American Airlines Carrier plans low-cost, no-frills option


Associated Press

FORT WORTH, Texas

American Airlines plans to offer a version of the low-fare, no-frills approach to flying that is boosting profit margins at discount carriers.

Officials at American, the world’s biggest airline, say they need to fight back against small but fast-growing rivals including Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines, which are known for cheap fares, lots of extra fees and poor service.

American has many frequent fliers who will pay more for premium service, said Scott Kirby, the airline’s president. But 87 percent – accounting for half of American’s revenue – fly the airline no more than once a year, and they buy airline tickets based on price, he said.

So beginning next year, American will offer tickets with “less frills” but a “really cheap price” where it competes on nonstop flights with discount carriers, Kirby said. He declined to provide more details.

Kirby also said that American will change its AAdvantage frequent-flier program next year, but he declined to give details on that, either. Other airlines have changed their plans from miles to points – a way of rewarding high spenders at the expense of customers who buy cheap tickets.

American disclosed its plans as executives discussed the company’s record-breaking third-quarter profit. American Airlines Group Inc. reported that net income jumped 80 percent to $1.69 billion thanks to a huge drop in fuel spending.

But American’s shares fell 4.7 percent – apparently on concern that price-cutting to compete with Spirit and Frontier might erode profits – before they recovered most of the loss. Spirit’s stock took a bigger hit – it fell 9 percent during intraday trading. Frontier shares are not publicly traded.

Big airlines such as American, Delta and United chase high-dollar business travelers with amenities such as lie-flat seats and fancy food in premium cabins and route networks that span the globe. But discounters, which include Mexico’s Volaris and Norwegian Air Shuttle, are growing rapidly by appealing to consumers who want to fly as cheaply as possible.

Spirit has been possibly the most successful of the so-called ultra-low-cost carriers in the U.S. It draws the highest rate of complaints among airlines tracked by the federal government – followed closely by Frontier, which began imitating Spirit’s no-frills approach last year – but has had higher profit margins than the giants.

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