Hawaiian Airlines fares are dropping and its fleet may be expanding in an attempt to pack planes and increase kamaaina travel. The state’s biggest and oldest airline is also saying “kia ora” to New Zealand, where it will fly three times a week, beginning in March.
Hawaiian implemented Tuesday new fares for neighbor island travel, lowering ticket prices across all of its fare classes from 4 to 25 percent. Within the first three hours, sales doubled, and the overall response has been “really good,” said spokeswoman Ann Botticelli.
The least expensive fare available for a one-way nonstop interisland flight is $65 for travel from Honolulu to Kahului, Maui, and Lihue, Kauai. Fares from Honolulu to Kahului, Lihue, Hilo and Kona are all lower than the previously published lowest web fares. Fliers leaving Kona can now expect to pay $72, instead of $86 when traveling to Honolulu. The new $79 fare to Kahului is nearly $20 less than the airline’s previous fares. All prices include taxes and mandatory federal fees.
The airline has offered “Hawaiian Saver” fare sales over the last several months as a way to test customer response to a variety of pricing options. The Hawaiian Saver fare, which has some restrictions, proved to be attractive to cost-conscious travelers and “there was a great demand to start pricing lower.” Other base fares have also been reduced on the airline’s 170 daily neighbor island flights, Botticelli said.
The new fare structure complements the additional neighbor island capacity and routes the airline introduced earlier this year. Three new B717s were added in January. Also over the past year, Hawaiian has increased capacity by 13 percent and created a Maui hub, increasing service between the Valley Isle, Kauai and Hawaii Island, Botticelli said. With the increased capacity, more seats are available, she added.
The airline’s parent company, Hawaiian Holdings, has signed a letter of intent to acquire turbo-prop aircraft with the aim of establishing a subsidiary carrier to serve routes not currently in Hawaiian’s neighbor island system. It is hoping to add three to six more planes and has yet to pinpoint which destinations exactly, Botticelli said.
Botticelli added, the subsidiary would daily fly the smaller, rural routes — those not economical for Hawaiian, which flies B717s. She could not comment further on the expansion and its growth strategy for confidentiality reasons. Nor could she provide an estimate as to when the agreement will be completed.
“We are committed to providing safe, frequent and reliable service that allows our residents to travel more easily between all the islands, and we believe the additional capacity and new fares will encourage that,” said Peter Ingram, Hawaiian’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer. “By offering a greater variety of pricing options across our flight schedule every day we hope to make it easier for people to take the extra trip they might not have taken if the lower fares weren’t available. Having said that, it will always be true that the best value is available to those who book early on HawaiianAir.com, and we encourage all of our customers to do that.”
The rapidly expanding airline also recently announced the March launch of its new nonstop route between Honolulu and Auckland, making it the only U.S. carrier flying into New Zealand.
This service will add more than 40,000 seats annually between the two cities, as well as continue to grow the business eventually leading to the hire of more pilots, flight attendants and ground crew employees, Ingram said. He did not know the specifics on the potential employees anticipated to be hired.
Hawaiian will operate the three times weekly flights using its fleet of wide-body, twin-aisle Boeing 767-300ER aircraft, seating 264 passengers — 18 in business class and 246 in the main cabin. Flight schedules, ticket prices and the start of ticket sales will be announced at a later date.
Auckland will be the eighth new destination Hawaiian has introduced since November 2010, following Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Sapporo, which is scheduled for Oct. 30, 2012, Japan; Seoul, South Korea; New York, and Brisbane, Australia (Nov. 27, 2012). Its growth into new markets, as well as the expansion of existing North America operations and diversification away from this market, is fueled by its long-haul fleet renewal and strategy that began in June 2010. Nine new Airbus A330-200 aircraft were since added to its fleet, and five more A330s are expected in 2013.
Hawaiian’s market research indicated Hawaii as “an underserved market” for New Zealand, as tourism figures show there are currently 30 percent fewer visitor arrivals coming from New Zealand than in 1999 when more nonstop flights were offered between the two destinations.
In addition, New Zealand residents made more than 1 million trips to the South Pacific and Asia in 2011. For a while, New Zealand has also been on the company’s list of possible destinations to expand to because of “the pent-up demand,” Ingram said.