Spirit Airlines stock takes off on new tender offer from JetBlue (NYSE:SAVE)

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Spirit Airlines (NYSE:SAVE) stock soared as JetBlue Airways (NASDAQ:JBLU) takes more aggressive maneuvers to take over the airline.

JetBlue (JBLU) announced in Monday’s pre-market that it is engaging Spirit Airlines (SAVE) shareholders directly to pursue a hostile bid for the airline. Under the proposed terms, JetBlue would make an all-cash, fully financed tender to Spirit shareholders for $30 per share.

Shares of Spirit surged 11.84% just 3 hours prior to Monday’s open while JetBlue shares edged 2.04% higher. Those gains represented a moderation from an over 20% jump for Spirit and a 3% pop for JetBlue in earlier action.

JetBlue had previously offered $33 per share, but was summarily rejected due to regulatory concerns. Instead, Spirit Airlines (SAVE) affirmed its favored the Frontier Air Group (ULCC) offer based upon its predicted consumption. As JetBlue (JBLU) is still battling an antitrust suit over its agreement with American Airlines to operate the Northeast Alliance, a full-blown merger with another airline is attracting understandable skepticism.

However, JetBlue (JBLU) CEO Robin Hayes derided this decision and sought to engage shareholders directly to shift the board’s thinking.

“JetBlue offers more value – a significant premium in cash – more certainty, and more benefits for all stakeholders,” he wrote to the shareholders. “Frontier offers less value, more risk, no divestiture commitments, and no reverse break-up fee, despite more overlap on non-stop routes and their own regulatory challenges.”

He added that the deal could sweeten back to the $33 per share should the board show more engagement.

On the board, Hayes also decried the lack of engagement from the body, stating it failed to follow up with any dialogue and “based its rejection on unsupportable claims that are easily refuted.” He concluded that the preference for Frontier’s (ULCC) offer was simply undue support for “the interests of Bill Franke’s Indigo Partners and the long-standing relationships between the two companies.”

The commentary from Hayes is starkly different from Spirit Airlines’ commentary last week that cited “a thorough review and extensive dialogue with JetBlue” as part of its decision to reject the deal.

The contrasting statements and escalating offers add to speculation that JetBlue’s offer is merely a diversion. Even Spirit CEO Ted Christie surmised the overtures from JetBlue are an attempt to muddy the waters for the Frontier (ULCC) deal and perhaps cause its failure.

“Despite clear concern from JetBlue’s shareholders, JetBlue has continued to pursue disruption to the Spirit-Frontier combination,” he told analysts on May 5. “I have wondered whether blocking our deal with Frontier is, in fact, their goal.”

In the end, a battle between executives now exists with each casting competing aspersions about cynical undermining of a merger and pursuit of undue private equity interests.

Read more on the upcoming shareholder vote on the Frontier (ULCC) merger.

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