New York Hotels Blog

August 4, 2010

Airline reviews: Southwest Airlines

Following Europe’s lead, America has realized that flying locally should be a cheap and affordable option for everyone. In recent years, old airlines have re-branded themselves as discount carriers and a multitude of new airlines have appeared. Southwest Airlines is the largest of these emerging budget airlines. Southwest has been operating for 37 years.

As is the case with Europe’s discount carriers, Southwest’s best deals are online only. Like most discount airlines, there are frequent, even weekly specials that you can only discover by going to the website. The website also allows access to tools, such as fare calendars, which find those travelers with greater timetable flexibility the airline’s best available fares and specials.

I have performed a search to compare Southwest to other domestic flight options. Midweek, April (ie, shoulder season) flights have been searched to help compare Southwest Airline’s destination options and fares to those offered by the major competitors. All of the searched flights depart from Seattle and go to three popular domestic destinations – San Diego, New York and Miami. The individual airline search results have been compared to Expedia’s pricing for these destinations and all fares include taxes. Another point of comparison is the airport to which the airlines fly. It is usually best to fly into a city’s major airport, as the transportation infrastructure is usually much better for commuting onwards or into the city. Only if the savings are substantial is it advisable to fly to an out-of-the way airport.

Expedia’s average fares for the searches were the following: Seattle to San Diego was $280-330; Seattle to Miami was $290-510; and Seattle to New York was $320-400. Expedia’s airfares were for flights flying to each city’s major airport.

A midweek, April flight search yielded the following results for Southwest flights: Seattle to San Diego for $226.40, to Fort Lauderdale (its closest airport to Miami) for $400.40 and to New York’s Long Island airport for $240.40. To get the best fares, I clicked the Southwest’s “shortcut to low fares” button on its website. It connects you to its calendar fare view for the best deals. After searching other deals on the site, I found that the majority of Southwest’s best fare deals are under $300.

In my search, Southwest offered the best airfares overall. However, it does not operate to all of the large airports or directly to the desired destinations. So its fares require an airport compromise and an additional commute to the destination. Overall, compared to Expedia’s results, the various individual Southwest averaged roughly $75 cheaper than Expedia’s major airline results.

The conclusion? While Southwest’s flight pricing is competitive, when flying Southwest you must ultimately consider your priorities price or airport. And don’t forget to check out the website’s unadvertised deals. When your travel dates remain flexible and when location is not your priority, Southwest can offer phenomenal bargain flights.

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