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Southwest Airlines launches a new, second-cheapest fare

CNBC 3/24/2022 Leslie Josephs
  • Southwest's "Wanna Get Away Plus" fare goes on sale in the second quarter.
  • The new class will allow travelers to make same-day changes without paying a fare difference.
  • Passengers in all classes of service will still get two free checked bags with their tickets
A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 passenger jet takes off from San Antonio International Airport in Texas. © Provided by CNBC A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 passenger jet takes off from San Antonio International Airport in Texas.

Southwest Airlines on Thursday unveiled its new fare class: a second-cheapest option it hopes will reel in customers willing to pay up for more flexibility.

The "Wanna Get Away Plus" fare sits just above the "Wanna Get Away" fare and just below its "Anytime" fare. It will allow travelers to make same-day changes to their tickets without paying the difference in fare that the lowest tier requires.

Customers who opt for the new fare, or classes above the new fare will also earn more frequent flyer miles than the lowest tier, and be able to transfer flight credits to another RapidRewards member, a new feature. Southwest passengers will continue to get to check two bags for free.

The new fare type is the latest effort by an airline to increase revenue after two bruising years of the Covid pandemic.

Carriers like Delta, American, United and JetBlue in recent years have rolled out no-frills basic economy tickets, which don't include perks that used to come for free, such as advanced seat selection.

Airline executives haven't been shy that they hope passengers will pay more to avoid those cheap fares, while many business travelers' employers avoid them altogether because they are so inflexible.

Southwest's new fare goes on sale in the second quarter. The Dallas-based airline announced last year that it would launch a new type of fare but didn't provide details.

Air travel demand, particularly for domestic leisure trips, and higher fuel prices are already pushing up fares. Airlines make the bulk of their revenue during the second and third quarters, when vacation season drives up sales.

Air fares in the Department of Labor's inflation index rose 12.7% last month from a year ago while the overall consumer price index rose 7.9%.

In February, bookings by both number and value on U.S. airline websites surpassed pre-Covid levels for the first time in the pandemic, according to Adobe data.

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