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A spooky swap occurred this All Hallow’s Eve as TheWeeklyFlyer found himself on my favorite domestic carrier team, Southwest/Airtran and I on his, Delta. Though I was hesitant at first, I agreed to keep an open mind and report back my impressions. Seeing as Airtran is slowly fading out, I will focus on comparing the Southwest domestic product to Delta’s.
One flight can involve a lot of variables but I do believe the two carriers offer different experiences on several aspects that are important to a frequent traveler and are not variable.
I was heading to Minneapolis for the weekend from the DC area so I pulled up Southwest.com as I normally do and searched for flights. Unfortunately Southwest’s presence in Minneapolis is just starting to grow so I couldn’t find any directs. I knew Delta flew BWI to MSP direct but generally the flight is a little more than I would like to spend. Luckily, the direct was both available at a good Thursday evening time and cheap. My round-trip came to $207.80 after taxes which is less than half of what I normally see on this route.
I wasn’t really thinking when selecting seats so I ended up near the Guillotine Seats.
I am nothing status on Delta so my legroom was, well, nothing.
Fortunately the seat next to me was empty so I was able to stretch out and enjoy the short flight. It appears Delta sandbagged this flight schedule as our 45 minute late departure from BWI resulted in an on time arrival in Minneapolis.
On to the observations.
Where Delta shines
- Internet speed and availability
It only took a few page loads after logging in to GOGO to see that Delta’s inflight internet products blows away what Southwest offers. Southwest’s product is free for top tier elites and only 5 USD for the whole day but none of that matters when the speed is atrocious. As far as availability goes, I fly close to 100 segments per year on Southwest and I’d estimate about 35% of those flights has inflight internet. That does not match Delta’s full domestic fleet outfitting. Quality inflight internet is a top issue for frequent business travelers so I commend Delta for what they offer.
- Mobile Boarding Pass
As a weekly business traveler, any opportunity to reduce time at the airport is welcome. I used Delta’s mobile boarding pass for this flight and loved it. I strongly dislike paper boarding passes for two reasons. One, I live in a tiny studio in a dense city so using apartment space on a printer seems wasteful. Two, a strange thing happens on Monday morning flights out of Chicago Midway in the summer. Because you must print your boarding pass with Southwest and the airport is swamped with business travelers who are in the same position as I, a massive, unorganized line forms to simply print a boarding pass from the kiosks. I have nearly missed several morning flights not because of the security line but because of the excessive wait to print out the boarding pass at a kiosk. I am not exactly sure how that would work with Southwest’s open boarding process, but they are a smart airline and can figure it out.
Where Southwest shines
- Boarding Process
We are a modern civilization, why does this have to be so hard? Prior to the Delta boarding announcement, a mob formed outside the gate preparing for the bin space battle. The mob blocked passengers passing through the terminal along with causing those boarding first who asked for extra assistance to navigate around them. Embarrassing. While some call it a cattle call, I enjoy the civility and structure of the Southwest line up system. I would desperately like to see something similar implemented on more domestic carriers.
- Points Accrual
This is often a point of contention when attempting to defend Southwest but I will plow through nonetheless. Southwest offers the better value for points accrual.
Let’s take this flight as an example. This short hop was 933 miles and cost 200 USD. Assuming identical flights on both airlines, a flyer without status would earn 933 miles flying Delta which I will generously estimate (1.5 cpm) being worth around 14 USD. If the flight were operated by Southwest a bottom tier elite would earn 20 USD towards Wanna Get Away fares. If I were a top tier elite on Delta, I would earn 2100 miles worth an estimated 32 USD. As a Southwest top tier elite, I would earn 40 USD towards Wanna Get Away fares.
Now for the big stack. If I personally took the identical flight on Southwest today as a Companion Pass holder and this flight falling in a double points promotion period, I could have earned a 120 USD value towards Wanna Get Away Fares for this one way, 200 USD flight. I redeem for Wanna Get Away fares including a Companion ticket 90% of the time so this is a realistic scenario for my situation.
The Big Stack Math
Base Points (6X Base Fare) = 1200
A-List Preferred Bonus (6X Base Fare) = 1200
Double Points Bonus (6X Base Fare) = 1200
Companion Pass (Effective 2X on All Points Earned) = 3600
Total = 7200 Points or 120 USD in Wanna Get Away Fares
The Bottom Line
Sorry The Weekly Flyer, I don’t plan to change my allegiance to Delta after just one flight but I did find several aspects of their domestic product that outshine Southwest. In the end, for me it is all about the points. I love how the Southwest points can stack especially with the almighty Companion Pass. I most value international travel but when you run the numbers and see how much free flying Southwest offers its frequent travelers, it is simply too good to pass up.