Spirit Airlines to begin flying from MSP to Chicago, Vegas

An avowed penny-pinching airline seeking to exploit a market with high air fares said Wednesday that it will start flying from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport this spring.

Spirit Airlines will begin three flights a day from MSP to Chicago-O'Hare and one daily flight to Las Vegas, and the company hinted that it's eyeing additional destinations.

Its entry into the Twin Cities sets up a potential fare war between Spirit, other low-cost carriers and the dominant Delta Air Lines on selected routes.

Spirit boasts that it's an "ultra low-cost" carrier, and its pricing system and services reflect it.

"We look at every penny," spokewoman Misty Pinson said Wednesday morning during an announcement at the airport's Terminal 2. "We look at everything that does not affect the safety."

It tries to undercut other airlines by charging low base fares and then extra fees for everything from carry-on bags to snacks. It fits more passengers in a plane with more cramped seating -- 178 seats on an Airbus, whereas another carrier might seat 160.

As part of its rollout May 31 at MSP, Spirit will offer $9 base fares in June that will total $28.79 with fees and taxes.

The arrival of Spirit, which will fly out of the Humphrey Terminal with other low-cost carriers, was hailed by airport officials who have tried to increase competition at MSP. The airport has been criticized for having some of the highest fares in the nation.

Metropolitan Airports Commission Executive Director Jeffrey Hamiel said Wednesday that MSP continues to press JetBlue to begin flying there.

Even in the world of low-cost airlines, Spirit claims a special place. In an effort to hold down base ticket fees, it charges $28 for carry-on luggage, defined as anything that fits into an overhead compartment.

"We're all about choice," Pinson said, adding that the airline's professed "a la carte" service "gives the customer the opportunity to choose what they want."

The penny-pinching applies to the corporate office in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla, where she said executives "take out their own garbage."

Spirit began operating a couple of decades ago but launched its "ultra" low-cost approach after a restructuring in 2007. It flies to dozens of domestic locations, including New York, Washington, Denver, Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland.

It also flies to numerous cities in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Pinson declined to say whether the airline was planning to expand routes from MSP beyond Chicago and Las Vegas, but added, "We're always looking."

Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504