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PACK A SMALL BAG

Two of the worst airlines in America are merging

A Spirit airplane sits outside an airline gate.
Reuters/Jim Young
Spirit will soon be joined by Frontier airlines.
By Courtney Vinopal
Published Last updated

Spirit and Frontier are merging to create America’s “most competitive ultra-low fare airline,” the two companies announced today.

Frontier has agreed to buy Spirit for $2.9 billion, in a deal valued at more than $6 billion. The airlines said the partnership will allow them to compete more aggressively against the “Big Four” companies that dominate the air travel market: American, Delta, Southwest, and United.

It’s not clear if this is good news for passengers, however. If finalized, the merger will bring together two of the worst-ranked airlines in the US. Both Frontier and Spirit came in near the bottom of the Wall Street Journal’s recent analysis of nine US airlines, which looked at factors like cancellations, extreme delays, and mishandled baggage.

Spirit and Frontier are among the lowest-ranking US airlines

The Wall Street Journal ranked Spirit eighth in terms of overall performance last year, while Frontier tied with American for sixth place. JetBlue came in last.

During a year when many airlines experienced mass cancelations, Frontier actually outperformed most of its competitors. The low-cost airline had the second lowest cancelation rate after Delta, according to the Wall Street Journal analysis. It had a much higher rate of extreme delays though, as well as complaints.

Spirit had the highest rate of complaints of any airline analyzed by the newspaper. The number of consumer complaints filed with Spirit rose by 34% this past November from the previous year, according to Department of Transportation data (pdf), with most gripes related to flight problems and refunds.

Cheaper isn’t always better

Spirit and Frontier offer some of the cheapest fares in the business, and the merger makes clear they’re trying to establish themselves as a more formidable competitor against airlines that have started to offer similar economy pricing in recent years. The planned merger is expected to create the fifth largest airline in the US, but will it be the most affordable?

Unless the companies change their pricing models, that seems unlikely. High fees currently make the two airlines one of the least cost-effective options, according to a Feb. 3 NerdWallet analysis. Factoring in typical add-on fees that come with flying Spirit, such as selecting a seat and paying to carry on or check a bag, adds $108 to the cost of the flight on average. Frontier isn’t much better, with add-on fees averaging $96.

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