Virgin America Brings Low Fares to Hawaii

Virgin America’s new Hawaii flights could be the beginning of lower-priced air service to the Aloha state.

Cheaper Hawaii airfares? Yep, at least for awhile; and you can thank the sharklets.

What do undersized sharks have to do with cheap airline tickets? Nothing, actually.

Sharklets are the upturned ends of an aircraft’s wings. If that vertical extension of a wing is relatively short, it’s dubbed a mere winglet. But in the case of Virgin America’s newest Airbus A320s, the extension rises a full eight feet, and thus qualifies as a sharklet.

It was thanks to those sharklets that Virgin America was able to launch its daily San Francisco-Honolulu flights earlier this week, and will be able to start up service between San Francisco and Maui on December 3.

According to a Mashable interview with the airline’s COO, the sharklets add around 3.5 percent to the A320’s range, just enough to make the over-water flights with the required margin of safety. (Due to less favorable wind patterns on the route, Virgin America won’t be able to fly to Hawaii from Los Angeles until 2020, when its first Airbus A320neo planes are scheduled to be delivered.)

Naturally, Virgin America is promoting the new service with a sale, offering tickets for as little as $169 each way on select dates. And equally predictably, other airlines responded with sales of their own. So, for example, United is offering discounts on Hawaii flights booked through November 5, including San Francisco-Honolulu flights for $224 each way.

While post-sale fares are likely to rise somewhat, the longer-term outlook is for cheaper Hawaii tickets ahead. That’s because supply is overtaking demand, with seat capacity in the market, including Virgin America’s new flights, up 4.8 percent in November.

So, sharklets enable new service, which gives rise to overcapacity, which spurs price competition, which allows travelers to partake of the Aloha spirit for less.

Thanks, sharklets!

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By Tim Winship

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.