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Southwest Airlines details launch plan for its 16th new city

April 15, 2021
4 min read
Southwest Boeing 737 on Runway
Southwest Airlines details launch plan for its 16th new city
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Southwest's route map is about to get two more lines.

On Thursday, the Dallas-based carrier announced launch plans for Eugene, Oregon (EUG) — the 16th airport announced or started by the carrier since the pandemic began in the U.S.

Southwest will fly three daily routes to the city from two of its largest West Coast operating bases. Twice-daily service from Oakland (OAK) and once-daily service from Las Vegas (LAS) begins on Aug. 29, 2021.

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Adding service to Eugene has been a long time coming for Southwest, as Andrew Watterson, Southwest's chief operating officer, told TPG in an interview. "A lot of the cities that we've announced were on our wish list, but we've been starved for aircraft for a few years now... Now we're able to go pretty deep in our wish list because we have ample aircraft due to the demand shortfalls of the pandemic."

Southwest, and its competitors, have been busy beefing up service to outdoor-friendly destinations during the pandemic. As leisure travelers return to the skies, they're heading to beaches and national parks with plenty of built-in social distancing.

Related: Southwest unveils major summer expansion with a whopping 36 routes

While Eugene offers some leisure activities like riverside parks and trails, Watterson told TPG that the move is designed to open a brand-new market to the carrier. Southwest doesn't have many Rapid Rewards frequent flyer members based in the area, and there's "a lot of new customer potential for us."

To help market the new service, Southwest has enlisted the local airport authorities and municipality to spread the word. The carrier received an incentive package that includes things like waived landing fees, but the "biggest benefit for us is that the airport and chamber of commerce talks us up and gets it known in the community. That is more valuable than money because that really helps turbocharge the maturation."

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Southwest will touch down in Eugene in August (Photo by 4kodiak/Getty Images)

Right now, Southwest is "under-penetrated" in Eugene. Most locals either choose a competitor — Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, United and newcomer Avelo offer service there — or drive two hours north to Portland to catch a flight.

But Southwest sees value in the community at large. There are two large schools nearby, the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, which should help bolster demand. "We think the outdoor part during COVID will be short-term interest, but longer-term, the universities will provide a lot of good back and forth traffic for visitation."

As for why Southwest chose to connect Eugene with Oakland and Las Vegas first, Watterson explained that this is the ideal "starting pattern." With the two nonstop routes, Southwest opens up more than 30 connecting itineraries from day one. "If we see people connecting over Oakland and Vegas to a certain location, then there'll be fodder for adding a nonstop," he said.

According to Watterson, there's also plenty of O&D (origin and destination) potential for the two routes. Turns out, Department of Transportation data analyzed by Cirium shows that nearly 50 people flew from Eugene to Oakland each day in 2019. That number jumps to 85 for Las Vegas.

More LUV: Southwest Airlines add 6 routes to 2 brand-new destinations

When you factor in connections, Southwest may not have a hard time filling its 143-seat Boeing 737-700s, especially for the locals going to Hawaii. "I think we have a pretty good Hawaii offering via Oakland... A nice leisure offering to Hawaii for post-pandemic will be a big hit," Watterson said. "So that'll be a good way to start people off because Hawaii is a good allure."

Eugene is the latest new pin for Southwest's route map. In March, Southwest announced its intention to add three more cities, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (MYR); Bellingham, Washington (BLI); and Eugene, Oregon (EUG). The carrier already detailed its introductory service to MYR with ten new routes. Bellingham service is slated to begin in the second half of 2021.

Featured image by (Photo by Angel DiBilio/Shutterstock)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more