Spirit Airlines announced Tuesday it will begin providing daily nonstop flights from San Antonio to Orlando and Las Vegas in time for Thanksgiving holiday travel. 

Starting today, flights can be booked on the ultra-low-cost carrier for travel beginning Nov. 17. Ultra-low-cost carriers offer low fares with fewer amenities and more add-on fees than more traditional low-cost carriers.

The announcement was made with fanfare in the rental car lobby at the airport with live music, Disney characters Mickey and Minnie Mouse and a Vegas showgirl on hand to greet guests, local officials and some surprised travelers. 

Spirit has been in talks with San Antonio International Airport officials since 2019 to introduce new air service, said John Kirby, vice president of network planning at Spirit Airlines.

“Who knew that there was going to be a global pandemic to get in the way? But it’s nice that this day has finally arrived,” Kirby said during the announcement. 

Two years ago at this time, San Antonio airport officials reported a $33 million revenue loss for 2020, with passenger numbers cut by half during the first months of the pandemic. 

As travel rebounded this year, May passenger numbers increased by 19% over the same month in 2021. More than 18,000 people traveled through the San Antonio Airport in May, the most recent month for which data is available.

San Antonio is Spirit Airlines’ fourth destination in Texas. The airline flies to 56 U.S. cities and 31 destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Other carriers offer flights between San Antonio, Orlando and Las Vegas. Spirit’s introductory fares could be as low as $89 each way, said Jesus Saenz, director of airports for the City of San Antonio. 

“That makes it super exciting for the citizens of San Antonio,” he said. “Equally important, people from Orlando want to come visit our beautiful city and that also makes it an opportunity for them to come.”

Kirby suggested that the airline could add more flights in San Antonio in the future. 

“As the market develops and we see good ridership,” he said, “we add more destinations.”

The addition of Spirit brings the number of carriers at the San Antonio airport to 13. Construction on three new gates is underway, one of the first projects of the 20-year strategic development plan approved by the San Antonio City Council in November.

“[It’s] great to see the city continuing to develop, great to see it develop as a destination, but also the infrastructure developing as well,” Kirby said. 

The Spirit agreement was not one developed under the new privately-funded Air Services Development Fund recently launched as an economic development tool by Greater:SATX. 

Instead, the deal with Spirit was made through the airport’s air service incentive program, Saenz said, which often waives certain fees in exchange for service period guarantees. 

Spirit Airlines officials are currently in merger negotiations with both Frontier Airlines and JetBlue Airways, low-cost carriers also operating in San Antonio. Mired in a bidding war, Spirit recently postponed a shareholder vote on the matter.

“If it’s Frontier, I think it’s a massive win because then you have a much larger, disruptive [ultra-low-cost carrier] presence in San Antonio that can do more, faster,” Kirby said.

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.