Allegiant Struggles In Hawai’i, Tries a Different Approach

Allegiant’s start of service in Hawai’i has been anything but smooth sailing. There have been repeated operational issues with the airline’s 757s and that has left some very unhappy travelers stranded. But that issue is a side note compared to the bigger question of whether Allegiant’s model would even work in the Hawaiian market. We now have some signs that it’s not working out as well as the airline probably hoped. It’s trying something new instead.

Back in April, Allegiant announced it was slashing service to Hawai’i this Fall. Some people saw that as a retreat, but I wasn’t one of those. Allegiant has never been shy about shifting schedules during off-peak periods, and this fit into the airline’s historical behavior patterns. I think I’ll have to take that back considering what we’ve seen in the last couple weeks.

First, we saw Allegiant cut the number of flight attendant jobs in Honolulu from 37 to 20. That wouldn’t make much sense if it was a temporary reduction in service. But then Allegiant released it schedule through mid-February and we could see that the cut wasn’t temporary (or at least, not entirely). Through the heart of the holiday season and winter, Allegiant is operating far fewer flights to Hawai’i than it does this summer. Here’s how it looks.

Allegiant Winter 2014 Schedule

Of the nine cities Allegiant serves this summer, only four will still have service next winter. Two of those, Bellingham and Las Vegas, are the only ones that retain service through the Fall, so it’s no surprise. But Vegas continues with its twice weekly Fall schedule instead of the three times weekly it has this summer. Of the rest, only Boise and Spokane each bring back their one weekly flight. While Allegiant flies 17 weekly flights to Hawai’i this summer, it will have only eight in the winter. And two of those are to a new destination… Los Angeles.

If you look at the service pattern, it appears that what works for Allegiant elsewhere — infrequent service from small cities to big leisure destinations — isn’t working in Hawai’i. The two markets that appear to be doing the best (since they keep Fall service) are Vegas and Bellingham. Think of Bellingham as really an alternate airport for big city Vancouver and you have two large cities connecting to a large leisure destination in Honolulu. Boise and Spokane are certainly much smaller, but they are bigger than your traditional Allegiant spoke city. And Boise and Spokane are the only two remotely small cities left going to Hawai’i for the airline.

Just those moves, however, wouldn’t make me think Allegiant was getting desperate here. After all, some markets work and some markets don’t. But the fact that the airline is going to add twice weekly flights from LA to Honolulu puts up all kinds of red flags. That move says to me that the small city operation isn’t working out, or we would have seen more efforts at tweaking it. Instead, what we see is Allegiant isn’t having much luck and it needs a new strategy.

Allegiant has to look no further than what is working in Hawai’i — Vegas and Bellingham/Vancouver. The airline must be finding that there is room to get a price advantage to Hawai’i flying from big cities. So now it’ll try the very busy LA-Honolulu market where fares can get pretty high on the leisure end of the spectrum. This is more of a Spirit-style operation, but Spirit doesn’t have any airplanes that can get to Hawai’i anyway… yet. So Allegiant will give it a shot and not have to worry about other ultra low cost carriers coming in for awhile.

I could be wrong. I suppose we could see all those old flights come back next summer. But I’m now pretty skeptical.

[Original map via Great Circle Mapper]

24 Responses to Allegiant Struggles In Hawai’i, Tries a Different Approach

  1. Sanjeev M says:

    LA-Hawaii is basically how the western half of our country dumps their frequent flier miles. It’s also one market where the majors have extensive vacation packages with local operators, which is right along the lines of the Allegiant model.

    Maybe with 2 weekly they can make LAX-Hawaii work, but I’m skeptical. There’s probably a better use of that plane domestically (the usual small city to LAS/Mesa/Sanford)

  2. Ron says:

    Long Beach!

  3. What they did not learn, is Hawaii is no Vegas or Florida. Las Vegas and Florida are two ares people will go for mini vacations for a couple of days and not think anything about it. When I had a job with midweek days off, I would take little trips like that.

    But Hawaii is a long ways away and still considered a special vacation for many people and they tend to travel weekend-to-weekend taking their weeks vacation from work and following long school holidays. People don’t want to have to take more time off to travel Wednesday-to-Wednesday when their companies work week is Mon-Sun or Sat-Fri. Allegiants schedule of 2 or 3 times a week isn’t going to cover weekend roundtrip travel dates from all their cities, so a lot of people are going to travel on other airlines that fly daily even if they have to connect.

    Sometimes your schedule and what time off your work will give you over powers a possible lower priced vacation.

