Thursday, December 27, 2012

Southwest, losing customers one at a time.

I was under the impression that Southwest and Airtran, both owned by Southwest were going to match status for their frequent flyer programs. I did receive a Southwest A-List membership which apparently expires at the end of this year.

Yesterday I was informed that was not the case and that passengers in order to continue that status passengers would need to qualify for the two programs separately.

I fly Airtran when it goes where I need to go and I fly Southwest when it goes where I need to go.

Southwest's attitude toward some of it's best future passengers is puzzling and discouraging.  As a loyal Airtran customers I am already saddened that Airtran's innovative and passenger friendly policies are going to be replaced by Southwest's much different and less convenient policies. Southwest is doing virtually nothing to ease this transition.

It would seem a minor concession to continue the practice of including Airtran A+ Rewards Elite members on Southwest's A list. The cost is small and the goodwill substantial.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Has Southwest Airlines Lost it's Way?

I wonder if Southwest Airlines has lost it's way. I am a frequent traveler on Airtran and since Airtran was purchased by Southwest I've been watching for the changes Suthwest is implementing.

I like Airtran, they have a range of programs designed to attract different groups of travelers. They have a business class and use upgrades to reward frequent fliers. They have a standby program for poor college students with more time than money called airtran U. They have a A2B a corporate program that caters to business travelers with relatively low entry requirements and offers a number of perks that enhance flexibility like free name changes and free same day standby (space available) and a free bag. Airtran has a simple Frequent Flyer (8 flights = 1 free flight). Their Elite designation adds a number of free perks including free upgrades (space available) and free bags.

Southwest on the other hand has recently revamped their Frequent flier program ( Rapid Rewards) to be more like a legacy airline mileage program geared to how much a passenger paid for their ticket. The new program offers miles that do no expire ( for now). It is also difficult to transfer "points" that do expire from the old program to the new one.

Southwest has also been aggressively raising fares to the extent that in many cases they are not the least expensive airline. She recently has a need to travel from New Orleans to Austin, both in Southwests "home country". Continental was far less expensive, given two months notice, even including the bag fees that Continental will charge. That was a stunning epiphany.

Formerly I was a Southwest evangelist, they were nice to us. Then they turned on us.

Once A long time ago I was on a one day trip to Dallas. I took Southwest and on the way back I had elected to take a later flight that went through Houston. When we were waiting to take off the airport was closed due to weather. The Captain ordered drinks all around. After a while we moved out but for some reason pulled off to the side. It turned out the Houston Airport was now closed by the same storm front. Shortly after that a truck pulled up beside our plane and couple of guys who could have been Chippendales marched down the aisle with case of beer on their shoulder to applause all around.

Southwest was also famous for handing out free drink coupons. A while ago they voided all of those drink coupons that they had given out. I had 12 or 16 that are now useless. Non of them had an expiration date. There are law suits pending.

Back to Southwest of the present from what I read in the Business Press Southwest wants to attract more Business Travelers. I am at a loss to determine what programs Southwest has in place to accomplish this. Big Corporations seem more than willing to pay big bucks to keep their employees happy while they also have the clout to get better deals from the Legacy Airlines. The business opportunity that Airtran identified and Southwest seems to be ignoring, is the small businesses who actually can direct the travel of their employees but cannot get a good deal from the legacy airlines.

Let me point out what, according to Southwest, we will no longer have:
  • Business Class.
  • As a result of legacy program changes
    • As an Elite Member - I will likely get a place in the front of the line and a 25% increase in points.
      • Although as I understand it the qualification to remain on the A List will double over A+ Elite .
    • The ironically named A List Preferred apparently requires nearly double the qualifications of the A list and four times the qualification to renew Airtran's Elite status.
      • Other than enhanced "brownie points" (100% vs 25%)" and free wifi, there seems no additional benefit over the "A List".
    • Neither offer substantial benefits beyond a "dedicated phone number" and "priority boarding", which we already enjoy.
      • We have also noted that the Southwest "Rapid Rewards" which was similar to Airtran's A+ Rewards has been downgraded making it less attractive than it was previously, although the new "points don't expire" feature favors occasional travelers over frequent travelers.
  • No more A2B at our level. We have only used two of the A2B benefits to any effect.
    • One of the most substantial business benefits to use is the ability to change the name on a reservation.
    • Our other most used benefit is the ability to go standby on a space available basis on any flight on the same day at no cost.
    • Southwest Corporate Travel program is only available to Fortune 2000 Businesses.
    • The SWABIZ program offers no benefits to travelers and the benefits to a business are nominal.
  • Although Baggage charges make a point for leisure travelers many (maybe most) Business Travelers do not check baggage, or even carry any. I know I seldom do except for long leisure trips.
    • When traveling Airtran on business I seldom check a bag or even carry one. I usually do when on vacation.
    • As an Airtran A2B passenger I get one bag free (an effective $15 discount (if I were to check a bag, which I almost never do)).
      • Many Passengers carry on their bags, which they might check if there were no bag fees.
      • I am old enough to remember when it was "cool" not to check bags and the "stewardess" would stow bags for you.
      • Today the large overhead bins accommodate "standard" rolling bags and many people are afraid to check bags.
    • As an Airtran A+ Elite I do not pay baggage fees on the first two bags, I effectively get a $35 discount on most tickets (If I were to check two bags, which I seldom do).
    • In essence Southwest is giving away a "cosmetic benefit" which costs little and benefits Business Travelers little.

While I will probably continue to fly the new Airtran/Southwest I also expect fares to increase, except for occasional, less frequent sale fares. I will always fondly remember Airtran and the fact that their business model seemed to be working. If a new Airtran comes along I will likely jump ship.

I presently expect that our fare's will increase approximately 40% by 2013, as a result of Southwest's model replacing Airtran's. I also expect to lose the few useful benefits we enjoyed as A2B partners.

I hope I'm wrong.

I don't think I am, recently I found that Delta had lower fares than Airtran/Southwest for a trp from MSY 2 ATL.