Headed to Vegas? This low-fare airline is challenging Southwest for Sacramento fliers

Sacramento fliers looking for more options and better airfares to Las Vegas are about to get their wish.

Frontier Airlines announced today that it is returning to Sacramento International Airport after a five-year absence with flights to Las Vegas and Denver starting late this summer - lining it up to compete with Southwest Airlines between the capitol city and the nation's gaming mecca.

Officials with the airline, which bills itself as ultra low cost, say they believe there is an untapped number of Sacramentans who don't currently fly to Las Vegas but who would do so if they could get there cheaper.

Frontier's Vegas service starts August 12. The airline is offering an introductory discount $49 one-way fare as of today. Service will be only three days a week, however, on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Short-term low fares are a typical offering from airlines when they launch new service in a city.

Southwest's lowest fare to Vegas on Aug. 12 was listed on Tuesday at $101.

Frontier previously flew out of Sacramento, but ceased operations in 2013 when the airline was in financial difficulty. The Sacramento airport was at that time one of the most expensive airports for airlines to do business after dramatically increasing its airline fees to pay for the Terminal B building and concourse that opened in 2011.

Frontier has since switched to the "a la carte" or fee-based flying model, charging customers a basic fare for their seat, but added fees for luggage and other services.

The Denver-based airline is still dealing with financial issues. It is in a contract dispute with its pilots, and talks were at an impasse on Monday, according to the Air Transport World online publication.

In a statement issued Monday, Frontier, however, saying it is "actively engaged in negotiations with our pilots for a new contract and continue to exchange proposals under the guidance of the National Mediation Board. We look forward to working toward an agreement that is fair, sustainable, and provides security for our collective future.”

The airline will also will fly to Denver on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, starting Aug. 1, but would look to expand service depending on demand, said Mark Haneke, Sacramento airport's market manager for air service development.

Southwest and United currently fly between Sacramento and Denver.

The airline's return to Sacramento "is a testament to the way our cost of doing business has come down," Haneke said. The airport also recently upgraded its list of fee incentives to entice near carriers to Sacramento. "It signals that if our rates and facilities are appealing to low-cost carriers, that we have our financial house in shape and we are moving in the right direction."

The announcement continues an upswing at the local airport. The number of fliers has increased every year since 2013, when Frontier left. Seats on flights have increased 27 percent since then, and cities served has increased from 30 to 38.

Sacramento airport officials have been pushing to land a low-cost carrier for nonstop flights to Europe, as well.

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