Maybe Southwest leaves a bit of money on the table

April 13, 2010 by

Most people who know me agree that I value products or services that thoroughly satisfy my needs. A product or service that somewhat satisfies my needs yet includes costly features I don’t value or use frustrates me until I can find a replacement. Products or services excite me if they satisfy my needs and offer great value or fantastic customer service. Do you want me to rave about something? Give me great value, fantastic customer service plus a product or service that’s elegant in its simplicity. It’s why I love my iPod. And, why I love Southwest Airlines.

With air travel, my needs are fairly simple: safety, on-time arrival, cleanliness and reasonable comfort. Reasonable comfort really depends on the duration of the flight. Nine times out of ten, a window seat is really all the comfort I need. The FAA sets safety standards so airline carriers should be on a completely level playing field. Most airlines seem to do fine in the area of cleanliness. The average traveler wouldn’t have much tolerance for a filthy flight. All in all, I think these are pretty attainable expectations.

Here’s where Southwest stands above the rest - it’s in the rest of the product offering. I’m constantly reminded of the friendliness of the flight crew. Flying can be a hassle. It can be scary for first timers or a job related “necessary evil” yet Southwest always makes the experience seem fun. In my experience, flights have arrived on time. Period. Should it really matter if Southwest doesn’t fly through Atlanta Hartsfield or Chicago O’Hare? Weather or mechanical issues notwithstanding, nearly any other reason for a late arrival time is an excuse.

I have this tendency to over pack for trips. When I travel from Fort Lauderdale to Milwaukee to San Francisco to Phoenix, through four different time zones and four different climates, there’s one unique factor among the major carriers that makes the airline selection a no-brainer.

Bags fly free.

Undoubtedly, you’ve seen the commercials. They’re funny yet they have the same effect as a joke in Chris Rock’s stand-up routine. You laugh for a moment before you realize that the observation is spot-on. With Southwest, you save between $15 and $25 per flight destination (for the first bag, up to $60 for two bags). Bags fly free. This is a product differentiation message and a cost savings message wrapped inside a 3-word tagline. Elegant in its simplicity.

Using the Fort Lauderdale to Phoenix example above - take the cost of a checked bag, add the cost of several one way flights (which, by the way, are nearly the same as a round trip flight on some carriers). What if you decide you want a premium seat? If yes, tack that on to your total cost. Think about this for a moment -- an extra charge for a “premium” window seat or a seat with another inch or two of legroom that’s still in coach? Seriously?

Maybe Southwest leaves a bit of money on the table. Maybe there are innovative ways for them to squeeze a bit more revenue out of their passengers. But overall, Southwest has been positioned as an enjoyable experience. In their words, “Luv”. The product satisfies my elementary needs – safety, on-time arrival, cleanliness and reasonable comfort. In addition, the product offers a pleasant overall experience and a good overall value. And when you really think about it, leaving a bit of money on the table is better than leaving it all.

What products or services absolutely delight you?