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How low can you go? Spirit aims to find out.(PROFILE)(Spirit Airlines Inc.)

THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE WHEN you enter the reception area of the Florida headquarters of Spirit Airlines is that there is no receptionist. Stretched across the wall is a banner with an explanation in bold letters: The self-service reception area allows the company to save 2 cents per customer by not staffing the front desk. That's right, 2 cents. Spirit, which bills itself as an ultra-low-fare carrier, does indeed count every penny.


Over the past two years--roughly since Indigo Partners acquired control from major shareholder Jacob Schorr--the 15-year-old airline has been refashioning itself to become the lowest-priced low-fare carrier in the Americas. And it has placed a renewed focus on service to the Caribbean, Central and Latin America, which now account for half of its flying.

"The business model has changed," says CEO Ben Baldanza. "The old one didn't work. Spirit was a low-cost airline but not low-cost enough, and it was competing in a space that was very saturated with other competitors." He continues, "Every company, no matter what you sell or what your product, has to ask what's their purpose in life, and we really couldn't answer that at Spirit. We looked at everyone in the industry. What are the characteristics of airlines that make money all the time?" The answer was low-fare, low-cost companies such as Ryanair, AirAsia and Southwest Airlines. …

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