Virgin America sets their sights on Newark

When was the last time you heard someone get excited about Newark? For Virgin America, however, there is a lot of excitement as the carrier looks to challenge United Airlines on two major routes, connecting Newark to San Francisco and Los Angeles.


The service starts in April 2013, with thrice daily service each to both San Francisco and Los Angeles. Given that Virgin America has been slowing its growth (and even cutting ASMs this winter) adding these long-haul flights is a big move for them. Not surprisingly, the introductory fare sale is obvious in the market. Here’s the lowest one-way fares between Newark and San Francisco chart for the two weeks before and after the service launches:


The numbers are similar out of LAX.

For the premium cabin seats and refundable fares, the markets where real money is made (at least in theory) the fares don’t appear to be changing all that much. It doesn’t appear that Virgin is pushing too hard against United and United has not – at least not yet – decided that they are looking to start a fare war. That said, I do expect that United will eventually respond in some way. After all, disparities like this make it hard to justify the higher fare:


The competition is good for consumers in that it should bring fares down a bit in the market. And it might be good for consumers in service levels or other experiences. A decent chance of a frequent flier promotion based on this, too. That said, it isn’t clear just how long Virgin America can afford to fight it out with other carriers based on fare alone, and their service frequencies are half of what United is offering. Virgin has challenged US Airways in Philadelphia and American in DFW. They’re still in both markets but it doesn’t appear that the legacies have taken much of a hit either.

It will certainly be interesting to watch.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Given that they already serve JFK its hard to get excited bout this one (yes, I know JFK and EWR are not exactly the same market, but for many folks they are pretty similar). WIsh they would fly to Houston if they wanted to attack United.

  2. When JetBlue tried to challenge CO years ago (notably to SJU), CO greatly increased service and drastically lowered price. B6 got annihilated and now offers token FL and BOS service from EWR.

    1. Yes, Mark, the first time around JetBlue showed up and caused trouble and Continental responded. More recently, however, JetBlue has grown their Newark operation, with the Boston service (5x daily is hardly token service) and San Juan again since April. This isn’t Virgin America showing up and trying to fly to 10 or more destinations. It is six daily frequencies on relatively high yield markets. And there isn’t a whole lot United can do to respond. They already have 2x the frequencies. Maybe they’ll try to put 752s with the BF seats on the route more but they need those for Europe. Otherwise it is going to be all about fares and points.

  3. I’m hoping that Virgin’s debut at EWR would stop United’s practice of only charging M fare and higher for SFO-EWR when booking a one-way (and only allowing discounted economy to be booked on a roundtrip), but I’m wondering whether VX at EWR will have much of an effect.

    I still think that United’s elite benefits are something that make customers extremely loyal to UA despite recent cuts and upsets with the merger. VX is offering status matches over to VX’s elite program for MP members, but I’m not sure how many have jumped actually ship since the VX’s program does not offer much.

  4. Just did a quick search on Matrix and it seems that United is matching. (At least for return services ex LAX that I checked.) Return $298. Pretty good for a trans-con.

    1. No surprise that United eventually matched the fares. The real question will is how long they stay that low.

      Also, there are no slot controls at Newark. Gate space can be a challenge but I believe United abandoned their A1 gates so that should open some up.

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