Typically reserved for its most frequent flyers, Southwest Airlines is now using its Companion Pass program in an effort to drive bookings in the near term. The carrier launched a promotion this week where a single trip in the next 60 days can earn the pass for the first two months of 2021. This is, by far, the biggest promotion the company has run with the Companion Pass.
The promotion requires advance registration and the initial paid itinerary (one way or round trip both qualify) must be booked by 24 September for travel by 15 November. After completing the initial trip a Companion Pass will be issued, valid from 6 January through 28 February 2021.
As with the regular Companion Pass, a second traveler can fly for just the cost of taxes and government fees on the same itinerary as the pass-holder. The promotional Pass even allows up to three companion name changes during the validity period, just like the regular pass.
For Southwest Airlines the move shows creativity and flexibility in working to drive short-term demand for the product. It also is limited to off-peak travel periods where leisure demand is typically depressed. Without much in the way of business travelers backfilling that demand the carrier, like others, needs more seats filled on board. Southwest also indicated that it will not furlough any employees when the CARES Act Payroll Support Program expires at the end of September. And the company intends to operate more flights relative to 2019 than its largest US competitors. That adds up to needing more revenue to keep things running smoothly.
The carrier announced last week it expects to operate 55-60% of its 2019 capacity in October; August flew 73% of the 2019 seats while September saw 60%. Southwest also indicated that only about half the seats on its flights are full, making it easier for the company to justify extended its policy limiting the total seats sold to ensure an empty adjacent seat for all travelers through the end of November.
Loyalty to sway consumers
Using the loyalty promotions to drive consumer behavior is part and parcel of running a frequent flyer program. Over the past six months we’ve seen airlines trying myriad offers, from bonus points to a co-brand credit card earnings tie-in to easing the qualification tiers for elite status and more. In that context the Companion Pass promotion could be seen as just another trial in leveraging the program to attract a bit of revenue.
That this particular approach guarantees some revenue at the tail end of the third quarter, as well as likely delivering more in the beginning of 2021, certainly doesn’t hurt the odds that it will yield useful results to the carrier. And with so many seats flying empty anyways this is a reasonable contender for getting more travelers back in the sky with low overhead costs.
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