There’s less to Spirit Airlines in MSP than meets the eye

As we guessed two days ago, the new airline flying out of Minneapolis St. Paul will be Spirit Airlines, starting at the end of May.

It’s a low-fare, high-fee airline, which has dampened some of the initial euphoria among travelers when the Metropolitan Airlines Commission teased them on Monday with news of a pending competitor to Delta.

Spirit will fly direct to Las Vegas (the most popular destination from MSP) and Chicago (from which you can make connections to civilized locations).

What does this mean for fares?

Let’s take a flight from Minneapolis to Las Vegas on June 1, spend the weekend, and come back on Monday.

Our first problem? You have to fly in the middle of the night.

The airline is advertising an $83 .29 fare, but that’s (a) only if you’re in the $9 “Fare Club” and pay the $60 to join and (b) only if you’re willing to fly at 10:15 PM.

If you want to fly at 11 a.m., you certainly can, if you pay $212 one-way, much higher than competitors on the route.

The two flights back are both red-eyes. One leaves at 12:35 AM Monday morning and is non-stop. The other leaves at 1 a.m. and doesn’t arrive until 10:20 a.m. with a stop in Chicago. Curiously the non-stop is cheaper: $88.79 ($10 cheaper if you join the Fare Club).

The total cost of the flight is $182.08, including fees which are:

Passenger facility fee: $13.50

Passenger usage fee: $33.98

Segement fee: $7.60

9/11 security fee: $5.00

Unintended consequences of DOT regulations: $4.00

If you buy your tickets online, you save $10 on Spirit’s baggage fee — $30 for checked baggage and carry-on (laptops and bags that fit under the seat in front fly free).

That’s another $60 for a total of $242.08.

What’s Delta got?

First, it’s got flights when people are actually awake. The fare is $328.60. Adding the cost of a checked bag (free if you fly with their credit card), the total is $378. Is the convenience worth an extra $156 to you? Spirit is betting it’s not.

But if you want to fly at night, Delta’s fare is $277.60, not including baggage, and $50 less if you apply for their credit card.

That fare matches Sun Country’s, but Sun Country provides flights that leave in the daytime. And Sun Country’s baggage fee is $5 less than Delta’s.

Southwest is a non-player on the route. Its lowest roundtrip fare is $434.

There is, however, an indication that Spirit’s entry into the market has already had an effect on fares. A Friday-to-Monday Las Vegas trip in May will cost about $355 (not including baggage).

If you fly a week before Spirit starts flying to MSP, it’ll be $379.60 on Delta, and a whopping $489.60 on Sun Country. Southwest — remember when it was a low-fare airline? — provides flights for $540 on the low end.

So Spirit’s contribution to the market may not be flights when few people want to fly, but lowering the cost of flying on airlines people would rather take.

That is likely to be a short-term benefit. Airlines that lower fares on other airlines while flying few passengers don’t stay in Minnesota for very long.