Why Southwest just became more appealing for business travelers

May 4, 2020

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Most airlines around the world depend on three major platforms in sell seats on their planes — direct sales to consumers and business travelers, through ticket agents, a website or app; codeshares through airline partners; and consumer and business sales via a third-party travel agency, often an online travel agency (or OTA), or a corporate booking platform.

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That latter option generally requires that an airline integrate with a global distribution system, or GDS, which provides real-time seat availability and access to current fares. In some cases, it also allows travel agents to mix and match airlines to build a complete itinerary — even those that don’t otherwise have a business relationship.

Southwest Airlines has long stood apart from most airlines around the world, insisting on marketing its flights exclusively through its own platforms. While that approach can work for a leisure airline with a very loyal following of customers more than happy to begin their travel search at Southwest.com, it’s a bit less practical for a carrier hoping to appeal to business travelers — especially corporate travelers forced to book flights through a specific travel agent or reservations platform.

Related: Southwest extends companion pass, elite status

Last year, however, Southwest announced plans to grow integration with business travel platforms, making it possible for corporate travel managers to book, modify and cancel Southwest reservations with ease. And, as promised, the carrier’s flights are now available through Travelport’s Apollo and Worldpsan global distribution systems, with support for Amadeus’ GDS planned for later this year.

Southwest timing couldn’t be better — like all airlines around the world, the carrier is struggling to fill planes following the coronavirus pandemic. By making its flights available to more customers, Southwest will be in a better position to sell seats to a broader range of flyers, expanding the potential for lucrative corporate contracts.

While Southwest doesn’t offer a first-class cabin, elites do get to board earlier, giving frequent flyers a better chance of scoring their preferred seats. Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.

It’s also good news for business travelers — more Southwest loyalists will have access to the carrier’s flights for work-related travel, when their options may have been limited before. Road warriors may have a worthy new alternative, too — the coveted Companion Pass could be within reach with work travel alone, allowing business travelers to bring someone along on their work flights for just the cost of taxes and fees.

Related: Complete guide to Southwest elite status

There are other advantages to booking Southwest, especially for last-minute travel. Since there isn’t a first-class cabin, elites don’t have to worry about missing out on an upgrade when booking travel a day or two before departure — Delta Diamond members can clear as far as five days in advance, for example, leaving fewer seats for flexible flyers. Last-minute bookers can avoid getting stuck in a middle seat, too — Southwest maintains an open seating policy, and status holders and customers purchasing Business Select fares get to board the plane (and have their pick of seat) first.

The impact could even spill over to other U.S. carriers, who may be more inclined to drop fares on certain routes, to avoid losing business to Southwest. And, with another appealing program to choose from, elites sticking with legacy carriers could end up battling fewer travelers for upgrades and preferred seats — a win-win for customers across the board.

Related: How to quickly earn the Southwest Companion Pass

Featured photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.

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