MONEY consumer psychology

Why JetBlue Can Break Your Heart, but Comcast Never Will

JetBlue Planes
Seth Wenig—AP

It hurts to find out that brands like JetBlue want you to love them—but they only love you for your money.

This week, JetBlue announced it’s adding more seats on planes and new fees for checked baggage. The moves are clearly aimed at hiking profits—which is what businesses are supposed to do, right?

So why, then, has JetBlue’s policy change been met with outrage and a sense of betrayal? Isn’t JetBlue just a business that’s, you know, in the business of making money? Shouldn’t we fully expect these kind of profit-first policies? And if this kind of behavior is to be expected, why would there ever be any sense of surprise or disappointment, let alone heartbreak?

The subject brings to mind the old fable “The Farmer and the Viper,” in which a farmer nurses a freezing snake back to health—and is then promptly bitten and killed by the snake as soon as it has the opportunity. The moral is that you shouldn’t be surprised, and you certainly shouldn’t feel betrayed, when a snake behaves like a snake. A similar takeaway comes from the disturbing 2005 documentary “Grizzly Man,” which tells the tale of a man and his girlfriend who were killed, in essence, because a bear behaved like a bear.

The complication is that consumers don’t necessarily view brands that we interact with regularly as animals that will take advantage of us whenever the opportunity arises. We’re encouraged to “like” brands on Facebook, and marketers spend billions to try to get us to love brands, ideally with a cult-like fervor. We tend to view favorite brands as trusted partners or even friends, and we can feel violated and betrayed to the core when the terms of what can be a very warm partnership are exposed as more “strictly business,” to quote The Godfather.

“Some brands are so good at connecting with consumers on an emotional level that the relationship feels incredibly personal, much like a friendship,” explains Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist and TIME and MONEY contributor. “In most cases the consumers feel they share the same values as the brand, which they see as manifesting human characteristics.”

This certainly seems the case for JetBlue and its longtime customers. The brand resonated and indeed became beloved because of the perks (free TVs and snacks for everyone) and amenities (leather seats and plenty of legroom all around) as much as because of its overriding ethos that all customers were valued—and valued equally. What helped make JetBlue stand out and become an industry darling is that its competitors in the airline business are notorious for exceptionally poor customer service, especially in regards to passengers who are paying the least for their flights.

Slowly, though, JetBlue tweaked its business model—adding a business class and adding more fees recently—and with this week’s announcement about shrinking legroom and the addition of baggage fees, it’s clear that the values originally embraced by the brand have changed as well. For the people who loved and were loyal to JetBlue specifically because of its egalitarian, customers-first approach, the latest moves serve as a big slap in the face with the cold-hearted reality that shouldn’t really come as a surprise, but hurts nonetheless: Brands like JetBlue want you to love them, but they only love you for your money.

Experts who study marketing and company-consumer relationships believe that brands that have developed cult-like followings for supposedly doing things the right and honorable way—Chipotle and Whole Foods come to mind—are likely to feel greater backlash if and when they appear to violate customers’ trust. “Our theory is that the people who feel most betrayed are the ones who were most attached to the brand in the first place,” says Debbie MacInnis, a marketing professor at the USC Marshall School of Business who is researching brand betrayal with colleagues.

By and large, consumers tend to get most attached to scrappy smaller brands with a streak of independence—brands they can identify with and feel good about supporting. “We love underdog stories,” says MacInnis. “We see ourselves as underdogs. We love the little guy, so there’s a natural brand connection.” It’s a connection that goes beyond a mere mutually beneficial economic transaction.

On the other hand, brands that are monolithic and fail to develop long-lasting loyalty or affection—big banks, pay TV and wireless providers, and yes, airlines come to mind—are less at risk of betraying customers’ trust because there was little to no trust to begin with. “You’re not likely to feel betrayed when a cable company treats you poorly,” says MacInnis. “You’ll shake it off and jump” to a competitor without blinking (assuming another one is actually available). “The transgressions are par for the course.”

It’s all about expectations: When someone we thought of as a friend turns out to be just another snake, it’s heartbreaking. Hence, the presence of several “Et Tu, JetBlue?” headlines out there, indicating that the once beloved airline’s betrayal is one of epic proportions.

“When consumers sense they’ve been used or manipulated they feel a burn more similar to a human betrayal than simple transactional disappointment,” says Yarrow. However, bigger, widely bashed brands are “lucky” enough to disappoint customers so frequently that there’s no surprise or sense of betrayal when they make yet another profit-first, customer-unfriendly move. “Consumers have such low expectations of Comcast, for example, they are thrilled when there simply aren’t problems.”

