The world of ultra-low cost carriers (ULCC) just got interesting, as Frontier and Mexico’s Volaris announced a codeshare* between the two, the first that I know of between North American ULCCs. As seen on Flyertalk.
A Quick Review
Airlines are not one-size-fits-all. Here’s a quick review of a few different categories:
Legacy, or network, carriers, are the big guys like American, Delta and United. They fly globally, have different classes of service and often connect passengers through hubs (a major city where an airline has a large market share). They are also called “full-service” carriers, even if you end up paying for a lot of those services.
Low Cost Carriers (LCC) are those like JetBlue or Southwest. They rarely have more than one class of service, don’t connect a lot of passengers and spend more time in the air than the legacy carriers do. They do minimal international or over-water flying. Because they are able to keep their costs lower, they can charge less than the larger airlines (and still make money).
Ultra-Low Cost Carriers (ULCC) have rock bottom ticket prices, but you’ll pay for everything else. These carriers, such as Spirit, Frontier or Ryanair, may charge as little as $10-20 for a ticket, but that’s literally all you’ll get. If you want a seat assignment, checked (or, in some cases, carry-on) bag or even a can of Coke, you’ll pay for it. ULCCs can make up to 50% of their revenue from these “ancillary” sales. Their service levels are barebones and, if something goes wrong, you’re mostly on your own.
Frontier And Volaris: Why Does It Matter
Although the pairing between the two didn’t get a lot of press, it is a big deal. ULCCs rarely partner with others. It adds complications to what is supposed to be a simple system, and complications cost money. Thus, the codeshare is a risk for the two.
If it works out, though, it could be a game-changer. ULCC travelers rarely have access to international destinations or, if they do, they are limited by where a particular airline flies. Norwegian does fly over the Atlantic, for instance, but your options to connect are limited. If these carriers find a way to connect internationally, partnering with others such as Spirit in the US or AirAsia in Asia, global travel could get a lot cheaper.
Beginner’s Hint: A codeshare is an agreement between two airlines to “share” a same flight. One carrier, of course, is actually doing the flying, but the other (Carrier B) is selling seats and using their own name on that flight. You can still buy your ticket and earn miles through Carrier B, even if it is not the one actually flying the plane. You can read a little more about them here, although the article is a bit dated.
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