The Clash of the Titans Round III: Southwest’s Reservation Fees, Itinerary Change Fees and Boarding and Seating Fees Vs. Delta’s Reservation Fees, Itinerary Change Fees and Boarding and Seating Fees – Is There Really THAT Much Difference?

In a continuing series, TruPrice is analyzing the fee structures of Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines.  Today’s segment focuses on reservations’, itinerary change, and boarding and seating fees.

Since the announcement of the merger between Southwest and AirTran, much speculation has been focused on the impact in ATL – Delta’s gravy train.  In fact, SWA’s CEO Gary Kelly stated that this was as much, if not more, about Atlanta than anything else.  Why?  Because Kelly sees huge opportunity to attack Delta’s fortress via AirTran’s gates.  Conventional logic would say that coming into Delta’s Mecca is a recipe for disaster.  Obviously, Kelly sees a vulnerability in Delta’s ATL strategy that spells opportunity.  Could part of that opportunity be Southwest’s legendary low cost structure?  Of course.  But a trip through bankruptcy in the mid- 2000s and with that two paycuts to employees (a whopping 54% to pilots), the transfer of Delta’s defined benefit pension plan to the PBGC, and health care coverage adjustments have made Delta’s cost structure much more competitive.  But perhaps the newest cash cow for airlines, ancillary fees, also presents an opportunity for Southwest to capture significant market share from Delta that AirTran was unable to capture.

So in today’s Clash of the Titans Round III, we take a side-by-side look at another category of fees to see if there is really THAT much difference between SWA and DAL.

Reservation and itinerary change fees and boarding and seating options.
Delta ticket purchased at a ticket office:  $35
Southwest ticket purchased at a ticket office:  Zero.
Delta ticket purchased by telephone:  $20
Southwest ticket purchased by telephone:  Zero.
Delta ticket change fee:  $150 plus an additional $50 if ticket was issued by travel agency, online travel agency, or another airline, SkyTeam, or codeshare partner.
Southwest ticket change fee:  Zero; but the customer must pay the difference between the original fare and the currently-applicable fare, if any.
Delta same-day confirmed change fee:  $50 and $150 on certain Delta shuttle flights.
Southwest same-day confirmed change fee:  Zero; but the customer must pay any fare difference, if applicable.
Delta priority boarding fee:  Not offered.
Southwest priority boarding fee:  $10 for earlybird check-in.
Neither Delta nor Southwest charges a fee for regular seat assignments (SWA has an open seating policy), extra legroom, or bulkhead seating.

The results of the Clash of the Titans Round III?  Southwest in a TKO.   As a qualifier, though, Southwest does not present its fare information through Online Travel Agent portals (yet another area where Southwest minimizes costs).  Delta does.  So Southwest’s not charging to book with a representative is a fundamental part of that strategy.  The negative for the passenger as a result of SWA’s fare strategy is the inability to conduct side-by-side fare comparisons in the same Internet window.

Please join us again tomorrow as we look at sporting equipment and special baggage fees, unaccompanied minor fees, and a subject near and dear to my heart, carryon and checked-as-baggage pet fees.



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