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British Airways Builds Fee Comparison and Southwest Should Take It Further

I never thought we’d see the day where British Airways does something that Southwest should follow, but that day has come. British Airways has rolled out a value calculator on its website showing how much more BA includes in its fares than Ryanair or easyJet. (Hat tip to The Airline Blog) I think this is smart, but it doesn’t go far enough. If Southwest were smart, it would consider building on this and doing something even bolder.

I could explain BA’s value calculator in more detail, but why not just show you? Here’s a screenshot:

BA Value Calculator

As you can see, the point here is to show you how much more it might cost to fly the other airlines and why you should include this consideration when you make your purchase decision. For those people who actually see the value calculator, this is great, but how many will actually get to that point?

Sure, there’s a big ad for it on the homepage, but it’s not directly in the booking path so plenty of people will miss it. And of course, there are the masses who don’t book directly at BA.com that won’t see this at all. So yes, it’s a good and important start, but there’s more that can be done.

It’s funny because Southwest finds itself in a similar position. It is competing against many other carriers in the US who charge you extra for nearly everything, just as you see here. It’s quite odd to think that you replace BA with Southwest and Ryanair with United or American for this to work.

But Southwest has something that BA doesn’t. The vast majority of Southwest travelers book at Southwest.com, so they have more eyeballs as a percent of total traffic that could see this. Nearly everyone who flies in a Southwest market knows to go check Southwest.com first and then go elsewhere.

But what if Southwest actually turned this on its head and started trying to attract even more traffic to its site? Southwest should start an online travel agent.

It sounds crazy, I know, but think about it. You can’t get Southwest fares on any other consumer site, so you have to go to at least two sites if you’re looking to compare. Now what if Southwest built an online travel agent that showed you all the other airlines side-by-side with their own fares?

This would be an instant hit, because Southwest could become the only single site where a traveler could compare all airlines. Now, other airlines might pull out, but Southwest could potentially look to backfill other airline flights from an established online travel agent. It would make it harder for an airline to pull out of a site that already delivers it substantial traffic.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Southwest could build a better online travel agent interface that goes to their advantage. They could incorporate all the fee information into the final display price so that they can accurately display the total cost to the customer.

In the past, Southwest may not have wanted to do this, because they had an aura of having low fares when in fact they often weren’t the lowest around. But now if you include fees, they probably look lower much of the time. This would be to their great advantage.

The best part for Southwest? If someone decides to book on another carrier through the site, Southwest can still make some money off it in the form of a commission. This can raise revenue for the airline, bring more people directly to its site, and provide an interface that will be of instant interest to much of the US. And yes, it will highlight the true cost of traveling, something that should greatly benefit Southwest versus just a fare comparison.

You guys listening over there in Dallas?

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