available seats each day, per Cirium schedules.
Related: Spirit Airlines adds 6 routes to its 2 newest destinations
In 2019 — well before the pandemic disrupted the industry and dampened demand — roughly 280 passengers flew between the cities each day, according to Department of Transportation data, so Spirit's going to need to compete fiercely to attract its share of flyers with the extra capacity it's going to add to the market.
Nonetheless, the carrier is making a calculated entrance into Milwaukee. By starting with three routes and then expanding with five more later this year, Spirit can grow brand awareness in its newest city — the same strategy it's deploying in Louisville (SDF) and St. Louis (STL), two other new cities for the airline.
The good news for travelers is that such competition usually brings frequent fare sales and other promotional offers.
Either way, Spirit's not afraid to disrupt a market — just take a look at the carrier's 30-route launch in Miami — so it'll be interesting to follow how these new flights perform in MKE.