With just a few days left for many passengers to cash in on travel vouchers doled out during the pandemic's earliest days, Sun Country Airlines Tuesday announced a flurry of new airports and routes, including six new nonstop winter destinations for travelers from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
The Twin Cities-based budget carrier also will begin seasonal nonstop flights to and from Duluth and Rochester international airports.
These were just some of the 18 new routes and nine new airports joining its network next winter, reflecting people's growing desire and willingness to travel again after the global pandemic nearly halted air travel for many months.
Sun Country typically waits until much later in the year to open its winter calendar. But given the fast-approaching April 30 booking deadline for many COVID-related travel vouchers, executives hope this gives customers the chance to apply their vouchers toward next winter's travel — when many Minnesotans prefer to vacation.
"Even though the vouchers expire on April 30, people can book them out as far as our schedule allows them … so a huge amount of time to plan," said Grant Whitney, Sun Country's chief revenue officer. "Folks are now getting more and more ready to get back to traveling and we are really excited to get this out there and let people preplan."
Starting in November and December, Sun Country will offer nonstop service between MSP and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, Owen Roberts International Airport in the Cayman Islands and, for the first time ever, Providenciales International Airport in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Sun Country is also adding MSP flights to two more Florida destinations — St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport and Punta Gorda Airport — bringing it to eight airports served in the Sunshine State.
The airline is extending its summer service into the winter months for the route between MSP and Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport.
But beginning in mid-December, residents of those communities will have the option of flying directly out of their hometown airport on Sun Country's nonstop flights to Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, Fla., and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Duluth hasn't had a low-cost carrier since Allegiant left the market in 2015 and has been working to establish a Sun Country route for years.
The city's residents are accustomed to making the two-hour drive down to Minneapolis-St. Paul for most of their flights.
But Tom Werner, executive director of the Duluth Airport Authority, urged local residents at a news conference Tuesday to support Sun Country's entry into the market by booking nonstop travel from their home airport.
"Consider flying local," Werner said. "It's extremely important to the long-term viability of these routes that we fill those aircraft."
Sun Country is fresh off a successful IPO where investors bought into its narrative as a scrappy Midwest airline with revenue coming from three sources: commercial passengers, cargo flights for Amazon and charters. Executives are eager to show investors they are serious about growth.
"The IPO was very successful because we had a really good story that we told well," Whitney said, "and everything in this latest growth is just executing against that story that we told investors."
These route announcements reflect that narrative with its heavy emphasis on ferrying Midwesterners out of their winter malaise to sunny and warm destinations.
Sun Country's announcement included opening up several new Upper Midwest markets, including Milwaukee and Green Bay.
"We just know that the demand profile in cities outside the Twin Cities are very similar to Minneapolis," Whitney said. "We feel like our brand does a really good job in the Upper Midwest and so we are taking our service to those places on a really targeted basis."
Staff writer Brooks Johnson contributed to this report from Duluth.
Kristen Leigh Painter • 612-673-4767