MONEY Airlines

Flyers, Media React to JetBlue’s Upcoming Fees

JetBlue follows other U.S. airlines into the realm of baggage fees and less leg room. The company announced Wednesday it would introduce new customer policy changes starting in 2015.

This week JetBlue said it is reducing average legroom and introducing a new fare structure that means passengers buying the lowest-price tickets will have to pay extra if they want to check luggage.

The changes, which will be instituted starting in 2015, will leave Southwest Airlines as the only domestic carrier to grant free checked bags (two of them, in fact) for all passengers.

Shrinking legroom will come as a result of 15 more seats being added to JetBlue’s Airbus A320 planes. Even after squeezing in the new rows of seats, JetBlue’s average legroom will be 33.1 inches, which is still slightly more than what the typical passenger on Southwest or Virgin America can expect.

But the real heartbreaker to travelers is likely to be the new “Fare Families” structure, which consists of three bundled options that travelers must choose from when booking a flight. At the low end of the pricing spectrum, tickets do not include a checked bag. Passengers who pay higher fares are entitled to checked bags (one at the middle level, two at the high end), and also get bonus loyalty points.

Exact details on pricing and what specific amenities are and aren’t included in the various fares haven’t been released yet.

MONEY Airlines

How Virgin America Plans to Take the U.S. Airline Industry by Storm

Virgin America Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer David Cush (C) celebrates the company's initial public offering after ringing the opening bell of the trading session with NASDAQ President and Chief Executive Officer Robert Greifeld (2nd R) at the NASDAQ Market Site in New York, November 14, 2014.
Mike Segar—Reuters

Keep unit revenues high and unit costs low—even if that means no flat-bed seats.

Virgin America VIRGIN AMERICA INC VA 1.7378% made its public trading debut last Friday. Its first few days as a public company have been incredibly successful — at least from the perspective of early investors. The Virgin America IPO priced at $23 (above the midpoint of the projected $21-$24 range). In its first three days of trading, the stock soared more than 60% to close at $37.05 on Tuesday.

cdcbee2ca8ab354964f4869c7a58cc38

On the day of Virgin America’s IPO, I spoke with CEO David Cush and CFO Peter Hunt about the company’s strategy for growth and margin expansion. Here’s how Virgin America plans to take the U.S. airline industry by storm.

High unit revenue and low costs

To hear Cush talk about it, Virgin America’s formula for long-term success is extremely simple: keep unit revenues high and unit costs low.

Well, I think the key thing is understanding our model. Our model is we do have a premium product, we do generate a revenue premium to most of the industry, but we do it with a low-cost model.

So we have a very pure low-cost model. We are single fleet type; we are point-to-point. That was really the original playbook for the low-cost model. So: high revenue, low cost, and I think we’re seeing it on the bottom line now that the network has matured.

–Virgin America CEO David Cush

Of course, having high revenues and low costs is what every CEO wants. Virgin America is making progress toward this goal. In the 2 years leading up to Virgin America’s IPO, the company dramatically boosted its profitability.

Through the first 9 months of 2014, the company reported operating income of $86.3 million, representing an operating margin of 7.7%. By contrast, in the first 9 months of 2012, Virgin America posted an operating loss of $36.8 million for a -3.7% operating margin.

That said, among the top 10 U.S. airlines, Virgin America had the second lowest operating margin (excluding special items) for the 12-month period ending in September. Virgin America has solid margin growth momentum, but it still has plenty of work to do.

Plans to earn a revenue premium

Let’s take a look at the revenue side first. Virgin America plans to boost its unit revenue by continuing to offer a superior on-board product, including leather seats, a first-class section on every flight, Wi-Fi on every plane, mood lighting, etc.

In addition, Virgin America will focus its growth on high traffic routes in its top markets. “We’re not a big connect-the-dot carrier,” says Cush. “We like to focus on where we’re strong.” This really means San Francisco and Los Angeles: more than 95% of its capacity touches one of these two cities.

In other words, the seasonal routes from New York to Fort Lauderdale and from Boston to Las Vegas that Virgin America announced last month will be the exception, not the rule.

