Southwest Airlines (SWA) sparking new fare wars in Cincinnati

Don't Waste Your Money

HEBRON, Ky. -- It's now two weeks since Southwest launched its long awaited service to CVG, the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

So is it living up to the expectations of Cincinnati-area travelers, who have been Southwest-starved for a decade?

And more importantly: Is it really lowering Cincinnati's traditionally high air fares? The answers appears to be yes, and yes, at least for now.

Passengers loving the lower fares

While the initial excitement of Southwest finally launching service to Cincinnati this June may be over, passengers we spoke with at CVG were still thrilled about their newest airline option.

Barbara Campbell, arriving from Chicago-Midway, said "Southwest was just a great flight. I had a wonderful time."

She says she flew in from Chicago to see her sister Paula, because the fare was half of what Delta was charging a few months ago.

Others on the Chicago flight loved the under-$200 fare and especially the free checked luggage, which can cost up to $50 per bag on other airlines.

"You have the baggage, where you can check your bags for free, and that's great. Most airlines don't do that,"  Stuart Dugas said.

While passengers we spoke with were almost unanimous in their praise for Southwest, the big question is whether its having any positive impact yet on airfares out of Cincinnati.

Fare war breaks out

9 On Your Side compared fares, and found that it is having a very positive impact for travelers, at least in the two airports Southwest serves directly: Chicago-Midway and Baltimore-Washington.

Southwest is currently offering low introductory fares in the Cincinnati market. These typically go up after a few months, but if you book now you can land some incredible deals.

We found round-trip flights from Cincinnati to Chicago, in mid July, on Southwest for just $117.

A check of Delta's website finds the legacy carrier, famous for its high fares out of CVG, has slashed its Chicago fare to as low as $130 round-trip for those same days.    

For comparison, in January 2017, a CVG to Chicago round-trip on Delta and other mainstream carriers averaged $325, according to FareDetective.com.

We checked flights to Southwest's second CVG destination, and found Cincinnati to Baltimore for $152 round-trip in July on Southwest (you can find even lower fares for September).

We found the exact same dates for $147 round-trip on Delta's website, showing how Delta is aggressively matching Southwest's introductory fares.

According to FareDetective.com, CVG to BWI fares averaged $310 back in January. 

With other cities, however, where Southwest requires a layover in Chicago, we didn't find much change.

Many Cincinnati fares are dropping

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport reports that fares are sharply down due to all the new discount airlines, since Delta reduced its hub over the past five years.

CVG, which used to be ranked #1 or #2 for high fares according to the Department of Transportation, is now down to #42, the airport says.

It also claims the average passenger is paying $170 less in 2017 than two years ago, before all the discount flights arrived

For instance, Cincinnati fares to Florida, Denver, and New York City are already down sharply due to the presence of discounters Frontier and Allegiant. Even before Southwest's arrival, you could find some $150 round-trips to those destinations.

But we now have a real fare war, at least to Southwest's two CVG destinations, and passengers we spoke with were thrilled.

"Now that I have the hang of the whole seating thing (no assigned seats), it was a lovely flight," one woman coming off the Chicago flight said. "The fare was great, and the flight attendants were especially comical, and made the flight really fun."

But will it last?

Two concerns: one, Southwest is not a "deep discounter," so it appears unlikely these initial low fares will last more than a few weeks or months (such as $117 round-trip to Chicago).

The second, is whether Delta will try to force Southwest out. Frequent travelers remember how Delta, with a "fortress" hub back in the 1990s and early 2000s, would aggressively match discount airlines coming onto their turf at CVG.  

Fliers would often choose Delta over competitors like Vanguard due to convenience and SkyMiles, and as a result Delta was able to drive the discounter out of the market six months later.

As soon as the discounter left, Delta would raise fares just as dramatically.

We'll see what happens with Southwest.

But at least for now you will find some great fares out of CVG, so you don't waste your money.

(NOTE: All fares quoted in this report were effective on June 15, 2017, but there is no guarantee how long they will last).
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