The budget traveller in North America is becoming increasingly spoilt for choice as more airlines compete for their cash with no-frills fares.
So-called “legacy” airlines are now lining up to introduce cheaper fares, where the likes of hold luggage and seat assignment cost extra, with United Airlines the most recent to succumb to the commercial pressure aggravated by the success of budget operations.
The American carrier will launch a stripped down economy fare later this year, described by vice chairman and chief revenue officer Jim Compton as an “entry-level fare that will appeal to the purely price-sensitive customer”.
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Delta Airlines introduced an economy offering in 2014 Photo: Getty
“This will allow us to compete with ultra-low-cost carriers for passengers looking for that price point,” he added.
It will also give passengers the opportunity to upgrade to Economy Plus, which buys an extra checked bag as well as more legroom. A further Economy Plus Enhance is available too, with priority boarding and separate check-in lines.
The move echoes Delta Air Lines’ move in 2014 with its introduction of Basic Economy tickets, which come without seat assignment or the opportunity to change bookings, and more recently, American Airlines’ announcement in November that they will introduce a no-frills fare at some point in 2016.
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“This will allow us to compete with the ultra-low-cost carriers,” said American’s president, Scott Kirby.
America’s equivalents of the likes of Ryanair and Easyjet are to thank for the traditional US airlines beginning to offer cheap seats.
However, for the British traveller, this is unlikely to have any effect on transatlantic flights, as the traditional airlines are likely to only apply a budget approach to the domestic routes they share with low-cost carriers.
But who are America’s budget airlines?
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A Spirit Airlines plane Photo: Getty
Where it flies: 57 destinations, with a focus on Fort Lauderdale, Dallas, Detroit and Houston, but with some in Mexico and South America.
What it’s about: Striving beyond the traditional low-cost carriers to become an ultra low-cost carrier, Spirit started charging for once-complimentary drinks in 2007. It became the first US airline to charge for carry-on bags in 2011.
Where it flies: 59 destinations, with a hub in Denver. Other major destination cities include Chicago, Orlando and Philadelphia. It also serves the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Mexico.
What it’s about: All aircraft feature slimline seating and main cabin seats are pre-reclined, but passengers can pay extra for “stretch” row seating which reclines and has lumbar support. It’s another ultra low-cost carrier and there’s a charge to guarantee a seat next to your child. In 2014 it was the American airline to receive the most customer complaints.
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Southwest Airlines is the second biggest airline in the world Photo: Getty
Where it flies: 97 destinations around the US, Central America, Puerto Rico and Mexico. It does not use a hub airport, preferring instead point-to-point distribution.
What it’s about: As of 2015, Southwest was the second largest airline in the world by passenger numbers, carrying 129million in 2014, behind only Delta, which carried 129.4million. Despite being a low-cost carrier, the airline offers complimentary snacks and drinks on flights. It’s renowned for a colourful livery and characterful staff.
Where it flies: 113 destinations, mostly to smaller regional airports across the US. However, it also serves Orlando, Las Vegas, LA and Fort Lauderdale.
What it’s about: Serving smaller airports with fewer flights keeps costs down, while additional costs for luggage and seat assignment generate revenue. The Ryan family behind Ireland’s Ryanair invested in Allegiant in an early financing round.
Headquarters: New York
Where it flies: 97 destinations across the US, Caribbean and South America.
What it’s about: Launching with the intention of providing a television at every seat, JetBlue looked to “bring humanity back to air travel”, according to its founder David Neeleman. It was one of few airlines to continue to grow in the wake of the September 11 attacks.