Virgin America has strong roots in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Moreover, these are two of the top business markets in the U.S. Both factors make it easier to attract corporate travel accounts there. On average, corporate travelers pay 50% more than other customers for Virgin America tickets. Thus, the carrier has a strong incentive to expand in those two cities.

The one promising market that Virgin America sees aside from San Francisco and Los Angeles is Dallas. Earlier this year, Virgin America snagged two gates at Love Field, a small airport that is much closer to downtown Dallas than the significantly larger Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

Love Field is a unique expansion opportunity. Nearly all of its gates are controlled by Southwest Airlines, a carrier that doesn’t offer many of Virgin America’s amenities (like first-class seats and personal TVs). As a result, Virgin America thinks it can attract corporate travelers who want those amenities but also value Love Field’s convenience.

Virgin America began flying from Love Field a month before the IPO. According to Cush, financial results for its flights to San Francisco and Los Angeles (which had previously used DFW) have been better at Love Field from day one.

Virgin America’s has also seen plenty of demand in its new markets from Dallas: New York City and Washington, D.C. This should lead to excellent financial results once these routes have a few years to mature, due to the capacity-constrained nature of all 3 airports.

Cost containment plans

Virgin America also has to keep its costs in line to produce outsize profits. Like most young carriers, Virgin America currently benefits from comparatively low labor costs. Its young fleet is also easy to maintain. However, as the company’s workforce and fleet age, both will be sources of cost pressure. (Unionization of its workers is another potential cost driver.)

Another challenge Virgin America faces is its refusal to mimic competitors by cramming rows closer together to fit more passengers on each plane. How can Virgin America mitigate or offset these cost headwinds?

One thing that both CEO David Cush and CFO Peter Hunt emphasized in our conversation was Virgin America’s “simple production model.” By maintaining a single fleet type and outsourcing more tasks than other airlines, Virgin America avoids complexity and keeps costs down.

Virgin America’s IPO will improve the company’s access to capital, according to CFO Peter Hunt. This will allow it to reduce its aircraft financing costs. For example, rather than leasing planes, it could take advantage of the low interest rate environment to issue cheap debt and buy the planes outright.

Virgin America also keeps costs down by not using flat-bed seats in first class on the lucrative transcontinental routes from JFK Airport in New York City to San Francisco and Los Angeles, where it deploys a lot of its capacity. This puts it at odds with the other 4 carriers serving those routes.

Flat-bed seats are an “overrated feature unless you’re on a red-eye,” David Cush recently told Bloomberg. Most transcontinental flights are not red-eyes. Virgin America doesn’t operate any red-eye flights going westbound, and it operates one daily red-eye on each of the San Francisco-JFK and Los Angeles-JFK routes.

Flat-bed seats take up lots of space, increasing unit costs. Most of Virgin America’s planes are A320s configured with 146 or 149 seats. By contrast, American Airlines recently began flying the A321 on its transcontinental routes. The A321 is a bigger airplane, yet American Airlines has configured these planes with just 102 seats (of which 30 are flat-bed seats).

Thus, for transcontinental flights, Virgin America operates with a denser configuration than its competitors (which is the reverse of the situation on most of its routes). If Cush is right and very few people care about having a flat-bed seat for their transcontinental flights, Virgin America will be able to generate plenty of revenue on those flights while having the lowest unit costs.

Time to get to work

Virgin America has plenty of work to do if it is to earn a revenue premium to the U.S. airline industry while maintaining low unit costs. In some areas, it has clear plans. Its recent buildup at Dallas Love Field should boost unit revenue. Virgin America’s IPO should reduce aircraft financing costs.

However, there are some big open questions. Is Virgin America right that flat-bed first-class seats aren’t necessary on transcontinental flights? Can Virgin America avoid the cost creep that has hurt various other low-cost carriers as they have aged? Only time will tell.

(Read the full interview with Virgin America CEO David Cush at The Motley Fool.)

Adam Levine-Weinberg has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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MONEY Airlines

A New Era Has Begun for JetBlue, and Travelers Will Hate It

Customers check in at JetBlue's counter at John F. Kennedy Airport in the Queens borough of New York City.
Andrew Burton—Getty Images

At JetBlue, legroom is disappearing and checked baggage will soon cost extra. In other words, the airline you fell in love with is following the playbook of airlines that everyone hates.

When word spread back in September that JetBlue CEO Dave Barger was stepping down from his post in early 2015, two interesting things happened: 1) The company stock soared, rising 5% immediately after the news; and 2) travelers who loved JetBlue for its customers-first policies began to panic.

