United's (UAL) - Get United Airlines Holdings, Inc. Report Chief Financial Officer Andrew Levy criticized Spirit Airline's (SAVE) - Get Spirit Airlines, Inc. Report reliability on Tuesday, saying, "Nobody flies Spirit because they like the product. Nobody.

"It's all because they like the price," said Levy, who spoke at an investor conference.

As United and American prepare to join Delta in competing with Spirit and Frontier by offering basic economy fares, which offer seats with most amenities stripped away, Levy said United's basic economy retains this advantage: "If we cancel flights, we're going to protect you. We're {still} going to get you there. Spirit can't do that."

United typically offers multiple flights throughout the day on its routes, while Spirit often offers only a single daily flight. Levy noted that cancellations at United are rare, but when they do occur, United can offer a seat on a later flight.

On United's earnings call in January, CEO Scott Kirby said the fare would be rolled out in Minneapolis.

"Now we can compete on price," Levy said Tuesday. "We will not be giving away a whole bunch of other stuff for free, effectively. We're very focused on what they're doing."

Levy said Spirit flights in United's hub cities are "a whole area of concern to us. We will be very aggressive about how we compete with Spirit, {with} anybody that goes into our hub locations.

TheStreet Recommends

"As long as they grow into markets that don't touch our hubs, they can do that all day long," he added.

A Spirit spokesman declined to comment on Levy's remarks.

On Spirit's fourth-quarter earnings call last week, CEO Bob Fornaro said he didn't know how the market would respond to United economy fare.

"It's too early to tell," Fornaro said. "Delta rolled out its fare offering without a lot of fanfare. They just kind of rolled it out in the normal competitive environment.

 "What American is about to do or United, it's been talked about for two years," he said. "There's been a lot of fanfare going on {but} we really haven't seen much yet. We compete well with Delta in the markets where we see it. But it's too early to project anywhere else."

Cowen & Co. analyst Helane Becker wrote in a report Monday that some one-way fares between Newark and Spirit destinations in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Orlando and Myrtle Beach, S.C., have fallen to between $37 and $50.

"Scott Kirby has a history of aggressive fare actions" against ultra-low-cost carriers, she said, but "the markets in which United is matching these fares are low margin leisure routes and shouldn't initially cause great concern."

United shares closed Tuesday at $73.74, and have risen 1% year to date.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.