Discount flyer Spirit to offer MSP to Chicago, Las Vegas flights

Spirit airlines
A Spirit Airlines Inc. employee walks under a plane on the tarmac at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport 2010. The airline will start serving Minneapolis-St. Paul in May of this year.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A new airline will begin service out of the Twin Cities starting at the end of May.

Florida-based Spirit Airlines, which bills itself as an ultra-low-cost airline, announced Wednesday it would be flying out of Terminal 2, the Humphrey terminal at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

At a news briefing in the terminal with Metropolitan Airport Commission officials, Spirit spokeswoman Misty Pinson announced the company's new routes.

"On May 31, we're going to start three daily non-stops between MSP and Chicago O'Hare, and one daily non-stop to Las Vegas," she said. "We're thrilled to offer travelers from MSP and through out the surrounding areas the opportunity to save money on travel."

Metropolitan Airports Commission spokesman Patrick Hogan said the airport had been talking with Spirit Airline for several years about the benefits of entering the Twin Cities market.

"It always takes a while to court these airlines, but we've been pretty successful," Hogan said. "Since 2008, is this is the fourth airline that's begun service to the Twin Cities so we're going to continue our efforts to do everything we can to keep competition alive here."

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Spirit Airlines' low fares spur more travelers, rather than stealing passengers from other airlines, Pinson said.

"We look at coming in and stimulating the market with our low fares and attracting people that weren't able to afford travel before," Pinson said.

Spirit Airlines is offering $9 fares on the new flights to Chicago and Las Vegas which come to $28.79 with taxes and fees. Spirit's business model is based on low fares, coupled with charges for a wide range of typically free services, such as advance seat selection and more than one piece of carry-on baggage. It's a teaser rate, and to get it travelers must join their $9 Fare Club at an annual cost of $59.95.

And that's just the beginning when it comes to fees.

The carrier's low fares are coupled with fees for typically free services, such as advance seat selection, and as much as $45 for a second carry-on bag.

Like other ultra low cost carriers, such as Ryanair in Europe, Spirit's menu of fees allows travelers to choose what they want to pay for instead of paying a single fare for services the customer may not use.

Ryanair made headlines two years ago when it announced plans to charge passengers to use the toilet. It eventually scrapped that plan and chose instead to remove two of the three toilets on each plan and replace them with seats.

The Metropolitan Airports Commission is pleased to land another competitor for the market, said Chairman Dan Boivin.

"We've been talking with Spirit for a number of years. We're finally grateful it came to fruition. We will continue to talk to other airlines. It's one of the things we do here," Boivin said. "We want to give more competition. We want to have somebody like Spirit come here and give consumers better choices and better fares for where they want to go."

Since 2008, the MAC has added Alaska Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Great Lakes Airlines.

Some people who have flown Spirit Airlines vow never again. On top of the fees, the complaints range from unfriendly service to cramped planes. Spirit packs as many as 35 more seats onto its planes than some competitors.

But many travelers will find Spirit's product attractive, said Darryl Jenkins of the American Aviation Institute.

"The routes they fly to, people will enjoy them. The equipment is good, it's new, they keep it very clean. Fight attendants are perfectly well-trained," Jenkins said. "You will get low-cost commodity travel, it gets you from point A to point B. and sometimes that's as good as you can expect."

Travelers there this morning greeted the news of Spirit's arrival in the Twin Cities with curiosity.

Tony Weinbeck of Minneapolis had flown Spirit before from Boston to Atlantic City, and liked its point-to-point no-frills approach to travel.

"You get on, you get off. You get to where you're going," Weinbeck said.

Myrna Flores hadn't heard of Spirit, but having paid $400 for airfare, the Chicago passenger was all over the idea of a cheaper carrier.

"I'd try it out. Definitely," Flores said.

Spirit Airlines' flights to Chicago and Las Vegas begin May 31st. Spirit officials say they will evaluate whether to add more routes from the Twin Cities in the future.