Do Southwest Airlines Ads Portend New Fees?

April 01--Once known as an upstart carrier, Southwest Airlines recently launched an ad campaign that has some airline industry experts wondering whether it signals a new direction -- and new fees -- at the nation's largest domestic airline.

The new ads, which began airing during the television broadcast of the NCAA tournament, don't mention the airline's most popular appeal -- that your first two checked bags fly free and you don't pay to change flights. The ads also don't feature funny dialogue that slams competitors -- a common theme in previous Southwest commercials.

Instead, the latest ads are polished and professional and push the message that Southwest is the airline for entrepreneurs and pioneers. "We're never finished, never satisfied and we never stop looking for a better way," the ad's narrator says.

Could it be that Southwest is preparing the public for a big change, such as the introduction of fees to check bags or change reservations?

"They may be changing their tune because maybe something is coming down the pipeline," said Anne Banas, executive editor for the consumer travel site Smartertravel.com. She said she would not be surprised to see Southwest add bag fees, which generate millions of dollars in revenue for other carriers.

Not so, says Southwest. The new ads are designed to emphasize other qualities besides the carrier's free bags policy, airline spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger said.

"It's more about showcasing who Southwest is now," she said. "We don't have a plan to charge for bags."

In a related development, Southwest last month connected its booking system with AirTran Airways, the low-cost airline bought by Southwest in 2010. Fliers can now book flights on either airline for service starting April 14 in one transaction.

But passengers flying AirTran must still pay fees to check bags and to change reservations.

InterContinental guests to get free Internet access

The world's largest hotel company is giving its guests free Internet access. But there is a catch.

InterContinental Hotel Group, which is based in Britain and includes such brands as Holiday Inn, Intercontinental and Crowne Plaza hotels, said guests will get free Internet at all of IHG's 4,600 hotels in more than 100 countries by joining its newly renamed loyalty reward program, IHG Rewards Club. To join, members must submit an email and a business or home address, which can be shared with third-party businesses.

The offer will begin in July for elite reward members, and extend to other members in 2014.

"In today's fast-paced world, we know that travelers need to stay connected and free Internet access is increasingly important," said Richard Solomons, IHG's chief executive.

Hotel officials say the importance of Internet access was emphasized in a recent IHG survey, which found that 43% of adults who were asked said they would not stay in a hotel that charged for Internet access. In addition, 23% of people who were polled said free Internet in a hotel room is the most important amenity, according to the online survey of about 8,300 adults from several countries.

L.A. car rental rates among lowest in U.S.

Here's another reason to love L.A.: Car rental rates in the City of Angels are among the lowest of any major city in the country.

The average car rental rate in Los Angeles over the last 12 months was $30 a day, according to a survey by Cheapcarrental.net. Los Angeles had the third cheapest rate of the nation's 50 top destinations in the study.

The most expensive rates were found in New York, where the average price was $72 a day.

But rental rates aren't the only consideration when driving.

The average price of a regular gallon of gas in Los Angeles last week was $4.10, while a gallon of regular sold for an average of $4.01 in New York, according to the American Automobile Assn.

According to the car rental study, visitors get the best deal in Milwaukee, where car rental rates were $27 a day and gas prices were at an average of $3.73 a gallon.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

Copyright 2013 - Los Angeles Times

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