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?


22 Responses to British Airways Builds Fee Comparison and Southwest Should Take It Further

  1. Dave says:

    Very interesting though. Personally I will only fly WN as a last resort. Out here at CMH they are the leading carrier and the folks know when to check-in for the A slots. If you are 1 minute late you are C. Been there too many times with no overhead and my work in the belly of the plane. I need the ability to work on the flight and with Delta now having wifi its too easy to go elsewhere. Yes the legacy carriers FA’s are not as nice and perky, but that perky gets on my nerves. In fact I won’t even fly to Chicago anymore at 50 minutes on WN. I’d rather be rudely served a coke and sneered at than be herded like cattle.

    Still the idea of the super online travel site run by WN appeals to me as I always do check their site just because. It will save me a few minutes. Good Post.

  2. David SFeastbay says:

    Kind of funny in a way that big powerful stuffy British Airways is lowering itself to get the Ryanair/EasyJet passengers. I guess you can only have your nose up in the air for so long before you notice that you smell just like the little guys below you.

  3. Nimitz says:

    very powerful idea.

  4. Simon says:

    Interesting. Some of the UK newspaper travel sections have been running articles like this for a while now, with similar tables (and the site links to two of them at the bottom of the page). So I think people are aware of the general concept that BA is better value for money – this is just the icing on the cake when they’re on the BA site looking for fares. I do like the fact that they’re honest enough to let you choose options which make it clear that when you’re with hand luggage only/no seating request, food or drink wanted then the other two aren’t that much more. The newspapers always use examples to max out the differences, which isn’t always fair.

    I see they’ve also started selling seats on the City-JFK service.

  5. Bobber says:

    Re: LCY:JFK. I spoke with a BA pilot last week who is also an A319/320/321 sim examiner, and he said he doesn’t think the service will last long. The 318’s need to be modified for landing at LCY, and haven’t arrived yet. He also said that of the 10000 or so Airbus-trained pilots in service at the mo worldwide, only a handful would have known the appropriate drill to cope with multiple failures of airspeed indicators, as may have occurred on the air France a330.

  6. David says:

    If I choose to visit a travel agency website, I expect it to be reasonably impartial as to which airlines are prompted. Yes, I know that this may not always be strictly true, but I haven’t heard of anything really blatant.

    If I know that a air ticketing website is owned substantially by a single airline, then I am much less likely to accept that it is giving me a fair picture of the fares available from other airlines, when I can go visit places like Expedia and Travelocity instead. I suspect that the Trade and Transportation people in Washington may have something to say about this as well !

  7. CF says:

    David – Certainly there will be skeptics if an airline tries to launch something like this, so in the beginning there’s no question that people will continue to monitor several sites. But if Southwest were to make sure it remained fair and always displayed the lowest rates, then people would come to trust it over time. And if they tried otherwise, then I and the rest of the blogosphere would be all over it!

    I don’t think there would be any issues with the feds, though the easy way around that is to have it be a separate company that Southwest simply contracts with. There are other airlines that have offered the ability to book other carriers on their own websites in the past.

  8. Neil S says:

    @Bobber: Why does a need to modify a plane for landing mean the service won’t succeed?

  9. Kevin says:

    The problem with BA’s value calculator, is that one of the largest fees it lists, 80 pounds for airport check-in on Ryanair, is incorrect. According to Ryanair’s website, for all flights booked after May 20th, airport check-in is not possible, and beginning October 1st, airport check-in will not exist. Because of this, passengers must choose online check-in when currently booking Ryanair flights, and the fee is 5 pounds/5 euros each way.

    Thus, the price calculator should actually say “not possible” for airport check-in, and “10 pounds” for online check-in. This, of course, would still show that BA flights may be actually cheaper by comparison, without exaggerating. The BA value calculator says that “charges are correct as of 19th June according to ryanair.com and easyjet.com”, but clearly this is not the case!

  10. Ron says:

    Cranky, it would be suicide for “an established online travel agent” (or an airline) to give Southwest data without reciprocity, that is without displaying Southwest flights on its own site. So there will be at least 2 sites that display Southwest together with the other airlines. Now, online travel agents are already trying to provide fee calculators; it’s not clear to me why Southwest’s fee calculator would work better or appear less biased.

