The discount carrier will compete with Delta on the route starting next winter.
Twin Cities flights to Tampa are about to get cheaper.
Discounter Sun Country Airlines said Thursday it will compete head-to-head against Twin Cities' dominant carrier Delta Air Lines in December, offering four nonstop seasonal flights to Tampa each week. Analysts said the competition will likely lower airfares in the market.
Until now, Delta had a monopoly on nonstop flights to Tampa from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Sun Country's nonstop flights will start at $170 one-way, $8 cheaper than an average Delta flight to Tampa.
"It's good for the consumer," said Bob Herbst, founder of AirlineFinancials.com. "It will put pressure to keep fares lower." Herbst said fares could drop as much as 20 percent, because Sun Country can sell cheaper plane tickets because its labor costs are lower than those of its rivals.
The new flights are part of the Mendota Heights-based airline's larger efforts to expand service at MSP. In addition to Tampa, Sun Country will launch seasonal service to Huatulco on southern Mexico's Pacific shores with nonstop flights starting at $610 roundtrip in a sale that ends May 25. Air service to Boston and Seattle will be expanded year round.
"This year, we are pleased to offer even more great service to new and exciting destinations," said CEO Stan Gadek in a statement. "Tampa and Huatulco are destined to become a favorite among Sun Country customers."
Delta said Thursday it's ready for the competition, adding that its customers choose the Atlanta-based airline because of its global network of flights and amenities.
"We always compete vigorously with low-cost carriers at MSP and nationwide," said spokesman Trebor Banstetter.
Delta offers two daily nonstops between MSP and Tampa on 160-seat McDonnell Douglas MD-90 planes. Sun Country will likely use Boeing 737-800 planes, according to the Metropolitan Airports Commission.
Budget carrier Spirit Airlines will also offer routes to Tampa when it launches its MSP service at the end of the month. Fliers can book nonstop flights from MSP to Spirit's hubs in Chicago or Las Vegas and then purchase an additional flight to Tampa.
Wendy Lee • 612-673-1712