This is the third in my collection of favorite travel Web sites. AutoEurope.com has the best international car rentals, Priceline.com has the best name-your-own-price site for airlines, hotels and rental cars, and now, based on my experience, Southwest has the best and easiest-to-use airline site.
The basic rule for Southwest in all phases of their operations is, “Keep it simple.”
That attitude pervades the company from the simple no-assigned-seat approach, to the all-737 fleet, to the no-interlined-baggage system, to the employee attitude of doing whatever it takes to keep the airline flying profitably and keeping the customers satisfied.
The Southwest.com reservation system is clear and simple as well. Internet site designers would say that it is, “easy to navigate.”
From the start of the reservations process, the site is consumer-friendly. There is no need to remember airport codes. You can see at a glance all the airports served by Southwest. Simply click on the departure city, then click on the arrival city, then click on the city to which you plan to return, note the times you prefer to fly, and finally note how many people are flying and click continue.
The next screen that opens shows all the fares ranging from the cheapest, “promotional or fares,” to the most expensive “Refundable Anytime.” A traveler can instantly see what fares are still available and see when they are available and how many stops the flight will make.
Southwest.com shows six different types of fares:
* Internet-only fares
* Promotional fares (with special restrictions)
* Discount fares (seven-day advance purchase)
* Advance purchase (14-day advance purchase)
* Restricted fare (round-trip only with seven-day advance purchase)
* Refundable any time fares.
On an American Airline, Delta, US Airways, Northwest, Continental or other major airline, it seems that there may be as many different fares as there are seats on the airplane. Getting an overview of what fares are available and how the fare availability compares between flights at different times is virtually impossible on any other airline site.
Anyone who has negotiated the reservation system of USAirways.com, Northwest.com or even the new Delta site knows the frustration on not having a clear and simple view of flights and associated prices.
With Southwest.com a traveler can see exactly what the difference in price will be based on their simple and clear price structure. It is a beautiful thing that would require almost a score of screens to uncover with most other online airline sites.
The site also notes that for senior, military, government, youth, child, and infant fares users should call 1-800-IFLYSWA (1-800-435-9792). Unfortunately, these fares are not available through the Web site.
One other major difference between Southwest.com and the Internet sites created by the other major airlines is that Southwest pricing is consistent for the most part whether tickets are purchased online or by phone and Southwest only offers a very limited number of Internet-only fares.
The other major airlines have created, in some cases, dramatic differences in airfares to attempt to drive travelers to their respective sites. Southwest depends on good honest value and good consistent service to keep their customers satisfied.
Southwest.com is also brilliant when it comes to rental car and hotel reservations and information. At the airports served by Southwest, this site provides perhaps the best basic overview of rental car and hotel rates that can be found on the Internet. I’ll visit these areas of Southwest.com in a future column.