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Travelers who often don’t check bags can shop around and find lower fares than Southwest’s more than 60% of the time.
However, when travelers check one bag, the findings are reversed: competitors beat Southwest only 40% of the time, and Southwest offers the lowest fare 60% of the time.
These were the findings of a Topaz International survey of 100 U.S. city pairs well-traveled by business travelers, and conducted in November 2012.
For leisure travelers who might check two bags, Southwest beat the competition 88% of the time with lower fares.
Southwest doesn’t charge for the first and second checked bags. JetBlue is the only other carrier among eight others measured that doesn’t charge bag fees, although JetBlue only lets one checked bag through for free.
Topaz was seeking to test the perception that Southwest provides the lowest fares for business travelers. Topaz was also doing so to promote its airfare benchmarking services for travel management companies, using the argument that airfares are complex, and it is incorrect to merely think that Southwest usually provides the lowest fares.
Topaz CEO Brad Seitz adds:
I just kept seeing these commercials on TV and was wondering, people always think Southwest is cheapest, but are they really? I wanted to find out. And since I own the majority of Topaz and I had some auditors in December that needed some extra work, I gave it to them. So no bias or paid for by JetBlue or United Airlines.
While Southwest provided the lowest fares for business travelers/leisure travelers who don’t check bags less than 40% of the time, it should be noted that the survey pitted Southwest against eight other airlines, including American, Alaska, JetBlue, Delta, Frontier, Spirit, United and US Airways, which fly through some of the same city pairs as Southwest.
Topaz didn’t say, but it is likely that Southwest was the leader in offering lower fares when compared with any other individual airline being surveyed.
Southwest had an option about that and the study. Spokesperson Chris Mainz says:
“If the same exercise were performed for other carriers, you would find that Southwest Airlines has the lowest fare more times than any other carrier. The percentage of instances that Southwest has the same or lowest fare in a market has not really changed much over the past few years, proving we are still the low fare leader.
“As the study suggests, comparing Southwest fares to other carriers is like comparing apples to oranges. Once you factor in the variety of fees the other airlines charge, you’ll come to one conclusion: More often than not, Southwest fares are the lowest, especially when Customers check a bag.
“Industry average fares are almost $100 less in markets served by Southwest (nonstop or connecting service) than in markets without any Southwest service, proving that the Southwest Effect is still alive and well.
“We do, however, agree with the study’s final conclusion: ‘When those fees were included (bags) Southwest Airlines is almost always a better option in the 100 markets analyzed. Only 12% of the other airlines fares were lower than Southwest Airlines. In fact they were higher 88% of the time.’”
Meanwhile, the Topaz survey also didn’t take change fees into account when measuring low fares. Southwest doesn’t charge change fees.
“Now, a lot of comments have come back about change fees – but in a way like checked bags – that was such a large unknown … [and] we did not go there,” Seitz says. “We really had no idea how to figure that in.”
Using a mix of nonstop and connecting itineraries and dates in the 100 business travel-oriented city pairs, Topaz tested the airfares on Southwest.com, Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, and the other airlines’ websites.