As Fortune put it, equity analysts tended to view Barger “as being ‘overly concerned’ with passengers and their comfort, which they feel, has come at the expense of shareholders.” With Barger and his pesky, stubbornly customer-friendly policies out of the way, JetBlue—under the leadership of new CEO, former British Airways executive Robin Hayes—could hop on the pathway to higher and higher profits by implementing more fees and cost-cutting measures on par with other airlines.

Consequently, the change at the top was welcomed by investors and dreaded by flyers and travel advocates who loved JetBlue specifically because it didn’t engage in the very nickel-and-diming policies analysts were pushing for. Even before it was announced that Barger was out, Marketwatch foresaw the likelihood that JetBlue would soon begin “putting customers second,” while first and foremost pleasing investors by jacking up fees and cutting back on amenities. Frequent flyer expert Tim Winship described Barger’s departure as “the beginning of the end for JetBlue as we know it,” while noting the risks inherent in the airline’s likely policy shift:

Such changes would be wrenching for JetBlue loyalists, for whom the roomier seating and relative absence of nuisance fees have been key reasons to book JetBlue over the competition. Even the number-crunchers acknowledge that a remodeled JetBlue would jeopardize the considerable brand equity the airline has built up over the years.

Nonetheless, this week JetBlue announced that it is reducing average legroom and introducing a new fare structure that means passengers buying the lowest-price tickets will have to pay extra if they want to check luggage. The changes, which will be instituted starting in 2015, will leave Southwest Airlines as the only domestic carrier to grant free checked bags (two of them, in fact) for all passengers.

Shrinking legroom will come as a result of 15 more seats being added to JetBlue’s Airbus A320 planes. Even after squeezing in the new rows of seats, JetBlue’s average legroom will be 33.1 inches, which is still slightly more than what the typical passenger on Southwest or Virgin America can expect. The real heartbreaker to travelers is likely to be the new “Fare Families” structure, which consists of three bundled options that travelers must choose from when booking a flight. At the low end of the pricing spectrum, tickets do not include a checked bag. Passengers who pay higher fares are entitled to checked bags (one at the middle level, two at the high end), and also get bonus loyalty points.

Exact details on pricing and what specific amenities are and aren’t included in the various fares haven’t been released yet. JetBlue became immensely popular among travelers for perks including free snacks and free entertainment on seatback screens. Presumably, even at the low end JetBlue passengers will get more than the “Bare Fares” of Spirit Airlines, which include with almost nothing other than basic transportation—even water and seat reservations cost extra. But JetBlue’s moves certainly seem inspired by the example set by Spirit, which is widely known as one of the simultaneously most hated and most profitable airlines.

JetBlue’s changes are clearly aimed at pleasing investors—shares of the company stock jumped more than 4% on Wednesday, nearing a seven-year high—but Hayes, currently the airline’s president, still claimed that the company was focused on delivering “the best travel experience for our customers.” In a statement accompanying JetBlue’s press release, Hayes is also quoted saying that JetBlue remains different from the pack. “As we focus on executing this plan,” Hayes said, “JetBlue’s core mission to Inspire Humanity and its differentiated model of serving underserved customers remain unchanged.”

Travelers seem to feel quite differently about the matter. The very active traveler community at the Flyertalk forum has been bashing the changes because they remove what made JetBlue special and worth seeking out, and turn the carrier into just another (hated, annoying, nickel-and-diming) carrier. “Lovely. The ‘We’ll attract more customers by being exactly like every other airline’ move,” commented one Flyertalk member. “Charging for bags and a crappy FF [frequent flier] program? What a combo!” commented another. “Seriously though, they’ve completely lost their appeal.”

Another highlighted how Southwest will soon be the only major domestic carrier including free checked bags with flights: “Now, especially if I have a bag, Southwest will be the way to go…and I hate Southwest.”

TIME Aviation

JetBlue Is Cutting Legroom From Its Planes

JetBlue Airways Corp. planes sit docked at the gates of Terminal 5 as another of the company's jets lands at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Jan. 28, 2014.
JetBlue Airways Corp. planes sit docked at the gates of Terminal 5 as another of the company's jets lands at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Jan. 28, 2014. Craig Warga—Bloomberg/Getty Images

And the base fare will not include a checked bag

Jetblue said Wednesday it will reduce leg room and add bag fees for fliers who buy tickets on base fares.

