Southwest’s Not-So-Huge Move

Distribution, Southwest

Southwest just decided to start participating in the Galileo Global Distribution System (GDS), and the media is running around like it’s the biggest news in the history of mankind.

  • Travel Weekly (subscription only) says it’s “a sea-change for Southwest”
  • The Star-Telegram says that this move, along with a couple others, marks a “retooling” for the airline.
  • Ebert and Roeper gave the move “Two thumbs up,” or not . . .

The problem is that this isn’t as big of a deal as people are making it out to be.

Right now, if you, Joe Customer, want to book a flight on Southwest, you have to go directly to Southwest or you can go to a travel agent. This will not be changing. If you go to a travel agent, they either have to make the booking directly with Southwest or they can use the Sabre GDS, which they’ve participated in for many years.

Now, travel agents that use the Galileo GDS will also be able to book with Southwest without having to go direct, but they’ll have to pay for the privilege. This agreement is a bit more robust than Sabre’s in that it will eventually have real-time availability and fares, but that does absolutely nothing for you as a passenger.

You still can’t book on any website other than Southwest’s. Even if Galileo powers an online travel agent (eg Orbitz, Expedia, etc.), Southwest won’t let the agent sell their fares online. So the only people who have access to this will be travel agents and corporate travel managers.

And that’s exactly why Southwest is doing this. They’re trying to be more friendly to the corporate market by letting them search fares and availability and book directly in their own system, even if they will be charging them extra to do so. It’s one of many efforts they’re making to be more business-friendly, including a far more exciting development that they hope to have onboard wi-fi by early next year (happy, happy, joy, joy).

So unless you’re a corporate travel manager or a travel agent, there’s nothing to get excited about here.  Even if you’re a corporate travel manager, it may still be worth it to book directly with Southwest to avoid the additional cost of booking through Galileo.

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