Low-cost Frontier landing at MIA

Frontier Airlines rolled out its new look recently. The Denver-based airline will start serving Miami in December.
Frontier Airlines rolled out its new look recently. The Denver-based airline will start serving Miami in December.

Miami International Airport is back in the market for bargain-hunters.

For the first time in more than two years, MIA will have domestic low-cost service when Denver-based Frontier Airlines sets up shop in December.

The carrier, which keeps base fares low and charges for items such as carry-on bags and choosing a seat, will launch nonstop flights from Miami to Denver, Philadelphia and New York’s LaGuardia International Airport starting Dec. 20 and Chicago O’Hare on Dec. 21.

Frontier will have 38 flights a week out of MIA; on Tuesday, the airline is offering a one-day sale of tickets on certain dates for $14.99 each way and introductory one-way fares starting at $59 will be on sale through Oct. 6.

The airport and Frontier are scheduled to announce the news Tuesday morning.

Miami-Dade County Aviation Director Emilio T. González said MIA has wanted to bring in new carriers and low-cost airlines to supplement existing service as part of its strategic plan. “It fits the bill across the board,” he said.

Frontier already flies out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and will continue to do so, although its existing service to Denver will switch to Miami.

CEO Dave Siegel said Miami was “a big missing opportunity” in the airline’s route map.

“Obviously, South Florida’s a big market and we have looked at more flying out of both Fort Lauderdale and Miami for some time,” he said. “But at the end of the day, Miami is the preferred airport.”

No low-cost domestic airline has operated out of Miami since 2012, when AirTran stopped its daily service to and from Baltimore and Alaska Airlines ceased its daily Seattle flights.

Carriers such as Southwest, JetBlue and Spirit prefer Fort Lauderdale’s airport because it has lower costs than MIA.

Siegel acknowledged that Miami carries higher costs, but said he thinks Frontier will have a competitive advantage by offering lower fares than the legacy airlines that fly from MIA. Because of the cost differential, he said, Miami fares could also be slightly higher than they would be from Fort Lauderdale.

According to MIA, Frontier is eligible to have its landing fees — $1.58 per 1,000 pounds of landed weight — waived for the first 12 months as an incentive.

While warning not to expect a “tidal wave” of budget airlines, González said: “We’re going to continue to seek out those carriers.”

MIA has also been in talks with Miramar-based Spirit Airlines, which calls itself an “ultra low-cost carrier,” for many months. An airport spokesman said no other announcements are imminent.

For the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, the announcement will mean more possibilities to increase domestic tourism — an area that has not kept pace with international visitor growth.

“We feel that it’s a great complement,” said the bureau’s chief marketing officer, Rolando Aedo. “This will give us additional momentum on the domestic front.”

Seth Kaplan, managing partner of the trade publication Airline Weekly, said news that MIA will add a low-cost airline is not a surprise.

“I think the bigger surprise is that they haven’t had it,” he said.

With fuel making up such a big part of airline budgets, Kaplan said, airport costs matter less. The question is whether a carrier can command high enough fares to make up for those greater costs.

“If the revenue opportunity is there, then they’re willing to do the math and consider a higher-cost airport,” he said.

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