"They can get the price just as cheap through Apple Vacations.com, or through a travel agency booking Apple Vacations," Mullen said. "It's available, just on a different airline."
James Tyrrell, deputy Philadelphia aviation director, said USA3000 notified the airport in May that it planned to stop flying the Apple charters, and "they told us that someone else would take over the service."
Recently, the airport learned that Frontier, which flies to Denver and Milwaukee from Philadelphia International Airport, would take over the USA3000 service. A reservation agent for USA3000 said the last USA3000 Philadelphia flight to Cancun is Oct. 15, and to Punta Cana on Oct. 14.
USA3000's departure will not result in a loss of airport revenue because Frontier is picking up the flights: two or three days a week to both Cancun and Punta Cana, Tyrrell said.
"I see it as a good business move," said Kate Murphy, president and CEO of Wings Travel Group in Blue Bell, which books Apple Vacation travel. "Why would you want to be involved in hardware - planes - when you can charter from an existing airline?"
"Frontier obviously would like to bulk up their numbers out of Philadelphia. It seems to me it's the best of both worlds."
Murphy said customers want the best value for their money, and as long as "the pricing doesn't change, or can be even better, then I'm for it and my clients are for it."
USA3000 began as an airline in December 2001 and grew by late 2004 to operate 14 Airbus A320 aircraft from 10 cities, and seasonal service from several others, in the Northeast and Midwest to warm-weather destinations in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Florida.
Apple always filled most of the seats, but travelers could book scheduled air service on the USA3000 planes, without purchasing a vacation package.
In 2008, when the economy tanked, and crude oil hit $130 a gallon, Apple Vacations began chartering more flights on commercial airlines and pulled back some USA3000 aircraft. The airline today has five leased Airbus planes.
"We did shrink the fleet down slightly because the leases had expired," Mullen said. "As long as USA3000 is competitive, we use them."
"In the case of Philadelphia, Frontier provided us a better opportunity for Apple Vacations than USA3000, and we needed the airplane in other cities to fly to other routes," Mullen said.
Frontier will be flying newer Airbus A320s with 162 seats. "We are enhancing the product to include leather seats and TVs in the seat back of every seat," Mullen said, "and we are including 'preferred perks' on that airplane which will include meals and drinks for our customers."
Apple Vacations now charters AirTran Airways and Southwest Airlines in Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and uses Frontier, AirTran and Southwest carriers in St. Louis. Apple uses AirTran in Milwaukee; Frontier in Denver, and JetBlue Airways at JFK airport in New York, Mullen said.
Frontier confirmed it operates charters for Apple Vacations from Boston, Chicago O'Hare, Chicago-Rockford, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Philadelphia and St. Louis, and serves destinations including Cancun; Huatulco, Mexico; Liberia, Costa Rica; Montego Bay, Jamaica; and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, said spokesman Peter Kowalchuk.
Mullen, whose father, John, founded Apple Vacations in 1969, said the company "is flying to more destinations than we ever have."
"We've added Costa Rica from several cities in the Midwest. We've added Los Cabos from Denver, Chicago, and St. Louis. We're adding LaRomana, Dominican Republic, from JFK airport this winter," he said. Apple Vacations is also expanding service to Punta Cana from Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore. "Apple Vacations continues to look at expanding, not only its chartered product, but also its scheduled airline," Mullen said.
Contact staff writer Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831 or firstname.lastname@example.org.