Spend Management in the Air: Southwest

Southwest has become my favorite airline. For many Spend Matters readers, I'm probably preaching to the choir. But if I consider that I no longer need a United club membership ($500 per year) to get an electrical cord connection or a comfortable chair to sit on by the gate -- Southwest is now providing them for free at many airports -- and if I also factor in the free snack pack on Southwest (United and others are charging for them) as well as the no change fee policy for tickets, then I figure I'm probably saving at least a couple grand per year at this point. And I'm not paying baggage fees, either.

Based on the savings I'm achieving from Southwest, I decided, in fact, to do something that United is probably seeing a lot of these days. To wit, I'm maintaining just enough miles per year to get United economy plus seats for international flights for free (which only requires a trip or two to the Far East to achieve). Above and beyond that basic premier membership tier, I'm giving all of my business to Southwest.

There's another inherent savings advantage to Southwest as well and that's on-time performance, at least in the Chicago market. Anecdotally, I can say that every time I fly into O'Hare, there's a 50% chance my United flight will be at least an hour late. At Midway, where Southwest has a large hub, flights are much more likely to be on-time, at least based on my experience. If I calculate the value of my time at a few hundred bucks an hour, that's a huge cost savings throughout the year (not to mention fewer missed nights tucking in my kids at night).

In the end, Southwest really has become the Spend Management airline for price conscious corporate travelers. Let's hope, however, that the free market truly survives in air travel, despite booming jet fuel prices. To this end, I sincerely hope that the Federal government does not bail out the major airlines if and when they go belly up. It's time for change in the airline industry, and Southwest has proven beyond a reasonable doubt what the future of frugal air travel should like. I'll happily never miss an upgrade again to see Southwest put some of the others out of business. It's about time.

- Jason Busch

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