My parents are big flyers with Southwest Airlines, and I often hear from friends and family that Southwest is always cheaper than other airlines, and that’s why they fly them. But is it really?
Southwest is one of several low-cost carriers – in the likes of Allegiant, Sun Country, Spirit, and the former Air Tran (which merged with Southwest). The premise is to provide lower-cost fares between cities – lower than that of their mainline counterparts at American, United, Alaska and Delta.
In talking with many other frequent flyers, and taking into account my own experience, I usually find Southwest more expensive than other airlines, even taking into account the savings from no-change fees, and free baggage allowances. That said, I wanted to dissect some fares here so you could see the differences.
First off, it’s important to note that Southwest concentrates a large chunk of their flying into alternative airports – in the case of Chicago that’s Midway over O’Hare and in the case of Washington DC that’s BWI over Dulles or Reagan. That said, I’m going to be looking at fares between the same cities, for easy comparison.
Let’s look at Baltimore/BWI to Los Angeles/LAX departing October 21, returning October 28. This is a totally random date, and I’ve selected the cheapest flights for the day.
On Southwest, it will cost you $382, connecting in Dallas Love Field.
It’s worth noting that in trying to find the comparative flight on a mainline carrier, I did find numerous cheaper fares on Spirit, however for the purposes of this test, I’m going to not include those.
Check this out — Alaska Airlines prices in at $297 and it is non-stop.
So, in this case, that’s one for for the mainline carrier. Southwest does not price in cheaper.
Let’s try again – this time searching from New York La Guardia to Seattle/Tacoma on February 10, coming back the 17th. Again, random dates.
Southwest has “Wanna Get Away” fares for $348 round-trip. Not too bad.
On the mainline side, we have numerous fares at…well…$348. So, this one is a tie. You’ve got your pick between United and American.
Now, let’s try Albuquerque to Orlando departing March 8, returning March 15.
On Southwest, it’s $319.50.
On the legacy side, it’s $353.50. So, in this case, Southwest is cheaper.
Now, let’s mix things up a bit and look at Dallas to Chicago. For Southwest, they fly Love Field to Midway. Again, March 8-15.
Excluding the Spirit flights at $81 round-trip (wow!), American prices in with a savings of $1.
- Southwest isn’t always cheaper. In fact, sometimes you can save a couple hundred by using a legacy carrier.
- Southwest, when cheaper, is usually not significantly cheaper than a legacy carrier.
- Southwest offers free checked bags for the first and second bag, so take that into consideration, unless you have elite status or a co-branded credit card for the other airline.
- Southwest often flies into alternative airports, so in the case of the last test between Dallas and Chicago, you may be better off flying out of DFW and into ORD, simply because of the connection possibilities, and/or public transportation alternatives.
- It looks like the legacy carriers try and compete with the fares on Southwest. So, Southwest fares may be lower, but the legacy carriers follow right behind in lowering their prices to match.
- Here’s where Southwest edges out the competition, though: If you’ve got to cancel your flight, you can do so and receive a credit for the money spent. On a legacy carrier, you’re pretty much flat out of luck. Here, Southwest wins…by far.
In the end, though, Southwest really doesn’t have a significant savings, even where there are savings. I’ll stick to my guns and go on the legacy carriers, if I’ve got the choice.
Do you find Southwest Airlines cheaper than other airlines?
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