Across the country, Southwest typically serves at least five or six destinations nonstop from a city. Even smaller markets like Omaha, Tulsa and Little Rock get that degree of service. So, when Southwest launched its Twin Cities service early last month with just nonstop flights to Chicago, industry observers expected more routes had to be coming.
Southwest's choice of Denver as its second nonstop destination, though, surprised Minneapolis-based travel expert Terry Trippler, who runs terrytrippler.com.
"I would have bet the rent it was not going to be Denver," Trippler said. "I thought it maybe would be Salt Lake or Kansas City. But I was 100 percent wrong on that one.
“I would have bet the rent it was not going to be Denver. I thought it maybe would be Salt Lake or Kansas City. But I was 100 percent wrong on that one.”Terry Trippler, travel expert
Trippler thought Southwest would look for a less competitive route.
United, Frontier and Northwest collectively already offer more than a dozen daily nonstop flights between the Twin Cities and Denver. It's the second-busiest route out of the Twin Cites, topped only by Chicago.
But George Wozniak, owner of Hobbit Travel, expected Denver would get the nod from Southwest. He noted that Southwest offers more than 100 nonstop flights from Denver to 32 destinations.
By connecting the Twin Cities to Denver, Wozniak said Southwest can now carry Twin Cities travelers to most of the key destinations in the West and Southwest. Cities like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Seattle and Phoenix would be better served by way of Denver than through Chicago.
"They have flights into all kinds of places west and southwest and it just connects perfectly from the Twin Cities," Wozniak said. Southwest said it will offer fares to Denver for as low as $89 each way, excluding taxes and airport and other fees. That low fare is comparable with the cheapest fares that have been available lately on the route.
Those ticket prices have come down lately, in part because fewer people are flying and airlines have had to pull back on fares to get people on their planes.
Northwest, United and Frontier will likely fight hard to defend the Denver route from Southwest. Trippler, expects an all-out fare war. He believes Delta, which now owns Northwest Airlines, will continue to exhibit the tenacity Northwest showed in defending its turf.
"Delta is not about to give that Denver market up very easily," Trippler said. "Neither is United. So, it could get really, really cheap to Denver this summer."
"We could see it below $49 one-way. I absolutely believe we will see that to Denver this summer," he said.
Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz said the airline has been very pleased with passenger traffic on its Twin Cities to Chicago flights, which encouraged it to launch the nonstop service to Denver.
"It's exceeded our forecast and expectations," he said. "And that's one of the reasons, we were able to go in and add the Denver service so quickly."
Mainz wouldn't say how full the planes to Chicago are, however.
Southwest is also staying tight-lipped about any future destinations out of the Twin Cities.
Trippler's hunch is that Southwest will fly to Salt Lake City or Kansas City if it looks to add nonstop markets to the west.
And if it gazes east?
"It might be Baltimore," he said. "It could be Philadelphia, where they have established a pretty good beach-head."
Wozniak thinks other cities are at the top of Southwest's list of likely new destinations.
"Phoenix is a huge hub for them. Las Vegas would again be a huge hub for them," Wozniak said. "And you look at St. Louis, Kansas City and Detroit. They fly lots of flights to all those places, too."
For years, the Metropolitan airports commission courted Southwest, trying to entice it into the Twin Cities market. And many travelers longed for the low fares Southwest is famous for. Now that it's finally in the Twin Cities and going after passengers on its two busiest routes, Southwest is surely sending the message that it's not going to shy away from competition.