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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24 Comments on "Southwest Explores Change Fees, Bag Fees, and More"

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dan
Member

I find it very interesting that Wi-Fi is included for all four of the fares…

David SF eastbay
Member
On the chart for Business Select fare it says be in the first group to board (A1-A15). It makes it sound like they would only sell 15 of the highest price seats as if 16 people bought this fare then 1 of those would not be in the first group and would not get a benefit paid for. I can’t see WN not wanting to take more money for higher fares from anyone, so is A1-A15 an example or would it be extened to A1-A20 if 20 Business Select fares were purchase on a certain flight. I hope the above… Read more »
dan
Member

@ CF:

Very true. Though I guess I just found it interesting considering what was reported on the Row 44 walled garden approach awhile back.

Dan
Guest
I’m confused on a few things, but I must admit I don’t fly WN at all and so I don’t really keep up with the nuances of their business model unless I see them in someone’s blog. What is the difference between boarding pass availability and early/confirmed boarding? On “New Fare A” a same-day confirmed flight change results in no fare difference, but standby does? IMHO, New Fare B should be priced lower. For those whose travel plans are somewhat flexible, it looks like the Anytime fare presents the best value, without giving those who are taking the trip no… Read more »
Oliver
Member

Is there any timeline to when these changes would roll out?

MathFox
Guest

Oliver wrote:

Is there any timeline to when these changes would roll out?

No, this is just a survey. “Hypothetical scenario”

bhamric
Member

Wouldn’t charging one fare for a “one free bag” allowance and another fare that allowed “two free bags” essentially be a fee for the second bag with some “bonus” features (that actually cost the airline nothing) added in? Granted, it’s a more couched way of calling it a “bag fee” but that is essentially what it would be.

Oliver
Member

I understand this is just a survey…but I do remember hearing that changes ARE going to happen. I’m just wondering when this was going to happen. Sometime this year? The Spring? The Fall? When Pigs fly?

jaybru
Member
Transportation people, and not just airline people, love details, and rules. Simplicity is not something that ever toucked their brains! Grew up with freight classification. “Q: How much will it cost me to ship a box of pencils from Podunk to Sheboygan? Response: Are they Number 2, or Number 2 1/2?” Very customer-friendly! And just about every one of those truckers is gone…kaput! Now the airlines carry on: “Q: How much is it to fly from BWI to PHX? Response: What will you be wearing?, OK, now do you want plan QXT1NVX, or Plan VBX7DR: we have 196 plans, you… Read more »
Robert S
Guest
Regarding one of the features they surveyed… I certainly don’t like the idea of an 18 hour ahead check in instead of the 24 hour ahead check in. It would add another layer of “When do I check in again? Subtract 18 hours… er, add 6 to yesterday…” complexity that would ultimately be annoying. And an 18 hour check in would make checking in for late evening flights terrible–you’d have to wake up at 2am to hit the 18 hour check in for the next day’s 8pm flight. A 22 hour check in would be more reasonable (if you’re flying… Read more »
Axelsarki
Guest

And to add to WN story, they had their 37th consecutive profit, making 99mil in the last year.

Don
Guest
One of the major reasons I use SWA is the fact that if plans change there is no change fee and that I can “Bank” the money and have a year to re-use it — they are only giving 90 days in the New Fare B. The major airlines have slit their own throats by charging change fees which are higher than the ticket. I don’t see what the problem is if the flight is not full, you are doing it online and paying the current price–it is no loss to the company. I usually don’t have checked baggage —… Read more »
Scott
Guest
No free same-day standby may be a common complaint heard about Southwest, but there’s a method to the madness. It protects the integrity of the fare system by preventing passengers from simply purchasing the lowest fare available on their date of travel and then showing up at the airport for their preferred flight. There would also be no reason for anybody to purchase the Anytime fare if standby was allowed for discount fares – Southwest has to protect the benefits of that fare for the passengers who paid for it. And since so many people complain about it, it’s clearly… Read more »
eponymous coward
Guest
Scott wrote: No free same-day standby may be a common complaint heard about Southwest, but there’s a method to the madness. It protects the integrity of the fare system by preventing passengers from simply purchasing the lowest fare available on their date of travel and then showing up at the airport for their preferred flight. There would also be no reason for anybody to purchase the Anytime fare if standby was allowed for discount fares – Southwest has to protect the benefits of that fare for the passengers who paid for it. And since so many people complain about it,… Read more »
million miler
Guest
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. I am very confused about this one. First let me clearly state that I have very limited experience with Southwest in the past few years. Maybe once or twice per year. On at least two occasions I have arrived early at Dallas for morning flight to Houston. Each time I naively walked up to the gate of a flight that was boarding and… Read more »
MeanMeosh
Guest
I wouldn’t necessarily object to a new, “lower class” bucket of fare with fewer benefits, IF they would also provide a discount to compensate. For example, if the current “Wanna Get Away” fare from DAL to ABQ were $85, I’d be willing to accept the loss of one bag, fewer Rapid Rewards credits, etc. if they would drop the price to, say, $70. If I knew ahead of time that I would only be taking one or no bags, don’t care about what seat I get, etc., that would be a pretty good deal to me. What would irritate me… Read more »
JJG
Guest
SWA might consider a 2 level “Wanna Get Away”. Right now, I’ll bet 80-90% of their tickets are booked in that bundle. Maybe the “premium version” allows $25 day of flight stand-bys and 2 checked bags while the “discount” version reduces that to one bag and employs the current flight change rules. The “discount” fare should be cheaper than the current prevailing rate, the “premium” more. Frankly, maybe they just need to change the rules and fares for the current “premium” classes to get them better utilized. I’ll bet that “one free drink” offer didn’t mean a thing to any… Read more »
Sealand
Guest

I don’t see service getting any better, why should (hidden) costs be continually added? Travel is up.

Ron
Guest

Cranky, did any of the survey screens mention the senior fare? As far as I understand, currently seniors get a walk-up fare of no more than $220 anywhere in the system as long as there’s a seat available. It’s fairly important for people like my wife’s mom — she nearly always flies on lower fares, but the senior fare is sort of a guarantee that she won’t be too badly hurt if she needs to change her plans at short notice (which does happen).

Robert S
Guest

I’m with JJG a couple of posts prior. I travel more on SWA and more overall than I would otherwise thanks to the reusability of travel funds. A close in cancellation fee would make sense to address the potential loss of revenue if there’s not enough time to re-sell the seats (Cranky you’ve suggested this as an option before as I recall). I’d even like to see a much larger (maybe even 100%) “no-show” fee on nonrefundable tickets; that would cut down on the need to overbook.

Kenya Hotels
Guest

It is very interesting that Wi-Fi is included for all the fares. I like this!

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