Free tickets take off with Aloha Airlines
The carrier will offer 1,000 round trips in a promotion today
Did somebody say fare war?
Aloha Airlines, not to be outdone by the temporary $19 one-way air fare initiated by startup interisland carrier go! and matched by Hawaiian Airlines, said yesterday it would give away 1,000 free round-trip tickets, and dubbed the promotion the "Great Go Away Giveaway."
In a clear attempt to rain on the hoopla surrounding go!'s first flights arriving in Honolulu, Aloha said it would give away 500 round-trip tickets on a first-come, first-served basis at 7 a.m. today at Honolulu Airport outside Aloha's interisland departures lobby on the second level.
Go!'s first incoming flights were scheduled to arrive in Honolulu at 6:57 a.m. from Kahului, Maui, and 6:59 a.m. from Lihue, Kauai. Go!'s first departing flight was scheduled for 7:30 a.m.
Aloha, which said it is offering the tickets to thank Hawaii for its loyalty, plans to give away an additional 100 round trips through a random drawing at the airport for people who waited in line but did not receive one of the free tickets.
Similar ticket giveaways to the first 100 people in line will be held at 9 a.m. at the neighbor island terminals in Kahului, Lihue, Kona and Hilo.
Aloha said the free tickets will be available for people who are 12 and older and present a picture identification. The tickets will be good for travel between June 24 and Dec. 14, with two weeks' notice needed for booking requests. Award letters must be redeemed by Sept. 30.
"It's not all about price," said Thom Nulty, Aloha's senior vice president of marketing and sales. "Anybody can offer a $19 fare. It's about being an active part of the community and all of the great things Aloha brings to interisland flying: a high-frequency schedule on full-size Boeing jets with plenty of headroom and large overhead bins, Alii Club airport lounges, jet-bridge boarding at Honolulu and AlohaPass miles from Hawaii's first frequent-flier program."
Jonathan Ornstein, chairman and chief executive of go! parent company Mesa Air Group Inc., said he was glad to see consumers are benefiting from go!'s presence.
"If we're part of giving the consumers a better deal, that's great," Ornstein said. "It's great for the consumers and, given what they've been charged over the last few years, they're probably owed more than a few thousand free tickets."
Hawaiian declined to comment.
Nulty, who on Wednesday called the $19 fare "goofy," said go!'s fare was "purely marketing," and added that no airline can operate at that price. He also said maintaining a $39 one-way fare, like go! has pledged to do, is something that Aloha will have to evaluate.
"We've analyzed their operating costs and know they would have a hard time making money at almost triple that price (of $19)," Nulty said. "It's a wonderful short-term opportunity that won't last because it doesn't cover the cost to operate for us or anyone else."
Ornstein retorted, "We appreciate everyone's concerns about our profitability," and noted that Mesa has been profitable for 29 of the last 30 quarters.
"We've never been in bankruptcy," he said. "We've never cut any employee wages. Let us determine what makes sense for us."
Ornstein said go!'s Web site has been inundated since the $19 offer was announced and at one point was getting 600 hits a minute. He said that not only has the promotional fare sold well, but that the company had sold two regular tickets for every promotional sale.
"It had exactly the effect we had hoped in raising awareness of our product," he said.
Nulty said Aloha and Hawaiian would not have been in bankruptcy had they been gouging consumers and that Aloha's objective is to offer "good value at a fair price."
"That price moves around from time to time based on costs, and currently the skyrocketing fuel costs are making those costs go higher," Nulty said.
Ornstein said that even with Aloha giving away tickets, consumers will be better off buying tickets online or over the phone from go!.
"We have everyday low fares, and we're not going to make people come to the airport to get them," he said. "After you pay for parking and gas and time, it's still probably cheaper to buy our tickets."
But Nulty said he's not buying Ornstein's pitch.
"I've seen this movie before many, many times," Nulty said. "We knew this was going to happen, but in the long run, all water will seek the correct level and we will end up with prices that will be above our operating costs, and so will every other airline or eventually they will cease to exist. If their plan is to keep prices low and lose money for years to eventually drive another airline out of business, that could actually be illegal."