Frontier Airlines will designate Miami Airport as an
official base beginning in March. But as the ultralow-cost carrier grows in
South Florida, one key to its success will be training price-conscious flyers
to look beyond Fort Lauderdale, the region’s longtime discount hub.
“We see this as an opportunity,” Frontier chief commercial
officer Daniel Shurz said. “We’ve been taking advantage of this opportunity. We’ve
learned what works and what doesn’t.”
Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports are just 29 miles apart,
but they cater to very different types of travelers. According to the flight
data analytics company OAG, 73% of outbound seats offered from Fort Lauderdale
in 2019 were on low-cost carriers compared with just 3% from Miami.
Miami serves as a hub for American Airlines and hosts legacy
carriers from around the Western Hemisphere and the world. Meanwhile, Fort
Lauderdale is a focus city for JetBlue, is the home of Spirit and hosts
sizeable operations by Southwest and Allegiant.
Various factors explain the difference between the airports.
Miami-Dade County is more of an economic center than Fort Lauderdale’s Broward
County, which helps explain the airport’s appeal to business travelers.
Conversely, airport fees at Fort Lauderdale are much lower than at Miami, a key
consideration, especially for cost-conscious discount carriers.
In the fiscal year ended in September, airlines’ cost per
enplaned passenger (CPE) was $6.89 at Fort Lauderdale, compared with Miami’s
current CPE of $18.92, according to the airports.
In addition, Fort Lauderdale’s long-standing status as the
area’s home for low-cost air service has become self-perpetuating as discount
airfare shoppers -- both area residents and regular visitors -- have
learned to look there first.
Bucking the norm, Frontier entered Miami in December 2014,
though its present buildup began in the past year. Last winter, Frontier flew
32 weekly flights from Miami, a number that has grown to 82.
The carrier’s summer 2020 schedule has 119 weekly Miami
flights to 22 destinations, including eight routes that Frontier unveiled last
month. Among them are its first three international destinations: Guatemala
City; San Salvador, El Salvador; and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Each
international route targets the family visitation market rather than Frontier’s
traditional emphasis on vacation travelers, Shurz said.
He readily acknowledges that Frontier must overcome the
perception that the cheap flights in South Florida are out of Fort Lauderdale,
but he said, “As customers fly us, word of mouth will build up.”
Overcoming that perception, he said, is likely to be easier
with the inbound market, where there are more new flyers who don’t by default
look to Fort Lauderdale for discount flights into South Florida.
But being all but alone in Miami among low-cost airlines
also offers advantages. Frontier’s Miami routes will typically compete only
with hub carrier American and perhaps a second legacy carrier from one of that
airline’s hubs or focus cities.
That gives Frontier a more unique offering in Miami than it
would have going against Spirit, JetBlue and Southwest in Fort Lauderdale.
Shurz said he doesn’t expect to gain a major price premium
in Miami as a result of the move, though a $5 increase might be possible on
some routes. After all, Frontier still must stay competitive with fares its
discount competitors are offering out of Fort Lauderdale.
Yet he does expect higher load factors. The carrier
especially sees potential for Miami in the Latin America market, since
Miami-Dade has a much larger population of Latinos than Broward County.