Allegiant Air 'an incredible success story' for Duluth airportDuring its eight years serving Duluth, Duluth has been good for Allegiant. And Allegiant — with its low-cost flights to major tourist destinations — has been good for Duluth.
By: Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
To say that Greg McKibbon of Cloquet enjoys Las Vegas is an understatement.
He’s been there on vacation about 30 times in the past 30 years.
“We like the excitement, the lights,” said McKibbon, who travels with his girlfriend. “We go to a lot of shows. We’ve seen most of the shows and go sightseeing a lot.”
For years they would fly Northwest Airlines out of Duluth to the Twin Cities, where they would transfer to a Las Vegas flight, returning the same way.
But when discounter Allegiant Air started service from the Duluth International Airport in January 2006, starting with direct flights to Las Vegas, they were among the many to switch to Allegiant.
“It’s a no-brainer,” said McKibbon, 62. “Everything with Allegiant is nonstop. And the airport is so close. It takes me 20 minutes from Cloquet to get to the airport.”
During its eight years serving Duluth, Duluth has been good for Allegiant. And Allegiant — with its low-cost flights to major tourist destinations — has been good for Duluth.
“It’s been an incredible success story for us,” said Tom Werner, the Duluth airport’s executive director.
Since entering the Duluth market with Duluth-Las Vegas flights in 2006, Allegiant added direct flights to Orlando-Sanford, Fla., in 2009 and Phoenix-Mesa in 2011.
Total Allegiant ridership increased from 23,450 in 2006 to 57,567 in Duluth last year. But with the introduction of its Phoenix service, ridership jumped to a high of nearly 73,000 in 2012, airport statistics show.
“That’s pretty dramatic growth for us,” said Allegiant spokesman Justin Ralenkotter. “It’s a testament to the positive response we’ve gotten from the community.”
In the past 10 years, the country’s airline industry has been through tough times with mergers, the economic recession and reorganizations, leaving four big traditional carriers, including Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, which serve Duluth. Along with those changes have come higher fares in some markets, Werner said.
But low-cost carriers like Allegiant fill the void, providing less-expensive options and broadening the airline-served market, Werner said.
“Allegiant provides more opportunities to people who might not otherwise have the option to travel,” he said.
Today, 23 percent of passengers traveling out of Duluth are flying Allegiant, up from 8.7 percent its first year in Duluth.
“It’s pretty solid growth for us,” Ralenkotter said. “It’s what we like to see.”
Meanwhile, Delta has a 50 percent market share in Duluth with its Detroit and Twin Cities flights, while United Airlines’ Chicago flights have a 25 percent market share.
Having the three airlines serving Duluth keeps fares down, Werner said.
Fares to Las Vegas, Orlando and Phoenix have gone down 25 percent since Allegiant entered the market, Ralenkotter said.
According to Allegiant numbers, the average Duluth-Las Vegas flight currently costs $133 each way compared to $143 before Allegiant’s entry. And Duluth-Phoenix flights cost an average of $111 each way compared to $202 before. Orlando data wasn’t available.
Shopping for fares
Many Allegiant customers like McKibbon book their airfare and hotel and even some tourist attractions through Allegiant.
McKibbon shops carefully to get good deals for his two or three trips a year to Las Vegas with his girlfriend and her adult children.
“We’re on that Allegiant website daily,” he said. “If we’re going to book it, we sometimes check two to three times a day.”
That’s because airfares can change that often, he said.
For two people, McKibbon said an excellent fare is $600 for the flight and four weeknights’ stay at a nice casino; $360 for one person is also good, he says.
“Their rates definitely fluctuate by supply and demand,” he said.
Peak times when prices are higher are February, March and April and in the fall, while summer is a non-peak time when prices stay low, McKibbon has found.
In the region, Allegiant also serves: Rochester and St. Cloud in Minnesota; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Appleton, Wis.; and Grand Forks, Fargo, Bismarck and Minot in North Dakota.
Only Sioux Falls and Fargo have more routes than Duluth with flights also to Los Angeles and Tampa. And some, including Rochester and St. Cloud, have fewer.
Staying in Duluth
Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air has grown rapidly since its start 15 years ago. It now serves 101 airports. But at the eight-year mark, Duluth is one of its oldest markets.
“I hope they never pull out,” McKibbon said. “It’s just so convenient.”
Not to worry. Allegiant is committed to staying in Duluth, Ralenkotter said.
“We’re looking forward to working with the airport to continue to offer flights and low fares the community has come to enjoy,” he said.
Its seasonal Orlando flights will resume Feb. 14 after a 10-month hiatus. Several Orlando flights a week will join its twice-weekly flights to Las Vegas and Phoenix.
So what are the chances of flights out of Duluth to more of Allegiant’s leisure destinations?
Ralenkotter didn’t make any promises. Allegiant has a whole department analyzing traffic patterns and forecasting demand around the country.
“We see the strongest demand in Duluth in springtime,” he said. “Most of the leisure traffic we see out of Duluth goes west to Phoenix and Las Vegas.”
But, he said, if enough interest is there for more destinations or more flights out of Duluth, Allegiant will respond.
“These definitely are possibilities in the future,” he said.