How Is Trip.com Allowed To Sell Southwest Airlines Tickets?

Southwest Airlines famously doesn’t show up when searching online travel agency websites. Historically if you’ve wanted to buy a ticket on Southwest, you’ve had to go directly to Southwest to make the purchase.

  • That saves money on distribution costs since they aren’t paying third parties
  • But it means many consumers aren’t considering Southwest since they don’t even know about the option

The Southwest Airlines website became one of the first five e-commerce sites to hit a billion dollars in revenue, nearly a quarter century ago.

If you go to Expedia to find out about flights, you assume you’re finding out about all of the flights on a route. The Obama administration considered giving free marketing to Southwest by requiring travel sites to disclose when this isn’t the case (e.g. ‘Southwest Airlines flights are not included in these results’) but their Department of Transportation didn’t move forward with the 2014 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

Southwest even sues websites that display its schedules and fares without authorization. However there has been a loosening in recent years where Southwest has begun working with business travel portals to distribute its fares.

I knew that Southwest fares were available at kiwi.com largely because Southwest sued them for scraping their website. I didn’t know, though, that Southwest tickets are available at Trip.com.

I offer this not because I have any grand insights. I do not. In fact I do not know what’s going on here at all.

Trip.com is owned by The Trip Group, formerly CTrip. It’s China’s largest online travel agency. The parent company also appears to own Juneyao Airlines which is a Star Alliance connecting partner.

Does anyone know how Trip.com is able to sell Southwest Airlines tickets, since other consumer travel sites aren’t permitted to do so? What’s going on here? I never even knew the flights were for sale on this site until now.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Hmmm. You did, however, provide some insight. If Trip.com is owned by China, then I will NEVER use them.

  2. I wonder if trip.com just manually purchases the tickets directly from Southwest for people. (And hence the changes not permitted, because that would make things too complicated for them to have to handle trip credits.)

  3. Alan, would you use Trip.com if it were owned by another totalitarian state? Say, Russia? Just curious.

    DWT, sounds plausible.

  4. Southwest can be shown on most online booking sites, however, they must be ticketed separately from other airlines, so it’s complicated for them to be shown, so most just don’t do it. Business travel sites usually do, but leisure do not.

  5. I’ve noticed Trip.com offering significantly lower prices on Caribbean resorts, too. Too low to be believable, so something’s crooked.

  6. Seeing how the flight I randomly selected (ATL-RDU) is about 10% higher than on Southwest, not sure why I would think about using this site

  7. Perhaps they are pretending to be a business portal, or their corporate parent has a business portal that they reuse. My office uses Concur for the front end, and Carlson Wagonlit for ticketing, and have had access to Southwest flights for a while. They can be booked through Amedeus and Travelport, with Sabre a bit behind. Of course, there is a charge to my company for making airline reservations, which might not work for the Expedias of the world.

  8. They manually key them in (or use some kind of automation to achieve the same) using random email addresses, I’ve had the same for AirAsia

    Caused a massive headache trying to use a travel credit as of course I don’t have access to the email address (doesn’t even seem to exist anymore) and trip.com cannot help and AirAsia are impossible to reach!

  9. Southwest is in the GDS in a limited fashion. Just not big OTAs. Maybe there signed up as a corporate agent in Sabre? Maybe not much longer after this article, lol.

  10. I’m surprised they haven’t been charged back into BK. Book a Southwest ticket through them, fly it, then chargeback. They can’t prove they used your card to pay for it like a normal airline/agent relationship.

  11. I could be wrong but I believe SWA allows some third-party online distribution in overseas markets, I have seen their flights available on Canadian OTAs as well.

    For those saying they won’t use Trip.com since it is Chinese, Skyscanner is also owned by Trip.com Group and is very popular, especially in Europe.

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