Southwest Explores Change Fees, Bag Fees, and More

As I mentioned yesterday, Southwest has been circulating a survey to a bunch of fliers to try to explore all sorts of ways to make changes to their offerings. This explores change fees, bag fees, standby, Rapid Rewards changes and more. Yesterday we talked about Rapid Rewards and same day changes, but today I want to look at the bigger picture.

Before we get started, I’d like to remind everyone once again that this is just a survey. It doesn’t mean that these things are imminent, nor does it mean that it’s even being considered the way it has been presented. Surveys are always constructed to try to figure out what matters most to people, so I imagine that the results here would give Southwest an idea about what it can and cannot charge for in the future. I would be surprised to see something like this happen exactly as they’re showing it.

The survey itself threw out a bunch of different fare scenarios for hypothetical trips. There’s no need to post them all, so I’ll just show one and then we can take about it below. (Click to blow it up so you can read it.)

Southwest Fare Structure Options in Survey

As you can see, there’s a lot to talk about. The idea here seems to be along the lines of Air Canada – fare families where people can pick and choose the fares they like to get the benefits they want. Let’s talk about a few of these.

  • Check-in Time – I doubt we’ll see them reduce the check-in time for cheap fares, as they show here. Southwest is more of an airline to add benefits to higher fares than to take away from lower ones. I do like the idea of not offering EarlyBird to the lowest fares, however.
  • Bags – I actually would be fine with offering only 1 bag free to everyone, but I think it does make sense to differentiate what’s allowed depending upon your fare class.
  • Fare Reusability – This really isn’t something I even thought about changing. Now you can change your fare to be used for another ticket anytime within a year, but this proposes potentially restricting that further for cheap fares. I don’t like that idea. It’s very customer unfriendly.
  • Change Fee – This particular example doesn’t show any change fees, but other scenarios had them ranging from $25 to $100 for the cheap fares. I’m in favor of a small fee, as I’ve noted before.
  • Same Day Changes – This is one of the biggest complaints I hear about Southwest. People hate that you can’t standby for an earlier flight without paying the difference in fare. They are clearly exploring alternative options.
  • New and Improved Rapid Rewards – Those are their words, not mine. As I mentioned yesterday, I’m not sure how new and improved this will end up being, but I do think that the plan to award different multipliers of miles depending upon which fare you buy makes sense.

What do I think about this whole package? I think Southwest needs to be very careful not to become another legacy carrier. A lot of the policies that they are exploring have the potential for them to align a lot of their policies with the legacy guys, and that would be a mistake. That being said, I think there’s a lot of good in here as well.

Whether they act on any of this remains to be seen, but I imagine that we’ll be seeing some changes along these lines before the year is out.

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