With more and more major airlines competing for your precious vacation dollars by launching new routes to Hawaii from major cities across the United States, airfare to the remote tropical islands is already plummeting to more reasonable -- if not ridiculously cheap -- levels. As if that weren’t reason enough to finally press your feet into that white island sand, tickets are expected to get even cheaper, now that Southwest Airlines has announced plans to offer flights to Hawaii.
On Wednesday, Southwest said it’s currently in the process of gaining approval for the new flights from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a process that could take up to two years. But the news comes at a time when various carriers are flocking to Hawaii en masse, prompting a marked decline in the average cost of airfare to the sun-dappled islands. Southwest likes to invoke the “Southwest Effect,” which forces competing airlines to play catch-up with its lower fares whenever it enters a new city. The slogan tends to bear fruit, and prices drop across the industry.
As airline analyst Gary Leff tells Thrillist in an email, competitors will be forced to do battle with Southwest's low fares or face the consequences.
"More airlines, more flights to Hawaii means lower fares,” he said. “That's basic supply and demand. And when Southwest enters the market they're likely to offer lower fares still for the PR value. This is good for customers because Southwest's business model involves fewer fees and more legroom."
Leff's words echo a University of Virginia study from earlier this year, which concluded Southwest's entry into new markets caused airfare to fall by 15% to 20% between 2012 and 2015.
In June, after United announced an increase of service to Hawaii with more than 40 daily flights starting December 20, a Southwest spokesperson confirmed the airline's ambitions to fly there as well, writing: "Gary Kelly has made it clear Southwest has its sights on Hawaii, but it is not a market we currently serve." So, it was welcome news this week that Kelly, the airline’s CEO, wrote a blog post detailing the airline's plans to supply nonstop flights from California to Hawaii starting in 2018. Eventually, the carrier hopes to make the scheme a "multi-market offering among our West Coast cities and the Hawaiian Islands."
Making Southwest's eventual price-shrinking frenzy a reality is the airline's new fleet of Boeing 737 Max aircraft, which can withstand the long-haul slog across the Pacific. Previously, Southwest's Boeing 737 jets weren't up to the task of shuttling passengers on the 2,467 mile journey.
Although Southwest hasn't confirmed which specific islands it'll be servicing, you can likely count Maui, Kauai, Oahu and the big island of Hawaii among the likely targets, which means you'll have a plethora of options and won't have to spend big in the process.