Virgin America Starts Fare War With Hawaii Flights
PHOTO: Sir Richard Branson celebrated the first Virgin America flight from the Bay Area to the Hawaiian Islands with his trademark flair and enthusiasm. (Photo courtesy of Virgin America)
Virgin America’s inaugural flight from San Francisco to Honolulu on Monday spawned something rarely seen in the industry of late, but making something of a comeback – a fare war.
According to travelskills.com, Virgin deeply discounted fares on the route to celebrate its first flight from the Bay Area to the Hawaiian Islands – a flight which also included chairman Sir Richard Branson – to just $398 round-trip, with some fares coming in at $338 round trip. From New York and Boston, round-trip fares on Virgin fell to $680. Chicago-Honolulu round trips fell to $560. The fares are good for travel now through March, but tickets must be booked by midnight tonight, Nov. 4.
Even when TravelPulse checked Virgin America for a round trip in January, we found a flight from SFO-HNL for $393 round trip. Anything under $400 from the west coast is considered a steal.
Travelskills.com noted that, in response, Hawaiian Air discounted fares to $393 roundtrip, Delta’s nonstops on SFO-HNL came in at about $415, and United’s roundtrip was $398 with an added incentive – if you wanted to use points, United dropped its MileagePlus redemptions for mainland-Hawaii round trips from 45,000 points to 36,000 points.
Hawaiian Airlines had actually been planning out its strategy for the new competition from Virgin America since the spring, as the Bay Area is shaping up to be a proving ground in the fare wars. Hawaiian had earlier announced that new non-stop flights between San Francisco and Kahului, Maui, will start with four-times-a-week service on Nov. 20 and go daily on Dec. 17.
The airline said the new route will add more than 200,000 seats annually between the two cities. It’s just the latest expansion by Hawaiian Airlines into the Bay Area this year. In May it reinstated its daily service to San Jose, and in June upgraded to the Airbus 330-200 on its Oakland-Honolulu route. Hawaiian also introduced new seasonal non-stops from Oakland to Kona and Lihue.
“This year we've brought back our San Jose to Honolulu service, offered new seasonal non-stop flights from Oakland to Kona and Lihue, and now we are launching daily service between San Francisco and Maui all in response to the robust demand we've received from the Bay Area," Peter Ingram, Hawaiian Airlines chief commercial officer, said in a statement. "We are very pleased to connect two existing gateways in our network together, offering Hawai'i residents another way to travel to the Bay Area, and Northern California travelers another reason to visit the Hawaiian Islands."
With fuel prices still low, fare wars have been making something of a comeback. In the past, travelers would wait for the best deals as airlines competed against each other and matched dollar-for-dollar any fare decreases or specials introduced by a competing carrier.
Now, to be fair, you won’t be finding any $100 round trips between New York and Miami over the holidays and, as the Associated Press noted, you won’t be finding any deals on the traditional business travel-heavy days on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. But if you do your homework – look to fly on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, and find a route that is also flown by budget carriers like Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines or Frontier Airlines – and some great deals are possible.
More by Rich Thomaselli
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