Sun Country built its entire business on people from the Minneapolis/St Paul area desperately needing to escape to warmer climates during the long, cold winter. Though it has tried to find other ways to make money in the summer and other cities where it could make money at other times, the airline wouldn’t exist without that winter-hating base. The airline is now expanding with several new routes, looking to not only deepen the loyalty in the Twin Cities but also spread it throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The new routes don’t begin for a long time. With the exception of Minneapolis-Milwaukee-Las Vegas which starts in August and isn’t something I’m talking about today, nothing starts until Thanksgiving. The latest doesn’t even start until February. Sun Country is laying its claim to the cold northern reaches of the country… by offering them nonstop warmth this winter.
Going Broad in Minneapolis/St Paul
The first part is maybe obvious, but then again, maybe not. Sun Country is growing its number of winter destinations from Minneapolis/St Paul. Here’s the list.
- Bozeman – 2x weekly through the winter (extended from the summer schedule)
- Grand Cayman – Saturdays starting December 18
- Phoenix/Mesa – 4x weekly starting November 24
- Providenciales (Turks and Caicos) – Saturdays starting December 18
- Punta Gorda – 2x weekly starting December 10
- St Petersburg/Clearwater – 4x weekly starting November 25
Some of these wouldn’t even be worth a second look. Weekly flights to Grand Cayman and Turks and Caicos? Yeah, sure, that makes sense. And extending Bozeman through the winter? Ok, everyone loves Bozeman these days. But it’s the other three that grabbed me.
Phoenix/Mesa, Punta Gorda, and St Pete are all Allegiant bases, and Allegiant does not fly to Minneapolis. Sun Country’s CEO Jude Bricker used to be at Allegiant, and he knows these places well, but it seems like an odd choice for Sun Country. After all, Sun Country flies to the primary airports in each of these regions. Phoenix gets 2x daily in the winter, Tampa gets 3x daily, and Fort Myers gets up to 4x daily or more. That is a substantial amount of capacity, so why bother flying to the secondary markets instead of just adding more to the primaries?
One obvious reason is Delta. Delta has more flights than Sun Country in each of these markets. Spirit and Southwest are on these routes as well, with American in Phoenix and Frontier in Tampa. All those people from the Twin Cities aren’t looking to just go to the main cities. Plenty of them are going to places that are closer to the secondary airports.
The frequency is low, but it’s complementary to the primary airport service, and it can give Sun Country a leg up as people look to travel. On top of that, it might be able to get higher fares without competition. That remains to be seen. Might as well get in there before Allegiant decides to fly the routes.
Sun Country Plants Its Flag in a Broader Territory
Prior to this week’s adds, Sun Country had only three routes scheduled for early 2022 that didn’t touch Minneapolis/St Paul. Those were a single flight from its legacy summer operation at Dallas/Fort Worth to Cancun along with Madison and St Louis to Fort Myers. Sun Country had service from Madison to other Florida spots, but it has abandoned them in favor of broadening its reach into Fort Myers and Phoenix from the Upper Midwest.
The new routes are concentrated in Phoenix and Fort Myers, not Phoenix/Mesa and Punta Gorda, I should note. Those secondary airports would be too thin for Sun Country, so it’ll focus on the primary airports.
- Duluth – 2x weekly to both Phoenix and Fort Myers starting December 17
- Green Bay – 2x weekly to both Phoenix and Fort Myers starting December 16
- Madison – 2x weekly to Phoenix starting December 16
- Milwaukee – 2x weekly to both Phoenix and Fort Myers starting December 15
- Rochester – 2x weekly to both Phoenix and Fort Myers starting February 3
This is a pretty transparent choice of markets. If you look at the 2019 passenger numbers in Cirium, this is almost entirely a rundown of the top origin markets from both Minnesota and Wisconsin. The two notables that were left out? That’d be Appleton and St Cloud. Why? Well, wouldn’t you know that those are served by Allegiant from Phoenix/Mesa and Punta Gorda? This is a pretty clear effort by Sun Country to coexist.
I like these moves. I don’t know if they’ll all work, but it’s a pretty clear understanding by Sun Country of what it can consider to be its home market. It also deftly avoids having to compete with Allegiant, presumably signaling that it is hoping to keep the peace.