This is a big step for the airline, which has historically kept its inventory off nearly all global distribution systems, online travel agencies, and corporate booking tools.
Southwest Airlines is making corporate booking more accessible to travel managers, further expanding its reach in the business travel space.
The airline will allow travel managers to book, change, and modify reservations through Travelport’s global distribution system (GDS) and the Amadeus Travel Platform, the carrier announced Monday. These new offerings will keep intact many of the company’s budget-friendly policies, such as not charging for flight changes, and allowing travelers two checked items of luggage free of charge.
The airline expects to have the offerings available by mid-2020, and predicts pre-tax incremental revenue will increase between $10 million and $20 million in the second half of next year, with significant improvements in the years following. The carrier has renamed its corporate travel effort Southwest Business.
“For nearly 50 years, we’ve been a business traveler’s airline with high-frequency travel options and low fares. Today’s announcement evolves that philosophy even further by offering travel managers and business travelers new capabilities when booking Southwest travel in the channel of their choice,” said Tom Nealon, president of Southwest Airlines, in a press release.
Southwest’s latest announcement is a significant step in the airline’s journey towards expanding its reach to business travelers. Historically, the airline has not given its flights and fares to most global distribution systems, with the exception of Sabre, which currently receives access to a small amount of Southwest’s inventory.
Sabre was not mentioned in Monday’s announcement, but the GDS provider is in active discussions with Southwest about how it can “expand and optimize [the airline’s] current participation in the Sabre GDS with additional content and enhanced functionality,” Sabre said in a statement.
The airline also typically shuns online travel agencies, something which remains unchanged after Monday’s announcement. For most of the airline’s history, nearly all bookings had to be made directly on Southwest’s website.
“Today’s addition of distribution content to our technology partnership is a significant milestone,” said Julia Sattel, president of Airlines at Amadeus. “It deepens our companies’ relationship to now include Southwest Business, and strengthens our ability to benefit travel sellers.”
Last month, Southwest became the latest carrier to join NDC Exchange, with the aim of winning over more business travelers. NDC Exchange enables a direct connection between airlines and sellers through the use of new distribution technology. The airline expects to take its first bookings on the platform by the end of the summer.
Southwest is also partnering with the Airline Reporting Corporation (ARC) to make sure the new offerings comply with industry standards, and to handle the reporting and settlement of tickets booked through Travelport and Amadeus channels.
Additionally, the carrier recently updated its online booking tool SWABIZ, which first launched over nine years ago. The airline has now introduced stronger reporting functions for travel managers, and allows travelers to book cars and hotel rooms along with flights.
Update: This story has been updated to add comments from Sabre.
Photo credit: Southwest aircraft on the tarmac at San Francisco International Airport. David Paul Morris / Bloomberg