  11. Daren S says:

    I saw this a couple of days ago on BA.com and thought it was very clever. In a way they are preaching to the converted but I imagine that people are probably tempted to downgrade from BA rather than upgrading, so this is a fresh reminder that it doesn’t always work out cheaper. I certainly learned things I didn’t know about Ryanair and EasyJet’s fees. It confirmed my intention never to fly with them. Re your travel agent idea, a few years back one the UK’s largest supermarket chains, Tesco, launched a comparison site for financial products, including their own. I imagine the rationale of the other FS providers to taking part was that Tesco.com has such traffic pull that they couldn’t really refuse being on there. I would guess Southwest has similarly large pull traffic wise so perhaps it might tempt other carriers to take part.

  12. malbarda says:

    I like this idea but when I went to the website I was disappointed I could not change the parameters. I would love to truly “shop”. I live in ATL but due to family in the Leeds and Amsterdam area I travel between these two cities frequently (KLM or Jet2). Shame I can not compare by date/carrier/flight. That would be true comparison.

  13. Snappy says:

    Cranky, two things…other airlines wouldn’t allow the Southwest travel agency to sell (or even display) their flights, why should they?
    Second, SWA is already slowly adding and increasing fees – I wager they will launch bag fees in the next 12 months and will quickly back off their “No-Fees” marketing.

  14. CF says:

    Ron – The online travel agencies are already struggling with their models right now. They’ve dropped booking fees on most itineraries, and they have to see the writing on the wall. This would be a way for them to get back in the game and steal a bunch of share. Why would they bother participating in metasearch sites if they didn’t think they could steal share from others? This could do the same. And Southwest’s fare calculator wouldn’t necessarily be better (though there’s plenty of room for improvement over what’s out there right now), but it would have Southwest fares. That’s the big winner.

    Snappy – Certainly the big guys wouldn’t want Southwest to steal their bookings, but I have to think that Southwest could make this work somehow, particularly if they can partner with an existing agency. If their plan is to add fees like everyone else, then this is a stupid idea. I agree.

  15. Alex says:

    I work in this field, and whilst its an admirable idea, i think it would be a technological and legal nightmare. From a technology standpoint southwest.com is a huge operation and this would be a complex addition, not to mention the hit in page load time and the distraction from the main purpose of the site; to sell WN tickets. Legally speaking, remember the stink AA caused about Kayak? I can’t imagine many carriers being happy about WN showing their (more expensive fares) on sw.com.

    However I agree that the next step is to put this information into booking process, but i think it should just be simpler. Maybe another box on the price results page that shows a simpler comparison of the other airlines higher fees. How about another column that said something like “this ticket could be $XX more with Delta”, with a link/popup with more details. That way when the customers goto sw.com to get a price they see this information alongside before they move on to another airline/website to check other prices.

  16. Wonko Beeblebrox says:

    Clever idea…. I like it!

  17. kt74 says:

    Personally I think it’s a fantastic campaign!

    “it’s not directly in the booking path so plenty of people will miss it”… It might not be in the US version of the site, but there’s a big reminder on the very first booking page of the UK version reminding you there’s no charge for payment, seat selection, check in, baggage and food:
    http://www.britishairways.com/travel/fx/public/en_gb

    In addition, I think it’s been backed up by a press/online (banner adverts) campaign in the UK. To be fair, this comparison isn’t really relevant for the US market, so I’m not surprised Cranky hasn’t seen it…

  18. JK says:

    In theory, fine, but to put it simply: “I don’t trust nothing about nobody!’

    So often an airline’s own pricing information for potential customers is just plain incomplete, if not blatently misleading. Information about an airline’s type and level of service is largely hidden, assuming they would have any idea of what I consider as “service.” And to think an airline would be open and honest about some competitor’s prices and service?

    I don’t think so. But, with Southwest, I have to admit they can change minds

  19. Bobber says:

    @Neil S:

    It doesn’t alone – he was merely pointing out that it’s an added expense. He also suggested there weren’t that many volunteers for the flightcrew.

  20. Kateban says:

    Not responding directly to this post, but mention of SW wedbsite caught my eye. I’m having trouble loading the SW site. I get so aggravated waiting that I just move on to the other sites I typically use to book travel. SW is the only site I have a problem with. It won’t load; and on the rare occasion that it does, the fare finder won’t load. Any idea what the problem might be?

  21. CF says:

    @ Kateban:
    Hmm, that’s a tough one to solve without digging lot deeper. I’ve had no trouble at all with Southwest’s site, but you could always try emailing them:
    https://www.southwest.com/cgi-bin/feedbackEntry

  22. Kateban says:

    Thanks. @ CF:

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