Spring Airlines, one of China's first privately owned airlines and only flight operator in the country to call itself a low-cost carrier (LCC), will be launching new routes to connect Hong Kong with Chongqing, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Xiamen.
With its main base in Shanghai and operating 33 A320s, the carrier inaugurated its first flight in July of 2005 and flies to some 50 domestic destinations including Guangzhou, Qingdao, Harbin, Chongqing and Xian. Two months after it was founded, Spring began serving Hong Kong from Shanghai. Outside of Greater China, the carrier flies to three Japanese airports – Ibaraki (85 km north of Tokyo), Saga (near Fukuoka) and Takamatsu of Shikoku island – and Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi).
According to Spring Airlines president Wang Zheng Hua, the LCC's fares are 20 to 30 per cent cheaper than full-service competitors and its flights have been enjoying an average payload of 95 per cent. Discounts of as low as RMB129 (US$21) are often offered near departure times to fill seats.
He said he believes that his low-cost airline model has strong demand in China, even among those who do have money. "For flights that are two to three hours, or five to six hours, people might prefer to save on air tickets and put the money into more luxury accomodation," he said, adding that according to the airline's own survey, a substantial amount of its passengers check into the Sheraton or Westin after their flights.
But the airline does have a premium option called SpringPlus, which is currently only available on some domestic routes and not those serving Hong Kong, including the upcoming four. But Jonathan Hutt, deputy general manager and international brand director of the airline's strategic planning department, confirmed that SpringPlus will eventually be available on all flights. The premium ticket includes a seat on the first two rows of the cabin, as well as exclusive check-in, priority boarding, full meal service and complimentary drinks on board.
Inflight food and drinks are available in economy at a cost.
For a one-way ticket this coming Monday from Shanghai to Shenzhen, the SpringFlexi fare from the airline's website at press time was US$111.9, while SpringPlus costs US$134. The restrictive SpringSaver is $78.8.
Spring Airlines is probably China's most internet-savvy carrier. It sells most of its tickets from its website and mobile site, and it also offers passengers the option to print their own boarding passes. And it might also be the most democratic airline: President Wang said that the four new routes have been added according to requests from the airline's social media fans and a vote was carried out online.
Wang also revealed that his airline is considering new regional destinations such as South Korea, Taiwan and The Philippines, but he said that he will never consider introducing long-haul routes with Spring. "The world is so big and there are many destinations we can make money with. A 4,000km radius would be enough," he said.
Spring Airlines' new routes mean increased connectivity for China's second-tier cities. Business Traveller Asia-Pacific launched its "Inside China" series in September, featuring one emerging city in every issue and offering information on where to stay, what to do and how to get around. For reports on Chongqing and Xiamen, click here and here.