The traditionally low-cost airline, under pressure from investors to boost profits, announced in a call with analysts that it is adding fare levels next year. The new base fare will not include a checked bag.

The airline also said it will reduce average legroom from 34.7 inches to 33.1 inches—still, it says, an industry leader—to allow it to add 15 seats to its standard A320 aircraft beginning in 2016.

JetBlue and Southwest Airlines have until now been the only large U.S. airlines that provide a free checked bag for all fliers, the Wall Street Journal reports.

MONEY Airlines

The Greatest Airline You’ve Never Flown Is Going Public This Week

Virgin America airplane in flight
Herb Lingl—Aerial Archives

If you've never flown on Virgin America—or never even heard of it—you're not alone. The carrier, which is always among the country's top-rated airlines, has an IPO set to take off this week.

For most of its existence, Virgin America, the U.S. offshoot of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, has been the equivalent of a TV show that’s beloved by critics and viewers but has trouble attracting a large enough audience to be a true success. The airline, which began flying out of a San Francisco hub in 2007, has lost tons of money year after year, even while it routinely nabbed top honors among domestic airlines for having the best combination of service and amenities. Virgin America remains a beloved darling among travelers, who enjoy the leather seats, wi-fi, seatback screens with live TV, and power outlets available to all passengers on all planes. It was named the country’s best domestic airline by Travel and Leisure readers for 2014, marking the seventh year in a row Virgin America has held the top spot. The fares are often very good too, with deals like San Francisco to Los Angeles from $69 each way and San Francisco to Boston starting at $179.

Nonetheless, only a small portion of travelers actually have firsthand experience with the airline. For all of 2013, Virgin America carried a total of roughly 6.2 million passengers. Southwest Airlines, by contrast, was responsible for transporting 108 million passengers last year. Even though Virgin America has expanded its route network over the years, recently adding Dallas-Love to its roster of destinations as one example, the carrier still only serves 13 U.S. metropolitan areas. What’s more, many of its connections come up short in the convenience department. For instance, Virgin America has service to both Austin and Las Vegas, but if you want to book a flight between the two cities with the airline, you’ll have to fly by way of San Francisco.

There has been plenty of skepticism about whether or not Virgin America can have a successful run in the U.S. marketplace. “I’m surprised it has survived this long, given the huge losses accumulated to date,” Scott Hamilton, managing director of aviation consulting firm Leeham Co., said in 2012. “I don’t really see a place in the market for Virgin America.”

And yet the airline is alive and apparently doing quite well today, with an IPO planned for this week. As Businessweek and others have noted, the timing of the public offering couldn’t be better: The Virgin America IPO is taking place at a high point for the airline business, with strong demand and cheap fuel prices helping carriers to pull in record profits. Speaking of which, after a long string of quarters noting loss after loss, Virgin America has been in the black of late as well, recording a net profit of $60.2 million through the first nine months of 2014, up from a loss of $4 million for the same period the year before.

In its planned IPO, Virgin America is expected to sell more than 13 million shares starting at a price of $21 to $24. Should investors buy in? That’s a gamble. Airline stocks have had an extraordinary run in 2014, but there’s no telling if the upward trajectory will continue. We just hope that at some point, more travelers get to fly on what sounds like a pretty terrific airline.

 

MONEY Airlines

We’re Paying an Extra $5 Billion in Airline Fees This Year

Checked bags
Izabela Habur—Getty Images

A new study projects that travelers will pay $28.5 billion in a la carte airline fees globally this year, an increase of roughly $5 billion over 2013.

A new study from the airline consultancy firm IdeaWorksCompany projects that ancillary revenues—money generated for sales above and beyond the base price of flights—will hit $50 billion (OK, $49.9 billion) for carriers worldwide in 2014, up from an estimated $43 billion last year and $36 billion in 2012. For 2014, $21.4 billion of the total is expected to come from “frequent flier and commission-based” revenues, which include the sale of frequent flier miles and sales commissions from hotels, rental cars, and travel insurance booked through the airline.

The majority of the global ancillary revenue total, on the other hand, comes from a familiar and ever-expanding roster of fees confronting airline passengers, including charges for checked and carry-on baggage, seating assignments, and on-board services such as food, beverages, and wi-fi. Worldwide, the IdeaWorks study estimates, the total for such a la carte fees will be $28.5 billion for 2014, up from $23.7 billion a year ago. Baggage fees are expected to represent roughly 25% of all ancillary revenues generated by the typical U.S.-based airline this year, up from 20% in 2012.

