JetBlue Airways steps up as a rival suitor for Spirit Airlines with all-cash takeover offer

South Florida-based Spirit Airlines acknowledged Tuesday that it has attracted a surprise new suitor in JetBlue Airways of New York, which is seeking to outbid a recent merger offer by Frontier Airlines of Denver.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Spirit announced that it received “an unsolicited proposal from JetBlue Airways” to acquire all of its stock in a cash deal valued at $33 a share. For investors, the offer represents a substantial premium over Frontier’s bid, which is now worth roughly $23 a share based on current stock prices.

Spirit said its board of directors will work with its financial and legal advisors to evaluate the JetBlue proposal “and pursue the course of action it determines to be in the best interests of Spirit and its stockholders.”

In South Florida, the JetBlue offer was unexpected.

“JetBlue’s offer was news to us,” said Bob Swindell, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, Broward County’s economic development arm. “We don’t have a comment at this time.”

Positives or negatives?

A deal with JetBlue could pose severe employment and economic activity consequences for Broward County, Florida, which has been hoping that Spirit’s proposed headquarters in Dania Beach would remain in the plans of a combined airline involving Frontier.

Industry analysts note that past airline mergers have resulted in reduced service and employment while boosting fares for air travelers.

But there could be potential bright spots arising from either deal now on the table.

Since 2019, JetBlue has operated a vacation packaging subsidiary called JetBlue Vacations at the Design Center of the Americas in Dania Beach, employing close to 100 people. The airline also acknowledged last year it was weighing a move from its headquarters at New York’s JFK International Airport to Florida, where it has key bases in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

Meanwhile, Spirit and Frontier executives have asserted since their announcement in February that a merger between the two carriers would create a more competitive marketplace as the combined airline would add planes, routes and workers.

All three airlines are discount carriers that serve the tri-county area’s three international airports. JetBlue ranks with Spirit as one of the busiest carriers at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Frontier recently resumed flights to the airport after a short hiatus.

When announced in February, Spirit and Frontier projected that they would become the nation’s fifth-largest airline by market share behind American, Delta, Southwest and United.

JetBlue ranks as the sixth-largest carrier in the US

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