  4. Ron says:

    The media and blogosphere keep talking about Allegiant’s model of bringing people from small towns to fun and sun destinations, but ignore the other side of the coin — people from big cities who visit small towns. There definitely is substantial non-business travel in this direction: my impression from flying Allegiant from L.A. (two round trips) was that about half the people on the plane were based in L.A., traveling away for a variety of reasons: touring a college, escaping the city, or the all important Visiting Friends and Relatives (that was us). Allegiant probably makes less money on these reverse travelers because they don’t buy packages — VFR are more likely to stay with grandma, or else have a very specific destination that doesn’t fit well with bulk room purchases from big resorts (I suspect that some of Allegiant’s spokes could support packages in the reverse direction — Branson? Bozeman? What struck me as odd was that Allegiant didn’t even offer car rental packages).
    Now, L.A. might have the largest share of reverse travelers due to its size, but Phoenix and Orlando aren’t small places either, and are home to plenty of transplants from middle America and the northeast. Even if reverse travelers don’t buy packages, they are probably important for filling up the planes.
    I’m not sure how this applies to Hawaii.

  5. Chicago Chris says:

    Ron brings up a great point. When I traveled on Allegiant there was a mix of locals on both sides. There aren’t many Hawaiians going to Stockton, but the model may work okay with Bellingham, Vegas and LAX.

    I disagree with Cranky that this isn’t a desperate move. Doing a “Spirit-style” operation out of LAX goes far off their proven model. I wouldn’t be surprised to see GEG and BOI cut back further. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but given Allegiant’s sketchy mechanical history I’d take Spirit over Allegiant if Spirit marches in with a longer-range aircraft.

    Part of the problem is Allegiant’s unwillingness to have connections. If they’d just allow people to connect in LAS, LAX or OAK they could fill the planes to Hawaii. However Allegiant isn’t willing to pay hotels or meals for misconnects and unfortunately it’s a missed opportunity.

  6. yo says:

    I wouldn’t fly Allegiant to Hawaii just because of their tiny fleet, ETOPS 757’s can have a lot of MEL’s that can cause a maintenance issue (I know..from nonrev experience) and it sure is nice when the carrier can just wheel you back to the gate and grab another 757. Plus, FF miles earned on a Hawaii trip are pretty big, and Allegiant can’t offer you that. Any idea how many seats are on their 757’s? I used to fly ATA all the time with 218 seats vs US 190 seats in dual class.

    • CF says:

      yo – Allegiant puts a whopping 223 seats on those 757s.

      • yo says:

        I hope they include some deodorant and lube to fit everyone in comfortably. ATA was crowed, but their flight crews were very nice, my flights over usually were enhanced by some pharmaceutical assistance…:)

  7. David M says:

    Rumors I’ve read on other forums suggests that LA-Hawaii was always in the plan for Allegiant, but from LGB, not LAX. But in the end, they weren’t willing to hold onto the slots long enough with money-losing MD-80 flights until they were able to get the 757 into service.

    There are definitely fewer competitors in the LA-Hawaii market than a few years ago, with Northwest merged into Delta, Continental merged into United, and ATA and Aloha just plain out of business. And the planes are smaller; the DC-10s and L-1011s are long gone, 747s aren’t seen much, and even the 767 seems to have fallen out of favor compared to the 757 (both -200 and -300). There can be 777 flights to be found, but also 737s. Mitigating that though is increased service directly to outer islands, reducing the overall demand on the HNL flights since fewer passengers need to connect there.

    I think where Allegiant fits into the LA-Hawaii market is targeting the budget vacation package traveller. The types of passengers who would tend to book a vacation package through Pleasant Holidays or SunTrips and fly on whatever airline the company got a deal with. Pleasant had a long relationship with ATA, but over the years companies like them worked with all sorts of airlines: Omni, Ryan International (branded as SkyserviceUSA for a while), Leisure Air, Rich International, North American. Then there was the string of short-lived airlines in the 1980s offering cheap flights to Hawaii: The Hawaii Express, Air Hawaii, Pacific East Air, AirAmerica.

    Ex-Hawaii, serving LAS makes perfect sense. It’s a big, package-oriented market. There are reasons one of Vegas’ nicknames is “the 9th island”. Vacations Hawaii (casino-owned) is a big player in this market, even chartering Hawaiian DC-10s for nonstop HNL-LAS flights (back then, HA’s scheduled service to LAS stopped in LAX). These days, they’re using Omni 767s.