To some extent, travelers have grown accustomed to being charged extra for checked baggage and other services that used to be included in the base cost of air travel. Yet IdeaWorks president Jay Sorensen warned that relentlessly adding on fees or jacking up the rates of existing fees can be risky for airlines. “Consumers are best served when choice is accompanied with better value,” Sorenson said in a statement accompanying the 2014 study. “Merely charging a fee for a service that was once free may quickly degrade the brand of a traditional airline and alienate their core consumer base.”

What’s particularly galling to travelers is that fees have been added or hiked skyward at a time when airfares are also getting more expensive. The average domestic round trip in the U.S. now runs $500, more or less, and prices have risen nearly 11% over the past five years, after adjusting for inflation. Airfare has gone up at the same time that fees have gone up as well, so it’s unsurprising that airlines have recorded record-high profits of late.

What might seem more surprising—not to mention pretty darn unfair—is that airfares and fees are rising even as fuel costs decline substantially. As consumer advocate Christopher Elliott pointed out recently, airlines originally blamed higher fuel costs as the reason they were forced to add fees for checked baggage in the first place. But now that the cost of fuel is retreating, airlines aren’t dropping fees or flight prices. In fact, just the opposite is happening.

MONEY

America’s Cheapest Airline Looks to Make Flights Even Cheaper

Spirit Airlines
Spirit Airlines

Lower fuel costs helped Spirit Airlines' stock soar this week, and may even mean cheaper flights for travelers. Just don't expect Spirit's fees to disappear anytime soon, or ever.

A sizable chunk of travelers hate Spirit Airlines and its cramped-seat, a la carte, fee-crazed business model. In a new MONEY poll, voters prefer the option of flying with snakes on a plane over flying on a Spirit plane. Yet investors sure are loving the company’s third quarter results, which were made public on Wednesday. Spirit’s adjusted net income for the quarter is up 28% year-over-year, while total operating revenue was up 14%. The results bumped the price of Spirit stock up more than 7% on Wednesday, and Morgan Stanley just named Spirit its top growth airline pick for investors.

What’s particularly interesting is that Spirit’s performance and its plans for expansion are likely to benefit non-investors as well. The airline’s sales pitch to travelers is based almost exclusively on the low prices of its “Bare Fare” flights, and analysts see the stars aligning that will allow Spirit to cut base fares even lower. It’s possible that this turn of events could even help out travelers who would never fly with Spirit Airlines—because other carriers may feel forced to scale back fares, or at least slow the pace of fare hikes, in order to compete with Spirit’s cheaper flights.

Only three weeks ago, Spirit stock dipped significantly because of fears that higher company costs—including tax payments and the hiring and training of more pilots—would be headwinds getting in the way of higher profit margins. Yet a Motley Fool post pointed out this week:

Looking ahead to Q4 and 2015, these cost headwinds are likely to turn into tailwinds due to 1) lower jet fuel prices; 2) faster growth; and 3) a shift toward larger, more efficient aircraft.

Airlines typically spend about 30% of their revenue on fuel. So when gas prices drop like they have been lately, it’s a huge deal for the airline industry. For the most part, airlines will simply pocket the fuel-cost savings rather than pass any of it along to travelers in the form of cheaper flight prices.

But there’s reason to believe that Spirit Airlines is different. After all, the airline’s main (only?) selling point is that the base price of flights is cheap, so it will lower fares to attract more customers whenever a price cut can be justified. In addition to lower fuel costs, Spirit is expanding rapidly (28 new routes added between August 2014 and April 2015), and has been getting more productivity out of planes and employees. All of which helps the company lower costs—and enables it to make its product more attractive to customers by lowering prices.

In a conference call with investors yesterday, Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza said that’s essentially what the airline plans on doing. “The customers we seek to attract overwhelmingly ranked total price as the most important variable when choosing an airline,” Baldanza said. As Spirit manages to keep the costs of fuel and other expenses low, “that’s a great thing for our model, and that means even lower fares for customers and a good thing for investors.”

And who knows? Spirit’s expansion and low-fare strategy may very well compel the larger airlines to compete more on flight prices as well. Now that fuel prices are shrinking and airlines are enjoying record-high profits, it certainly wouldn’t kill them to do so.

MONEY Airlines

POLL: Are You Ready for Cellphone Calls on Airplanes?

Two different federal agencies are now considering revising the rules about inflight calls. What do you think?

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