Forbes recently ran an in-depth analysis of Southwest Airlines, which has traditionally aimed for the leisure market. But lately, the story notes, Southwest has made several changes to appeal to business travelers.
- Business Select, which offers early boarding, priority check-in and security lanes, a premium drink, and twice as many Rapid Rewards points per dollar spent.
- Early Bird Check In, which automatically checks passengers in, and gives them a better boarding position with earlier access to overhead bins
- SWABiz, a direct-access corporate booking engine that also includes a tool to manage company meetings as well as tools to monitor air travel, hotel, and car rental spend for corporations.
Other perks that can appeal to business travelers include onboard Wi-Fi and DirectTV as well as one free checked bag.
But perhaps the biggest appeal for business travelers, the story continues, is the airline's efforts to bring nonstop air service back to secondary American cities like St. Louis and Kansas City. St. Louis has a powerful GDP, and professionals in Missouri need to reach other business destinations around the country. St. Louis used to be a hub for American Airlines, but now Southwest has focused plenty of attention on the city to the tune of 91 departures per day to 33 nonstop destinations.
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly told Forbes that his company does “six percent or seven percent of our boardings by Business Select, [and] probably more than double that by EarlyBird.” The combined direct revenues from the program were nearly $295 million in 2013.
The efforts seem to be having a positive impact on the company's numbers: Earlier this month, Southwest announced that it flew 9.6 billion revenue passenger miles (RPMs) in March 2014, a 1.6 percent increase from the 9.4 billion RPMs flown in March 2013. Available seat miles (ASMs) increased 0.8 percent to 11.6 billion from the March 2013 level of 11.5 billion. The March 2014 load factor was 82.7 percent, compared to 82.0 percent in March 2013. For March 2014, passenger revenue per ASM (PRASM) is estimated to have increased approximately one percent compared to March 2013.
The airline is scheduled to release its First Quarter Earnings Report on April 24, following record numbers in the fourth quarter of 2013, and (according to Seeking Alpha) a year that saw the stock price rise 84 percent in total.