JetBlue and Spirit announced a merger yesterday that would rank the two airlines as the fifth largest by fleet size, scheduled passengers carried, and the number of destinations served but the third largest by mobile download market share. Among airlines, mobile downloads correlate highly with revenue and can be looked at as a leading indicator in business growth.
Though Spirit and JetBlue would both keep their own apps, combining app activity lets us look at the power the merged entity would have within the marketplace. Though Spirit-JetBlue bumps Delta down to fourth, you will notice that its market share is shrinking the last two months. In a recent analysis of how flight cancelations impact customer loyalty, we found that JetBlue and Spirit downloads have declined due to high cancelation rates (between 9-10%) in April.
Amid record demand to travel in 2022, all airlines are growing downloads month-over-month, so these losses – though incremental – are felt. American Airlines, its partner Alaska Airlines, and United have made notable gains in the last three months due to low cancelation rates.
Assuming the merger solved shortages leading to cancelations, American and United could be in trouble. According to Review Intelligence, user sentiment year-to-date for JetBlue and Spirit is 89% and 84%, respectively, compared to 78% and 73% for United and American. Meaning passengers are rating better experiences with things like "boarding" and "service," according to keywords.
Why did multiple airlines want to merge with Spirit?
Independently, Spirit is the fifth largest U.S. airline in mobile, followed by JetBlue in sixth and former merger candidate, Frontier, in seventh. It's no coincidence that these airlines trailing Spirit in mobile activity (which is, again, closely linked to fare and baggage revenues) would be vying for Spirit. In Q3 2020, when Spirit downloads shot up 96% quarter-over-quarter to beat its Q1 2020 performance, the whole industry likely took note as it became the first to recover after lockdowns.
In the chart above, you can see the inflection point at Q3 2020 became Spirit's new normal, as the pandemic shifted focus from business to leisure travel. Prior to this, Spirit's monthly download average had a healthy edge on the download average between budget carriers Allegiant and Frontier (about 20%). From Q4 2020 to this day, Spirit soars above its form competitors by 100% or more in quarterly download totals. It's this standout trajectory that JetBlue hopes to merge with.
For more airline analysis, including which mobile features drive growth and how international carriers are faring, hit the blue link below.