Southwest Airlines also wants to be a business travel agency

Skift grip

A trio of airlines have revamped their business platforms over the past seven days. The focus is on self-service and managing benefits as well as discounts, which could help them get more direct business from the small businesses that are spearheading the recovery.

Matthew Parson

Southwest Airlines launched a new travel portal on Monday, Help for South West businessesmeans it now becomes the third operator in a week to overhaul its technology, in a bid to give corporate customers more control, which could help it win more direct business.

Last week, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines took similar steps, giving travel managers more control. They will also want to attract more small and medium-sized business customers, widely seen as the fastest growing market to emerge from the pandemic – but it may be United who have the upper hand.

It’s no coincidence that the three major US airlines made these announcements last week, just as the Global Business Travel Association convention is in full swing in San Diego. Its organizer says 1,000 travel buyers from more than 500 companies are in attendance from August 14-17.

What Southwest and the other carriers hope to do over the next few days at this event is make the point to small businesses that maybe they don’t need a corporate travel agency, said claim an expert, when they can just get it all from their revamped technology platforms. So-called due diligence and sustainability reporting are heavily promoted.

In the only place

Southwest Business Assist is indeed a self-service tool that allows business travel buyers, as well as travel management companies, to better manage their business travel “using unique dashboards , reporting, automated processing of contract benefits, receiving or requesting customer service, and much more.”

It launches on August 24, and new features include travel fund management, more information on contractual benefits and account performance, and expanded sustainability reports. Later, he plans to add self-service duty of care reporting, a staple of most travel agency platforms today. Last month, the airline dropped voucher expiration dates.

An industry insider at the Global Business Travel Association convention told Skift that these airline platform redesigns were designed to target smaller customers in the wake of larger companies still not fully returning to travel.

“It’s nothing earth-shattering, but it’s materialistic,” they said.

However, Dave Harvey, vice president of Southwest Business, played down the possible land grab for more direct business. “It’s not a reservation channel, it’s really just a management channel, a one-stop-shop, where it’s a single source of truth,” he said. “This is actually a huge win for travel management companies…it makes their mid-office and back-office a whole lot easier.”

Delta Air Lines has also taken a “one-stop-shop” approach by renaming and integrating all of its business travel tools, products and services into a new platform called Delta Business.

New digital self-service capabilities to issue Delta Sky Club digital passes and complimentary Medallion status also come into play, along with a sustainability dashboard allowing customers to track carbon emissions, progress and the main travel markets according to their carbon footprint.

“Delta Business highlights the value we provide to our customers and creates streamlined transparency of all the benefits our customers enjoy,” said Bob Somers, senior vice president of global sales at Delta.

The holiday angle

The focus is on giving business customers more control over loyalty benefits. But United could have the upper hand with its new United for Business Blueprint platform, which will launch later this year.

The airline said it wants to take the conversation away from discounted airfare being the only option available during the contracting process, and that will help corporate customers design their travel plans.

“The needs of our customers are changing and now is a good time to move beyond the one-contract model that has become the industry standard,” said Doreen Burse, senior vice president of global sales for United.

However, the industry expert, familiar with the platform, pointed to United Blueprint’s ability to include incentives such as employee leisure travel discounts, representing this continuing trend to mix life. professional and personal life.

Other airlines would do well to follow suit, they warned, with the option of offering key “phantom” perks.

United will also launch a new website later this year, designed to make it easier for companies who book business travel on or the United app to enroll and manage their travel program. It will also help them book and redeem trips, and view and redeem future flight credits.

New customizable booking and payment settings will give travel administrators more choice in the payment options and spending guidelines they set for their travelers, and the airline said the website was designed with travelers in mind. small businesses, but will also bring “great value to large organizations that book business travel through or the United app.

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