Why JetBlue Is Having a Sale

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JetBlue Airways Corp. (NASDAQ: JBLU) has kicked off a two-day sale (September 18 and 19) with one-way fares as low as $59 on some flights. There are blackout dates and other possible restrictions, but the question remains, “What’s going on?”

One thing that is happening is competition. Among dozens of fares, JetBlue is advertising a $59 one-way flight from Atlanta to Boston or $118 for a round-trip, leaving September 27 and returning the next day. For the same trip on the same days, Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE: LUV) offers a round-trip fare of $147.96 while ultra-low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines Inc. (NASDAQ: SAVE) offers the same trip for $92.38.

In the three-month summer season between June and August, only Southwest has not experienced a drop in load factor, the statistic that reports the number occupied seats as a percentage of all available seats.

For the months of June, July and August, here are Southwest’s load factors with a year-over-year comparison for each month: June, 87.4%, flat; July, 87.3%, up 0.4 points; August, 84.9%, up 0.3 points.

Here are Spirit’s load factors for the same period: June, 86.8%, down 1.6 points; July 86.3%, down 3.5 points; August, 86.2%, down 0.9 points.

And JetBlue’s numbers: June, 85.5%, down 0.7 points; July, 87.1%, down 0.7 points; August, 87.1%, down 0.3 points.

For the first eight months of 2017, JetBlue’s load factor is 85.3%, down 0.1 point year over year. The number of available seat miles has risen by 4.8% and the number of revenue passenger miles has risen by 4.6%. That indicates that the airline’s fleet is growing faster than the number of passengers flying in those planes. Putting passengers in those available seats, even at a discount, is better than flying empty seats.

Spirit has a year-to-date load factor of 84.3%, down 2.1 points year over year. Available seat miles are up by 16.4% and revenue miles are up by 13.5%.

At Southwest, the load factor so far in 2017 totals 84.9%, up 0.3 points compared with last year. Available seat miles are up 5.7% and revenue miles are up 6.7%.

Of these three, only Southwest is filling more seats than it is adding. That’s one reason Southwest’s stock price is up nearly 9% so far this year while JetBlue’s is down more than 13.5% and Spirit’s is down more than 42%.

JetBlue’s two-day sale announced this morning is valid for ticket purchases through mid-December (not including the Thanksgiving travel period and other exclusions) and represents an effort to boost fourth-quarter loads and revenues to make up for a weak summer season.