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Southwest Airlines executives said Thursday that they are still aiming to start selling much-anticipated fares to Hawaii by the end of 2018.

Flights to the Aloha state would soon follow, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said on the budget airline’s earnings call.

For much of 2018, island-loving travelers have been anxiously awaiting announcements and interpreting almost any signal related to Southwest Airlines’ upcoming service to Hawaii. After a flurry of information about Hawaii service this spring, the carrier has been much more tight-lipped in the second half of the year when it comes to official Hawaii announcements.

Oahu hawaii
Oahu, Hawaii Coastline (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)

New Details on Southwest Flights to Hawaii

On the earnings call, Southwest’s executives said they have the resources, equipment, people and locations ready for Hawaii. They have been working on a “great schedule” that builds over time. They want to fly to Hawaii, and they have almost everything ready for Hawaii — so, why are Southwest flights to Hawaii still not for sale as we approach the final two months of 2018?

The key remaining piece of the puzzle is the ETOPS certification from the FAA. ETOPS is essentially the approval needed to operate flights without diversion airports available within a certain distance, in this case, due to the length of time that the airplanes will be over the Pacific heading to and from Hawaii. On the most recent earnings call, Southwest indicated that the ETOPS process often takes around 12 – 18 months, and they are about 12 months in at this point, with steady progress made to date. Southwest states they are transitioning from the design and documentation phase of ETOPS certification to the demonstration phase, which culminates with validation flights that they are in the process of scheduling.

Very shortly after the FAA ETOPS certification is obtained, Southwest will publish their Hawaii flight schedule and begin selling tickets. The airline anticipates operating those flights to Hawaii “within weeks or a month” of beginning to sell seats. Kelly said that the exact dates when Southwest operates flights to Hawaii will depend a bit on the calendar and when approval is received, as they don’t want to start flying on Christmas Day, for example.

Southwest’s Take on Using Rapid Rewards Points to Fly to Hawaii

Another hotly discussed topic on the earnings call related to using Rapid Rewards points to fly to Hawaii. Southwest is seeing strong growth for its Rapid Rewards program, and specifically from its Rapid Rewards credit card members. This growth and positive returns includes its new Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card that launched in the third quarter of 2018 (and is currently my most recommended card for families who fly Southwest).

Southwest fully expects to see a lot of Rapid Rewards redemptions to Hawaii early on, as they have been acquiring customers for the past year very intentionally. At the same time, these customers have been intentionally building up their Rapid Rewards accounts. However, Southwest doesn’t mind if their planes to Hawaii are stuffed with vacationers hitching a ride courtesy of their Rapid Rewards points as they do not result in zero dollars coming in for the airline based on the airline’s math. The points that are being used for the “free tickets” earned money for Southwest when Chase paid for them as customers spend on their credit cards. Additionally, many travelers using points on Southwest earned them by a mix of both Chase credit card use and paid Southwest flights.

Southwest says they don’t care if you want to use your points to fly to Amarillo or Hawaii as it is all the same to them. In other words, don’t worry about using points to fly to Hawaii — Southwest just wants you onboard. Additionally, since Southwest has a revenue-based model on both the earning and redeeming side of the coin, the current climate of low fares to Hawaii may very well mean reasonably priced Rapid Rewards tickets to the Aloha State.

What We Already Knew About Southwest Hawaii Service

Here is a quick refresher of what we already knew about Southwest’s Hawaii operations. Initial Southwest service to Hawaii will be from four California cities: Oakland (OAK), San Diego (SAN), San Jose (SJC) and Sacramento (SMF). The Hawaiian destinations served will be Honolulu International Airport (HNL), Lihue Airport (LIH), Kona International Airport (KOA) and Kahului Airport (OGG). Service to all four airports may not begin on the same day, and Southwest may likely take a ramp-up approach. We also know that Southwest plans to launch flights between the Hawaiian islands, though that is not a part of the first phase of service.

Southwest’s 737 MAX 8 seats.

Southwest’s Hawaii service will launch with its 737-800s before switching to its newest 737 MAX, which you can read all about in this review. You will be able to use your Rapid Rewards points and Southwest Companion Pass to reach the Hawaiian Islands, just as you can for all of its destinations.

Bottom Line

Southwest still plans to have flights to Hawaii for sale by the end of 2018. But the airline first needs to finish the FAA certification process. What you can expect is that as soon as Southwest has the ETOPS certification is in hand, tickets to Hawaii will go on sale very shortly thereafter with flights kicking off within weeks or a month — depending on the exact timing of the certification.

Southwest Airlines is already TPG‘s #1 domestic airline for families, and with the ability use Rapid Rewards points and the Southwest Companion Pass to get to Hawaii coming soon, 2019 should be a very exciting year to be a Rapid Rewards member.

Southwest will offer satellite/overwater Wi-Fi, free live TV, movies, messaging and music on flights to Hawaii, as they do on its other flights. They also have new snack options in the works for Hawaii flights.

Regardless of the timing of its first Hawaii-bound flights, Southwest Airlines and its travelers seem to be on the same page when it comes to service to Hawaii.

“We are very, very anxious, very eager for our upcoming launch to Hawaii,” airline executives said on the earnings call.

Same, Southwest, same.

Featured image by Karl Magnuson via Unsplash

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