Wikimedia CommonsBUSINESS-TRAVEL writers have made much of a study released earlier this month by Topaz International, a travel auditing firm, which found that, despite its low-cost reputation, Southwest Airlines does not always have the cheapest rates. Headline writers around the blogosphere professed shock: “Southwest: Not the Low-Fare Leader You Thought,” wrote one. “Study Challenges Southwest’s Low-Fare Image,” reported another. “Southwest Isn’t Cheapest Most Of The Time, Study Confirms,” screamed the Wall Street Journal‘s travel blog.
These sound like straw men. Did any business traveller believe that Southwest was always the cheapest option on every route? Of course not. The Topaz study compared Southwest’s fares with those of eight competitors—American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, Delta Air Lines, Frontier, Spirit, United Airlines and US Airways—across 100 popular routes. It found that Southwest had the cheapest fares 40% of the time. (Southwest also doesn’t charge bag fees. If you checked in a bag, Southwest was cheapest 60% of the time. If you checked in two bags, it was cheapest 88% of the time.)
Here’s one way to think about this result: Southwest Airlines was the cheapest option far more often than any other airline. Remember, the study compared Southwest with eight competitors. For Southwest to “win” it had to be cheaper than all eight. Hence the supposedly “low” 40% number—which was still the best of the nine carriers under consideration.
Readers of this blog will know that any single airline is unlikely to be consistently cheapest in every market. That’s why it is essential to compare prices—and essential that airlines provide information that allows business travellers to do so accurately. But if you’re feeling lucky and don’t want to compare prices, your best bet is still Southwest.
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