Saturday, January 13, 2001
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Posted on: Saturday, January 13, 2001

Rival lowers Las Vegas tour cost

By Glenn Scott
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hoping to share in Honolulu’s growing kinship with Las Vegas, a large tour company is offering vacation packages that start as low as $329, including a hotel for three nights and round-trip airfare.

Executives with MLT Vacations said yesterday that as of Feb. 3 they will offer tour packages with flights between Honolulu and Las Vegas on Omni Air DC-10 jets on Saturdays and Wednesdays. In June the flights will switch to Fridays and Mondays.

A subsidiary of Eagan, Minn.-based Northwest Airlines, MLT Vacations will be entering a market dominated during the past five years by Vacations-Hawaii, a tour company run by Boyd Gaming Corp. of Las Vegas. It flies seven nonstop Hawaiian Airlines DC-10 charters a week to Las Vegas and puts up customers primarily in three of Boyd’s downtown hotels that have become so kamaaina friendly, they serve saimin and sushi and import Hawaiian entertainers.

Passengers also can stay at a fourth Boyd hotel, the Stardust, on the Las Vegas Strip.

The only operator from the Islands that has regularly sent nonstop flights into Las Vegas, Vacations-Hawaii has grown so successful with its four- and five-night tours in the past five years that marketing and operations manager Russell Gouveia said virtually all 304 seats on every charter flight are booked.

In addition to those 111,000 annual passengers, he said, Vacations-Hawaii also books tours using other commercial flights. "And we’re talking to Hawaiian about adding more charter service," he said.

New flexibility

Aware that Las Vegas has become the second home for many people here, MLT officials clearly relish a piece of the action. But they’re trying a different game. They are offering a range of prices, flexibility on return dates and choices to book stays at 32 different hotels, including some new family-focused mega-resorts such as the Aladdin.

MLT sends 70 charters a week into Las Vegas, its top destination, from 12 other cities and booked more than a million hotel rooms there last year, said Brian Heger-

ty, the company’s Las Vegas product manager. The tour company has access to about 4,000 rooms each night, he added.

"We’re trying to create a market in Hawaii for people who are willing to go to Las Vegas for a different experience," he said.

Tour prices will vary from about $300 per person for air and hotel service for three nights to about $800 for four-night stays at upscale hotels. To get started, MLT is promoting two packages on its Worry Free Vacations listed on its Web page (

A Feb. 3 flight package with four nights at the Golden Nugget lists for $370. With a Feb. 7 departure, a three-night deal at the Imperial Palace is priced at $329. Neither includes taxes or fuel surcharges, which could add $40 to the price.

Those fares compare with Vacations-Hawaii’s $389 fare — $430 with taxes and surcharge — for airfare, four nights and three meals a day at the California and Fremont Hotels and Main Street Station.

Anticipating some open seats during the start-up of service, MLT also is offering round-trip airfare between Honolulu and Las Vegas at about $300 per person, including taxes and a fuel surcharge. That’s significantly cheaper than most commercial fares, which also require connecting stops, but it’s not clear how long MLT will offer that introductory price.

Aloha Airlines, which on Feb. 14 will inaugurate its own air service to Las Vegas via Oakland, is listing its round-trip restricted coach fare, including taxes and surcharge, at $580.

Time is right’

Tom Anderson, MLT’s sales director who spent 17 years in Honolulu, said the company has been watching the Hawaii market for a couple of years.

"We think the time is right to offer full-fledged tour service to people in Hawaii," he said. "We’ve had several of the Las Vegas hotels asking us when we were going into the market."

The charter flight actually will originate in Detroit, stop in Las Vegas and continue to Honolulu. It then will return to Las Vegas and continue to Detroit. Anderson said the schedule shuttling vacationers among three cities makes it possible to initiate the Honolulu-Las Vegas service without the pressure to fill the jet on just one route.

Gouveia of Vacations-Hawaii said he is not surprised by MLT’s entry into the market, or by Aloha’s interest in Las Vegas. "We’re going to see a little bit of action in this market," he said.

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