The Bigger the Waves in Hawaii, the Lower the Alaska Airlines Fares

If waves break 21 feet, the discount could get as steep as 30%

A surf report promo aims to lure spontaneous travelers to Hawaii via Alaska Airlines.
A surf report promo aims to lure spontaneous travelers to Hawaii via Alaska Airlines.
Alaska

Hawaii’s surf report is becoming a temporary, pseudo-flight tracker in a new campaign for Alaska Airlines.

In a data-driven bid to encourage more spontaneous and passion-fueled travel to Hawaii, the airline has partnered with the forecasting site Surfline to let the ocean dictate its fares for last-minute seats.

The Swell Deals campaign, which runs from Nov. 4-8, has Alaska running banner ads alongside Surfline’s daily report. As waves rise in the Aloha State, travelers leaving any airport where Alaska has a flight to Hawaii will see their fares drop. If the waves break 21 feet, the discount could get as steep as 30%. The surf report can see forecasts up to two weeks in advance. The sale is only good for flights until Nov. 20.

The flash sale is an extension of the airline’s “Fly Smart, Land Happy” campaign, released this past February, which emphasizes Alaska’s use of “dynamic data,” like Surfline’s wave forecasting data, in its marketing approach.

“We want to show that we can go deep with an audience at a passion point that can really resonate with them,” said Natalie Bowman, Alaska’s managing director of brand and marketing communications. “We don’t have a ton of seats we need to fill. We want to fill them with people who have deep passions who are looking for new experiences.”

Surfline is tracking data across 14 different sites throughout the Hawaiian island. Most of the activity is expected to crest around the North Shore of Oahu, from Sunset Beach to the Banzai Pipeline.

While most travelers can’t drop everything for a vacation, spontaneity is essential to the surfing community.

“There are a lot of surfers that do what we call ‘surgical strikes.’ You see a swell, and drop everything in 24 hours and go halfway across the world,” said Surfline president Ross Garrett. “Surfers are frequent travelers and an influential bunch.”

The campaign was created by Alaska’s creative agency of record, Mekanism. Alongside Surfline and Alaska’s own sites, the ads will be promoted on social media and across radio stations in Southern California. Bowman said they’ll be tracking the success of the campaign by revenue generated and earned media.

Often sold with a gimmick (JetBlue sold fares for every nationwide flight for only $31 on Halloween), the flash sales are done for a very specific reason: spoilage.

“It’s all a part of revenue management. Once a plane takes off with empty seats, that’s a commodity that can never be sold,” said aviation expert Seth Kaplan. “The flash sales are a more creative way to generate publicity in a way that just discounting an airfare wouldn’t. … They’re stimulating demand.”

Routes like San Diego to Hawaii are predominantly filled with leisure travelers who’ve made their plans and purchases well in advance. Meanwhile, airlines intentionally hold out for business travelers who usually book at the last minute, more willing to put the premium on their company credit card.  The holdout can result in empty seats that airlines can try to recoup with flash sales.

Bowman said the seats aren’t a critical “business need.” While only currently available for flights to Hawaii, Bowman added the same strategy and insight could be used for promotional marketing campaigns. It’s the first of what Bowman called Alaska’s “Smart Sales,” which will combine a passion point, like surfing, and a piece of data to help determine a sale.

“Skiing is probably one,” foreshadowed Bowman. “We’re looking at other sources of data in the dating world, grades at universities… There’s a lot of data we could take and have fun with.”

Alaska, which bought Virgin America in 2016, is the fifth-largest airline in the country, with 2018 revenues at about $8.2 billion.

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