Southwest Airlines cashing in on “Bags Fly Free”

I was not surprised to see the new report out from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics which shows Southwest Airlines carried more passengers in 2009 than any other airline. And at a time when total passenger count was down 5.3 percent, Southwest only lost 0.6% last year.

Not only does Southwest lead in number of passengers, it also leads in advertising spending in the travel industry.

So over the last few months, whenever the conversation has turned to “advertising, the economy and what now?” I’ve been asking people this question: “Which airline is doing the most advertising right now?”

Every single person said “Southwest Airlines.” And when I asked “what did the ad talk about?” Most repeated “Bags fly free.”

I have used that point to talk about savvy companies that seize opportunities and grow market share even in the toughest of times. Southwest’s CEO says his company recently picked-up 1% marketshare while increasing its ad spend for the “Bags fly free” campaign.

As always with companies that excel, their success is multi-layered and marketing is just part of the equation. I’m guessing Southwest was able to hold-off on charging for bags because the airline traditionally has had some of the strongest financials in the industry.

Of course Southwest continues to keep customers returning with its legendary customer service and low airfares.

 But back to the “Bags fly free” campaign.  Truth is, if you look a little deeper Southwest is finding a way to collect ancillary fees from its earlybird check-in, a new pet fare, an unaccompanied minor fee and excess and overweight bag fees.

Still Southwest is framing the consumer conversation by absolutely hammering the competition on the “bags fly free” point of differentiation.

Another airline is finally firing back, as you’ll see in this write-up of how discount airline Airtrans (which ranks 8th on the 2009 passengers carried list) and Southwest are taking potshots at each other.

Watch the spots, you’ll get a chuckle.

But in the end “Bags fly free” certainly pushes all the right buttons and passengers a literally lining up to get on board.

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About Matt Silverman

Matt Silverman is a marketing and communications executive who proactively manages corporate reputations and builds brands. Matt is the Vice President and Managing Director of R&R Partners, a marketing and communications agency ranked among top 50 in U.S. by Adweek. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of R&R Partners. View all posts by Matt Silverman

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