The Freedom to Pay

Flying for the holidays? If so, Southwest Airlines is betting you’re sick of paying extra for checked bags, hence their ads flogging the idea that, unlike with the “other guys,” bags fly free on their planes.

Which raises a question: Who are the “other guys”? Could they possibly be referring to Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air, famous for low fares that get boosted by extra fees on everything from baggage to food to seat assignments? If so, Allegiant isn’t sweating it. The low-cost carrier has posted 35 consecutive profitable quarters, notes public relations manager Kristine Cooper, remarkable considering how hard the economy and high oil prices have hit other carriers. (Before American Airlines declared bankruptcy Nov. 29, it was the only “legacy” airline that hadn’t already done so.)

Allegiant isn’t really competing with Southwest, or any other airline for that matter, Cooper says, because of the niche it serves.

“We fly from smaller, underserved markets with low-frequency, weekly flights in some cases,” he says. “We are not focused on the business traveler. We are focused on the leisure traveler.”

What some passengers consider annoying add-ons are, to Allegiant’s way of thinking, freedom of choice. If you don’t want to pay for bags, don’t check them. If you don’t want to pay for food, bring your own. “We focus on the lowest fare possible, and then we allow them to add on to travel as they so choose,” Cooper says.

A la carte pricing was made infamous by the Irish airline Ryanair, a carrier so tight it considered charging passengers to use the toilet. Ryanair was an early investor in Allegiant, and an inspiration, too. The strategy is clearly working. Since beginning in Las Vegas in 2001 with one plane and one route, Allegiant now serves 75 domestic markets, and plans to add about 15 more by April, says Cooper. Look for flights to Hawaii by the summer and international destinations beyond that.

“We see a lot of opportunity in the markets we serve,” Cooper says.

Stinginess is the future, so pack light.