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Southwest and Hawaii are two words that go together like peanut butter and jelly, or at least they will in the pretty near future. As was long speculated, and eventually confirmed, Southwest Airlines is planning to operate flights from the mainland to Hawaii potentially as early as late 2018. This means the value of the Companion Pass, Rapid Reward points, and all things Southwest will extend their reach over the Pacific.
We’ve already seen some crazy low fares to Hawaii in recent weeks and months, and one can only assume that this (fantastic) phenomenon will continue when Southwest joins the line-up at Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, as well as on some of the other islands.
The initial announcement that Southwest would begin selling tickets to Hawaii in 2018 came in October 2017, so what have we learned in the several months since that initial confirmation?
Southwest Making ETOPS Progress for Hawaii
In January 2018 on an investor call, Gary Kelly, the Southwest CEO, said that they were pleased with the progress they had made to date to obtain FAA authorization for their Extended Operations (ETOPS) that is necessary to fly that long overwater without a nearby diversion airport. The goal from the beginning had been to begin flights to Hawaii by the end of 2018, and “Achieving that goal is not totally within our control. In terms of the work that we do control, we are right on target.”
This means that as recently as January, Southwest flights to Hawaii in 2018 is a very real possibility, but the exact timing of the first wheels-up will come down to a number of things that are not all within the control of Southwest.
Southwest Secures Space at the Honolulu Airport
Now in March 2018, Southwest has recently been granted a month to month permit for space at Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. That’s just one step of many, but it is still forward progress, which is exciting given how much buzz and anticipation there is for Southwest flights to Hawaii. There was no new announcement about a timeline for flights or details on the Hawaiian route map to accompany the news that Southwest now has a space permit in Honolulu, just a reiteration that they expect to sell tickets to Hawaii this year.
Southwest Expects Hawaiian Destinations to Sell Credit Cards
However, a very interesting (to me) element to Southwest bringing the ‘Luv’ to Hawaii is how much of a tie-in they expect this to have for their co-branded credit cards.
Southwest already has a very popular frequent flyer program with 9.6 million flight rewards redeemed in 2017, which represented 13.8% of revenue passenger miles flown in that year (that’s a big number relative to other programs). The number of Southwest awards redeemed has been on the increase for the last few years and their Rapid Rewards program and related co-branded Chase credit cards are a big part of the Southwest’s business model.
In fact, I have seen estimates that Southwest made $2.8 billion in 2017 selling miles to Chase, the issuer of the Southwest co-branded credit cards. That figure is up over half a billion from the previous year.
That’s all pretty good news for Southwest and its Rapid Rewards program, but now enter the ultimate travel destination, Hawaii. If travelers already wanted to get their hands on Southwest points to go to Kansas City, Orlando, and Cancun, imagine what will happen when the Southwest Rapid Rewards program and Companion Pass can take you to Maui and Kauai? Sure you are getting there in an economy seat on a 737, but a few hours of that and then you and in paradise!
Southwest reportedly expects the new Hawaii routes will ‘ignite’ credit card sign-ups and adding ‘sexy’ destinations, like Hawaii, is done in part to attract new credit card customers. Coming from someone who writes about rewards credit cards, uses rewards credit cards, and loves all things miles and points, this is brilliant. Of course, Southwest won’t pick up or stick with a route that loses them money just because it may help sell credit cards, but it seems that the whole award travel and credit card aspect of their business is certainly recognized and considered when looking at their route network.
To give a mirco-level example of how this can absolutely work to their advantage, I’ve had dozens of rewards credit cards, but never a Southwest co-branded credit card. However, I’m now planning my card applications for the entire year around getting one (or two) Southwest credit cards and a Southwest Companion Pass to time with…you guessed it, when they operate flights to Hawaii.
With a good marketing campaign and sign-up bonus, Southwest should have no trouble hooking traveling families (like mine) with their co-branded credit cards as soon as their Hawaiian operations and formalized and announced. Los Angeles, Orlando, and Cancun are cool, but Hawaii is in a league of its own.
Southwest is getting closer to Hawaii, but for now, we just keep waiting and watching for every little announcement, approval, and hint on when the first flights will be in the air and where exactly they will operate. Are you closely watching as Southwest inches towards the Aloha state? Will the flights to Hawaii impact your desire to obtain or utilize the Rapid Rewards credit cards?
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.