Southwest Is Surveying Names For Basic Economy

Brands survey ideas all the time, most of which never see the light of day. But when Southwest Airlines surveys new names for its fares – all of which move from the current 3 fare types to 4 – it’s notable, because it makes clear they’re studying the idea of new, more restrictive policies for their lowest fares.

Currently Southwest has 3 fare types:

  • Wanna Get Away non-refundable
  • Anytime refundable
  • Business Select refundable, comes with the best boarding position, and a free cocktail

Here are the potential fare names being survey:

[P]anel members were asked to vote on eight different combinations of fare names.

Among them:

  • Wanna Get the Most, Wanna Get More, Wanna Get Away + and Wanna Get Away.
  • Complete Freedom, Freedom, Wanna Get Away Plus, Wanna Get Away.
  • Freedom & More, Freedom, WGA Plus, WGA
  • Go Ultimate, Go Anytime, Wanna Flex, Wanna Get Away

Southwest Airlines gains tremendous brand loyalty from what it calls ‘transfarency’. A ticket comes with two checked bags, they don’t nickel and dime with fees. And there are no change fees, either. If you buy a non-refundable ticket and cancel your plans the full value of your ticket can be used towards your next purchase.

The airline still generates ancillary revenue – charging for a third checked bag, Early Bird Check-in to get a better boarding position for those not buying the most expensive fares and without elite status, and selling the best boarding positions when still available at the gate. However their generous change and bag policies have made them a customer favorite and family friendly carrier.

Still, there’s pressure from Wall Street to conform to median industry practice. It may not happen, and if it does it may happen ‘in a Southwest way’ such as:

  • Charging for second checked bag instead of third (‘bags still fly free’)
  • Eliminating the ability to apply ticket funds towards future travel in the event of change in plans
  • Awarding fewer Rapid Rewards points
  • Eliminating tier credit earning

Basic Economy holds less potential for Southwest Airlines than it does for major carriers, at least while they lack pre-assigned seating.

The value in basic economy is less the $20 each way buy up they might charge leisure travelers, and more the way it is used to segment business travelers to keep them buying higher fares.

In order to get value out of basic economy Southwest would have to assign such customers the last boarding position, so that basic economy customers get the worst seats, otherwise there’ll be little reason not to buy the fares and pay for more expensive fares instead.

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, 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. In the Houston market, Southwest is often so ridiculously expensive compared to competing airlines – at least to the places to which I frequently travel – that I often don’t even bother checking their fares and schedule.

    I don’t see how this will help.

  2. “Wall Street” would ruin their brand by making them give up their distinctive features that they are identified with and generate good will with their segment of the traveling public. They really shouldn’t be made to join the race to the bottom.

  3. “However their generous change…policies”

    They have good change policies in that every flight is *basically* refundable, provided you travel with them in the future. But same day change policies are far below other airlines, where you have to fly standby unless you pay the difference in fare – which will be $100 or more depending on when you originally bought your ticket.

    I got a nice agent in PHX the other day who confirmed my standby an hour before an earlier flight was set to leave so I could board after the A-group (I’m A-list by status match only). Only because they still had 14 seats left to sell so she had nothing to lose. But who wants to fly standby Southwest where you’re guaranteed a middle seat in the back?

  4. Exactly, @DaveS.

    Southwest is the largest carrier for a reason, and Wall Street is not the reason. Wall Street is doing just fine driving AA into the mess it’s finding itself increasingly in.

  5. @Steve: On two different occasions in the last year my daughter had delays on her flight MDW – LGA. In each case, I looked up another flight from MDW to New York (LGA once and EWR once) that hadn’t left yet and she was able to get on those flights at the gate without additional payment of any kind. Not policy, perhaps, the but the gate agents were kind and helpful — and, apparently, armed with authority to act.

  6. One of the advantages that Southwest and Alaska have are corporate cultures that expect and reward employees being positive and helpful. The Big 3, forged as they have been through corporate mergers, bankruptcies, Wall Street demands, and fraught labor relations, don’t have that consistent culture. Some people fault AS for buying/overpaying for VX, but that was a merger of two companies with similar scrappy, can-do cultures.

  7. Southwest potential new fare names:

    You don’t Really Wanna

    Are You Sure you Wanna

    I don’t fly with Southwest so not really concerned and/or surprised. I’ll stick with my JetBlue!

  8. I’m surprised it took them this long to start thinking about it. Despite having once said they’d never introduce Basic Economy fares, SW has benefited immensely from halo effect of when they *were* the lowest fare option – and they totally capitalize on this. Their not being searchable by most OTAs or fare aggregators was a smart move. I find that on every route I fly with regularity (about 15-20) save two, they are more expensive than the US3. Sometimes is just a few bucks, other times it’s $100s. However, they have two things on their side: 1. Great marketing, and 2. An uninformed/willfully ignorant customer base. I can’t count the number of people I know personally or whom I’ve overheard who legitimately assume SW will have the lowest fares on any route flown and won’t even bother checking other sites. Why? Because OTAs typically don’t show SW fares so they’re forced to use the SW site and just book immediately. It’s a great combo for SW and I applaud their business acument – a fool and his money are soon parted.

  9. I worked for SWA for many years, the first time when they had 6 airplanes. I thought SWA is Basic Economy. SWA folks in DAL world headquarters, as Charles Stanley would say “pay attention now because this is important” . . . If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

  10. Dumb idea. Only thing dumber is joining the CRSs. Why make it easier for your fares to be shopped? Hello, is this the reason for a basic economy fare? Overall, dumb ideas!

  11. SWA is smart to look at this as the air travel market is getting saturated with budget airlines and economy fares from the big 3. When the 737Max goes live, more seats and lower costs will translate to more competition and cheaper airfares.
    Two descriptions come to mind: Ultralight class, and Last Call. Another one may involve royalty pymts: Ticket2Ride. In any case, all you get is a seat. I’m sure Wall Street is already thinking about: Standing Room Only.
    But after a savvy passenger talks someone into giving up their seat and disrupting D0, SWA will draw the line.

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