My travel snowflakes, travel normalcy is on the horizon in 2021 and you may be considering Southwest Airlines or Alaska airlines to whisk you away to your next great escape! Today, I am comparing and discussing cheap flights on both.
I have flown on both airlines over the years and have never had an issue with either of them. My most recent trip was on Alaska Airlines from NYC to Los Angeles. But here are points to consider.
Southwest Airlines is a much larger airline than Alaska Airlines. But they do compete for the same dollar, so that is why we are comparing the two. Let's start with the basic facts:
Size of the Fleet
Southwest’s entire fleet consists of all Boeing jets while Alaska’s fleet is a mix of Boeing and Airbus. Bombardier Embraer jets are operated by Horizon Air.
Before we go any further, deciding HOW you are going to get somewhere via flight can be a seemingly daunting task when it comes to price. But let’s demystify that for you. Let’s look at this idea from an airline’s perspective and then we will get to you.
Revenue management is a big deal for airlines. What is the highest price an airline can charge for a seat? The sky's the limit!
Let's use a quick analogy to answer. When you look at the produce section of a supermarket, an orange has a fast expiration date. It was picked off the tree, and now it’s ready for you to purchase. The grocer wants to charge as much as he or she can for that orange before throwing it away. Unless the commercial aviation industry radically changes the way they charge for seats, then think of every seat on every flight as a piece of rotting fruit. That seat on that day on that flight (or segment) is only going to exist once. If the flight takes off and a seat is empty, then it becomes a piece of fruit the airline makes no money on.
Now let’s talk about you. You expressed an interest that you want a cheap flight to wherever you are going. Many factors contribute to the cost of an airline seat. These include, the specific airline, the on-board experience, the class of seat, where you are flying from and where you are going and how long it takes to get there. And finally, in some instances how far in advance you book and pay for these seats.
For starters, in many cases getting the lowest or cheapest airfare has everything to do with where you live and what airport is your home airport. That’s where the word HUB comes into play or “cities of focus” or operating bases. To give you a clue, research online and check the number of gates an airline occupies at any given airport and then check to see how many flights depart from that airport or city per day. More gates and more flights equal more flexibility when things don’t go as planned.
The top five hubs for Southwest include Chicago Midway, Baltimore, MD, Las Vegas, Denver, Dallas Love Field. Alaska's hubs include Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Anchorage and Los Angeles area.
Why is this important? Because the more fights per day decreases the chances of issues on your air travel day. Issues such as missing your flight, weather delays, crew delays or airplane mechanical problems.
Now let’s look at the value of your time. The longer it takes to get somewhere...the less you might pay. Airlines know through years of industry research; the flying public wants non-stop flights. That’s point A (the place you are flying from) to point B (your ultimate destination) without having to stop, or change planes. Therefore, a non stop flight might be slightly more expensive than an itinerary with stops or connections. Also, the time of day you depart often affects the ticket price. For instance, a 6:00 a.m. departure might be cheaper than the more desirable 9:00 a.m. departure.
Given all that, let’s get back to Southwest vs. Alaska. Southwest has one class of seating. Alaska has two cabin seating (First Class or Business Class and Economy). On Southwest, they have an open seating policy. Each passenger is assigned a letter and you board by letter and take any seat you wish. Alaska offers a more traditional seating arrangement whereby you select your seat, or one is assigned to you before you board.
Both airlines offer snacks and soft drinks inflight. Alaska offers full meals on some longer flights and Southwest offers a larger variety of snacks on their longer flights. Both have entertainment options and both offer a frequent flier mileage program.
Keep in mind, this information is for educational purposes only and contains editorial opinion by yours truly. Facts contained here may change without notice. We try to keep up with the changes, but I strongly encourage you to do your own research before making travel purchases.
I am on a mission to get you traveling more often. As the host of the Emmy award- winning, nationally syndicated television television for PBS and the Create channel, "Beyond Your Backyard," I travel (on average) 25 weeks per year. I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet cool people, experience new places, eat delicious food and work with the best production crew in the world. Hopefully, through this blog, you will join me on my travels and be reminded just how exciting it is to be alive!