Monday, September 21, 2009

Dollars to Dallas

I just joined Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards program. Big deal, you say. Big deal indeed, says I. My home is barely five minutes from the south entrance to DFW Airport, home base to American Airlines, a company I once proudly worked for and therefore have a natural bias towards. Now that I am a "civilian" it remains logical to choose American simply because I live close to nearly 800 flights a day to all points on the compass.

Back in the day there was nothing but competitive scorn for the likes of Southwest. They stayed pretty much true to their name through the late 80s, flying mainly in the southwest part of the country. We never felt they were a "whole" airline: they didn't have First Class, offer pre-reserved seating, meals or fly anywhere outside of the continental US, the "D48" we called it. Things change.

I had to book a business trip to Los Angeles only three days before departure for what was initially a mid-week trip. Now again, back in the day, any airline flying would simply take you out back and have their way with you for the kind of fares you paid. Strangely, American's available choices seemed to indicate some lecherous gang just waiting for me as if nothing had changed. Their price: $800 round trip, out Sunday morning and back Wednesday evening.

For a last minute trip in the face of ever tightening travel budgets I knew my employer would scotch the whole trip before paying that kind of money. "Try Southwest" my manager said, which I admit to being loathe to do. Love Field is half an hour from the house and my AAdvantage account was crying out for another fix of air miles. I looked up Southwest and after a bit of digging uncovered the incredible. Their price: $281 for the same itinerary.

I'm heading to Los Angeles, glad to be able to manage my business effectively but perplexed that American would dare to charge such fares in this environment. With something like 15 flights a day and the economy still tanked could they possibly have filled every flight on a non-holiday Sunday?

Nope. A little sleuthing revealed one flight in particular had over 100 available seats and right when I wanted to fly. Did the corporate travel pricing engine miss this pauper of a flight absolutely begging for business? Also nope. The lowest option on American's own website was $703 while Southwest raised their fare from the $124 each way that I paid to a whopping $132. The cheapest thing on Travelocity was Frontier through Denver for $341.

Either the analyst at American who watches California is asleep at the wheel or gutsy beyond reason. Don't know, don't care. They might actually get those fares from someone but not me. I've argued with friends at American 'til I'm blue in the face that no one similar to me who lives literally under DFW airport will voluntarily drive all the way to Love Field so long as the price was right. I was right.

Gotta go!

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