Google Flights, a third-party website that allows you to search for airfares across multiple airlines, can be a great way to find and compare flights. These tools let you compare the departure time, duration, and price of flights across multiple airlines, even if you do not wish to purchase directly from an airline.
This is the only glaring oversight among U.S airlines according to NerdWallet analysis: Southwest Airlines.
Google Flights shows Southwest departure and arrival times, flight time and carbon dioxide emissions. It does not say “Price unavailable”, but it provides a link to Southwest’s website if you are looking for a comparison.
Kayak and Expedia are not much better. Expedia does not display Southwest flights. Expedia, for example, displays only United Airlines or Frontier Airlines when searching nonstop flights between Denver, CA and San Francisco in March 2023. Southwest, however, also offers this route.
Kayak also doesn’t display Southwest flight options and only displays a Southwest ad. The filter tool doesn’t allow customers to narrow their search results by Southwest. However, it does include smaller carriers such as Allegiant Air or Sun Country Air.
It can be difficult for travelers who are open to looking at flights from multiple airlines to understand how Southwest fits in. Not only are they losing out on cost comparisons but also the fact that Southwest may offer a more convenient route or flight time than other airlines.
Why consumers lose with Southwest in search
Flight shoppers who are comparing flights via Google Flights must navigate to a different page on Southwest’s website in order to see the price and not just review options.
While it might not seem all that bothersome to do this with one airline, if all airlines’ fare prices aren’t displayed (even if departure times are), comparison shopping can become a nightmare.
Third-party search engine customers may not realize Southwest is available. They might miss out on more convenient departure times or longer flights. This would mean they might miss Southwest’s other perks like free checked bags or a flexible cancellation and change policy.
If we look at the flight route from Denver to San Francisco, the cheapest Frontier option is $89 and the most expensive United flight is $195. Nonstop Southwest flights to the same destinations were available from $163 to $206.
Although Southwest can be more expensive than other competitors, these prices are only a small part of the overall financial picture. United’s flights don’t come with free bags. For example, a first United checked bag costs $35. Southwest allows you to check two additional bags for free. These price differences can’t be easily displayed on comparison tools.
Who would like prices to be displayed and who wouldn’t?
It’s usually not the online travel agency that is giving Southwest the cold shoulder by refusing to show the airline’s flight information. Southwest won’t permit other websites to display its airfares.
Southwest Airlines’ unique business model in America includes making our fares accessible to the general public only through Southwest.com,” Tiffany Valdez, spokesperson for Southwest Airlines, stated in an email to NerdWallet. Southwest is not like other airlines and does not use online travel agents to sell tickets. ”
Google Flights requires a partnership either with the airline or with a data provider that has access to airline fares to be able to show prices to consumers. The search engine does not currently have an agreement with Southwest. However, the search engine’s staff claims they would post airline airfares if possible.
span class=”_2GMChG_3-to_p”> “Travelers should have a complete view of flight options, airfares, and so we’ll gladly work with any airline, relevant data provider, to make this happen,” said James Byers, group product manager for Google Flights. Byers states that Google Flights gets a lot of feedback from users, indicating that they would like full pricing information for all airlines.
Expedia also shared the same sentiment.
Julie Kyse (Vice President of Global Air Partnerships for Expedia Group), said by email that she would welcome the chance to show Southwest flights.
Third-party search finance:
In most industries, the selling party will pay a commission for referring parties. Amazon’s affiliate program, for example, pays between 1% to 5% on the total price of all items that are sold to customers who visit its website through affiliate links. Hotels often offer commissions to agents. Hilton, Hyatt, and IHG are some of the major brands that pay up to 10% on all room revenue.
Some hotels offer incentives to encourage direct bookings to avoid the cut they charge to referrers. Ovolo Hotels, for example, promises the lowest room rates and free breakfast, laundry, and snacks for direct bookings. This is something that you won’t get through a third-party.
Expedia’s business model is based on earning commissions from travel suppliers and travelers. Expedia Group’s third quarter earnings report, released in November 2022, shows that it earned $100 million solely from airfares.
Expedia takes a cut but Google Flights doesn’t. Google Flights offered free participation in its display to all partners in January 2020. Google Flights currently does not charge airlines any traffic or bookings.
What can you do now
You can’t do much except go to Southwest’s website, and compare the prices with those of all other airlines on third-party travel websites. You can also bypass the search engine and go directly to Southwest’s website, especially if you love this airline.
You can also contact Southwest directly to voice your concerns. And sometimes the easiest way to make a statement is with your dollars, which might be booking on another airline if the whole lack-of-comparison-shopping bothers you.
Southwest is different from other airlines who charge extra for services such as changing flight times or checking bags. We find it refreshing that there are no hidden fees.
However, Southwest’s policies may cause unnecessary confusion for people who are looking to compare shop.
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