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Two free checked bags on all tickets. You’ve gotta appreciate that…

Another quarter in the books, another aggressive push by the bloodhounds of Wall Street, yet Southwest and JetBlue have stayed true to customers, once again. As airlines reap record profits, like 4.6 billion in checked baggage fees, by U.S. airlines alone, pressure mounts to maximize the favorable trade winds buffeting U.S. airlines. Despite the unprecedented pressure, JetBlue and Southwest seem cool as a cucumber, sticking with the “secret sauce” that’s made them traveler favorites…

Dropping Shoes

Alaska Airlines was the revered mainstream alternative to Delta, American and United. The airline offered a powerful loyalty proposition, with extremely valuable points and passenger friendly fee structures, only rivaled by JetBlue and Southwest. But then, seemingly overnight, they uprooted virtually each and every facet of their offering which made them unique. In one foul swoop, the airline added basic economy, cut live TV and discontinued their generous 60 day “free change” policy. Suddenly, Alaska looked a lot like Delta, United and American, and their new $125 + fare difference fees did too. Delta, American and United each collude charge $200 change fees plus any fare difference on domestic tickets.

Then There Were Two

Two airlines, and for now, only two, continue to defy analysts and industry trends. JetBlue doesn’t charge customers for standard seat assignments, and Southwest hasn’t changed their (love it or hate it) boarding group method. JetBlue has caved slightly, charging between $75-$125 change fees, while Southwest continues to offer free changes, just charging the fare difference. JetBlue continues to lead the list of U.S. airlines in legroom (seat pitch), while Southwest continues to shine, offering not one, but two free checked bags. Both airlines have also embraced loyalty programs which require very little tinkering. You can use your points any time, you know how much they’re worth and there’s really no arbitrage play, so you never worry if you’re getting truly decent value. In addition to these powerful value propositions, they’re the two airlines which consistently offer the most frequent fare sales. It’s perhaps also worth noting that while Delta, United and American continue to offer true “flat bed” business class on only a variety of routes, JetBlue is offering “Mint Class” at astoundingly good rates, on oodles of flights.

A Logical Approach To Travel

American Airlines made headlines this week as the first of the “evil big three” to roll back the policy of restricting basic economy passengers from bringing full sized carry ons. American clearly went too far, and the indignity and inconvenience these fares brought to passengers proved to hurt business. If air travelers approached loyalty as logically as they do dining out, it’s fair to say that even greater numbers would begin to shift many of their short haul, intra U.S. journeys to the airlines that offer the greatest value for dollar. If you’re a traveler who needs checked bags, there’s no better airline in the U.S. than Southwest. If you’re a traveler who values legroom, and reasonable fees for same day changes, JetBlue offers the most legroom and same day changes are always $75, unless you’re flying on a flex fare, when they become free. If legacy airlines wish to make travel about price, they better worry when the other guys win that battle, and the amenity proposition as well.

What do you think of JetBlue and Southwest in the current U.S. airline climate?

Featured image copyright: T. Fallon / Getty Images.

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