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Low-cost Spirit flights to Myrtle Beach return

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Yeager Airport officials are touting the second year of ultra low-cost flights to Myrtle Beach in hopes that it will entice Spirit Airlines to bring more low-cost flight options to the region.

This week, Yeager officials have been promoting the kickoff of $22 flights from Charleston to Myrtle Beach.

It's the second year for the low-cost service between the two locations. The Wednesday and Saturday flights resume March 2.

The $22 one-way ticket promotion kicked off Monday. To get that low fare, passengers have to book the flight at the airline's terminal counter in the airport. Tickets booked online start at $39.

Yeager officials sold 32 tickets at the counter Monday and were on pace to sell even more Tuesday.

"There's been a great response both days," said Anthony Gilmer, assistant marketing director at the airport. "I think word of mouth is starting to get around."

Spirit normally wouldn't begin selling tickets in person at the terminal until after flights begin March 2, but Yeager marketing director Brian Belcher said the airport wanted to take an extra step to ensure the flights were booked.

Spirit originally came to Yeager with the intention of offering flights only in the summer months. But based on the success of the Myrtle Beach route, they extended flights through November of last year.

This year, they've pushed back the start date from May to March.

Belcher said the $22 promotion is designed to make sure those early flights are full. If successful, he's hopeful it could lead to more low-cost flight options.

"We wanted to make sure it's successful," Belcher said. "We want to see Spirit grow into more flights and other cities."

For example, Yeager used to offer flights to Orlando through AirTran five days a week. But those flights were discontinued last year after AirTran was bought by Southwest Airlines.

He said airport officials believe Spirit, with its low-cost service and growing appeal, has a good opportunity to capitalize on that proven route.

"We really want them to take a look at Orlando," he said. "We think they're a natural fit."

The Myrtle Beach flights are on an Airbus A-319 jet, which seats 145 people. Ten of those seats are what the airline considers "bigfoot seats," which offer a little more seating room, though at a higher ticket price.

Gilmer, who runs the airport's Facebook and Twitter accounts, said many new customers react with skepticism when they see posts about the low-cost fares.

"A lot of people are skeptical about it, but when they come in and talk with us and see the fares, they leave with a ticket," he said.

Jessica Persinger was one of those people.

The 26-year-old Summersville resident makes trips each spring to see her father and stepmother at their Myrtle Beach home.

She didn't used to mind the eight-hour drive. But now that she's a married mother of two kids with a Jeep that gets about 11 miles per gallon, she said she couldn't pass up the chance to take advantage of the deal.

"I have a 2- and a 4-year-old, so driving eight-plus hours is not a fun trip," Persinger said.

She said the $176 she spent on tickets was less than she would spend on gas for the trip. Plus, the 50-minute flight would save time. She said the eight-hour drive turns into 10 when she factors in stops for the kids.

She said she never thought about flying to Myrtle Beach before because she's so accustomed to making the trek in the car.

Belcher said stories like Persinger's show the benefit of having Spirit's ultra low-cost flights. He said the flights don't damage business for other carriers because they reach people who wouldn't otherwise have flown.

Gilmer said while many of the tickets have been sold to people who live or work in Charleston, some buyers have come from as far as Fayetteville.

"I feel like a lot of the tickets we're selling are ones that wouldn't have been sold otherwise," Gilmer said.

He said most of his time at the ticket booth is spent convincing people there's no hidden cost behind the $22 advertised price.

That price is actually a part of Spirit's advertised $9 fare club, but it includes government-mandated taxes and fees.

"Every time we put a price up on Facebook or the Internet, it includes all the mandated taxes and fees," Gilmer said.

But as other airlines, Spirit charges additional fees for baggage or other customer preferences.  

There is a $30 fee to check a bag and have it stored in the luggage compartment of the plane.

Passengers can carry a bag on the plane for free if it fits in a compartment under the seat. If it is larger, they must pay a $40 fee.

Passengers also must pay for drinks and food on the plane. They can pay $1 to $50 to choose a seat rather than let the airline assign one and $5 to print a boarding pass at the airport rather than on a home printer.

In addition to the direct flight to Myrtle Beach, Belcher said in May the airline will start offering passengers the option to fly to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after the plane makes its initial stop at Myrtle Beach.

Gilmer said the $22 fares are good for flights in March through May. He said in June and July, roundtrip fares will be $65 per person.

Belcher said as seats are sold, the price will go up until the plane is fully booked.

"When you get down to the last few seats, it's a little bit more expensive, but it's still not a bad price," he said.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.


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