    • great points about reduced competitors and aircraft size. i’d love to see a comparo of LAX/hawaii seats, aircraft and carriers per week on an annual basis over, say, the last 10 years. i bet there have been some drastic changes.

      also, if they really wanted to vet the ULCC model from major west coast cities to hawaii, i would think they would have kept phoenix/mesa flights.

      finally, i agree with others that they need to offer connections, if only on flights to hawaii and only through certain cities (BLI, LAS) where they have enough of a critical mass.

    • CF says:

      David M – I agree that the nature of the operation to Hawai’i has changed but capacity hasn’t gone down nearly as much as you might expect. A big reason for that is Alaska. When ATA and Aloha went down, Alaska jumped in and built Hawai’i up to be a large piece of the business. But even Alaska has seen weakness lately and has cut frequency in Hawai’i. Hawaiian has also expanded a lot over the last few years (depending upon how far back you want to go). The most recent stuff has been around the Pacific but the mainland did see a big build-up awhile ago.

      • David M says:

        Hawaiian’s presence at LAX and the LA area has been pretty static though. Typically 3 flights a day LAX-HNL; the OGG flight seems to come and go. ONT didn’t work. Alaska doesn’t touch LA, either.

        The difference is that there are more markets with direct service, reducing LAX’s connecting traffic to Hawaii. SAN, SMF, OAK, SJC, etc. This is where AS and the HA expansion has had an effect (though OAK and SJC seem like they’d mostly be pulling traffic away from SFO nonstops rather than traffic feeding through LAX).

        • CF says:

          David M – Talking about LAX specifically, I think you’re right that the nonstop service to other mainland markets hurts and so does the nonstop service from LA to outer islands. The result is fewer people needing to funnel through LA and Honolulu just to get to their destinations. But I would guess that supply isn’t down much even though smaller airplanes are being used. If I find the time, I’ll dig that up.

  8. Bill says:

    One other thing that might be hurting Hawaii compared to Allegiant’s success in Vegas and Orlando and the revenues they drive from hotels and cars. Vegas-Hawaii succeeds because they can sell hotel rooms on both sides of the trip.

  9. Ben says:

    I have to admit I was surprised the Boise flight survived the cut. Yes, Hawaii is a popular destination for people in Idaho, but the 1 flight a week seems to be more of an inconvenience than the 1 stop daily option you can have on AS, DL, or UA. With those airlines offering good vacation packages, along with better and more flexible service, I’m surprised Allegiant hung in their with decent loads. Then again, maybe the other cities that they cut made the Boise service look like a bright spot

  10. PF says:

    Morris Air Service, the charter company pre Morris Air and continuing as a division of Morris Air the certified air carrier (acquired by Southwest) started with weekly flights SLC HNL using chartered TransAmerica DC8’s. The service was very nice, all coach, with two generous meals each direction. The equipment was unreliable, and supplemented/replaced with Hawaiian Air charters from the mainland. (HA didn’t serve the mainland with scheduled service at the time). Service increased to multiple flights per week, typically sold with ground packages. Leisure, low frequency worked for Morris Air Service in the 80s and 90s. Times change. . .

  11. Pity for Allegiant that AS has staked out the Bay Area, San Diego and Portland.

  12. Axelsarkis says:

    I’m skeptical, but we’ll see how this pans out.

  13. A says:

    Any indication it has been harder for Allegiant to fill the larger 757 vs. their usual MD-80’s? Regional jets fly to smaller cities for a reason. If the seats are empty they aren’t making money. Last I checked the 757 was a decent sized plane.

  14. Nate Post says:

    BLI works purely because of the huge transborder fees incurred when flying across a border, but its free to fly, take a bus, train or boat.

    Equalize the fees and ALGT’s BLI business disappears. Its ALL BC tags in BLI’s parking lot.

  15. I called Allegiant last week and talked to spokeswoman Jessica Wheeler for a story on the Hawaii service. Here’s some of what I learned:

    1. “Vegas to Honolulu was kind of one of the first times we had connected our destination cities,” she told me. “What we found was we were able to do it at a price point that no one else was able to do. We were able to reach this under served community.”

    2. “It’s not our intention to go in and go head to head with some of the other carriers,” she said. “We think there are a huge number of people in L.A. that are simply priced out of having a Hawaiian vacation.”

    3. “What we are seeing is Hawaii is a lot of more seasonal than we expected. it’s looking a little more like Florida and Las Vegas. We’re not afraid of seasonality. We are not afraid of being flexible.”

    – Brian Sumers
    Airports and Airlines reporter, Los Angeles News Group
    Blogging at insidesocal.com/aviation

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