$19? Hah! Aloha says you'll fly for free
By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Lynda Arakawa
How low can they go?
Only if airlines start paying passengers could interisland travel get any cheaper.
Aloha Airlines established a new floor in the ongoing fare wars yesterday when it offered to give away 1,000 roundtrip interisland tickets, starting at 7 a.m. today.
Aloha's move came one day after Hawaiian Airlines and go!, the upstart carrier from Arizona, announced a temporary $19 one-way interisland fare.
"The interisland airfare wars have just lost any semblance of sanity," said Scott Hamilton, an aviation consultant based in Washington state. "It is completely ridiculous."
Aloha's giveaway will draw attention away from go! on the day of its inaugural flight.
"Do we have a business motive for it? Certainly," said John Votsis, Aloha Airlines' vice president of sales. "We want the exposure because it's good for us to get good word about our airline in the public's awareness at anytime, but especially when competitive pressures are on."
Aloha decided there was no reason to stop at $19.
"You're going to lose money on a $19 fare," Votsis said. "You might as well be real nice and give them away."
Aloha will give away 500 vouchers for roundtrip tickets between Honolulu and the Neighbor Islands on a first-come, first-served basis today at Honolulu's Interisland Terminal. The airline also will give away 100 vouchers each at Kahului, Lihu'e, Kona and Hilo airports beginning at 9 a.m.
In addition, Aloha will give away 100 tickets through a random drawing. People who waited in line for free tickets but were too late will be allowed to enter the drawing.
Waikiki residents Barbara Wise, 65, and her sister, Caryl Hendershot, 70, were the first to arrive at Honolulu's Interisland Terminal last night for the free tickets. They showed up at 7 p.m. with blankets, chairs, snacks and books.
"We're on Social Security, which doesn't allow us much in the way of luxury," said Wise, a retired inventory control manager. "So a free ticket really sounds good."
"I think with go! coming in, that perhaps we'll have cheaper airfares all around. If the fares are lower than they have been, I think maybe we'll travel more often."
'ALL KINDS OF BUZZ'
Giving away seats generates much more free publicity than if Aloha just matched the $19 fare, Hamilton said.
"You're going to see crowds of thousands, you're going to see all the TV media, you'll have all the radio media, it's going to generate all kinds of buzz," Hamilton said. "You'll get all kinds of silly comments from consumers: 'Oh, this is the greatest thing since sliced bread.' So I suppose that they figure that the free publicity will be worth more than 1,000 free seats, but in the long run will it actually gain them any new business? I think the answer is probably not."
Hawaiian Airlines declined to comment on Aloha's giveaway.
Jonathan Ornstein, chairman and CEO of go!'s parent company, Mesa Air Group Inc., said his company would have matched Aloha's offer but doesn't have the available seats because of the customer response to the $19 fare.
"I imagine if you've been trying to sell seats at $100, you'd have seats left," Ornstein said. "Given what they have charged in the past, they probably owe a lot of their passengers free tickets."
THE $19 DEALS
Hawaiian and go! offered the $19 fare between Wednesday and today or until sold out, with restrictions.
Go! will use a fleet of four 50-seat Canadair CRJ 200 jets that will limit its share of the market to about 8 percent, according to Hamilton.
Ornstein said the $19 fare promotion has attracted many people to the company's Web site, which got "600 hits per minute" Wednesday night.
"I can tell you we had thousands available (seats at $19) and have sold thousands. There are still seats available," he said.
RULES FOR VOUCHERS
Aloha's vouchers for free tickets can be redeemed for travel between June 24 and Dec. 14. Vouchers must be redeemed by Sept. 30.
A picture identification must be presented to qualify for a voucher and free ticket. Travelers must be 12 or older.
Two weeks' notice is required to fulfill booking requests. Some blackout dates apply, and seats are limited. Vouchers and tickets are nonrefundable and nontransferable.Advertiser staff writer Rick Daysog contributed to this article.
Reach Lynda Arakawa at email@example.com.