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February 18, 2004 -- Where Southwest goes, low fares follow. That's a well-known phenomenon called the "Southwest Effect." Travelers love it; major airlines fear it. Now, the Southwest Effect has come to Philadelphia, and the forecast there is for lower fares all around.

If you live in Philly, you've probably heard about Southwest's plans by now. If you haven't, they're still worth taking note of because Philadelphia is an interesting and fun destination. Starting May 9, Southwest will start nonstop service from Philly to Chicago, Las Vegas, Orlando, Phoenix, Providence and Tampa Bay, with connecting service to dozens of other cities. (For a full list, look here: www.southwest.com/about_swa/press/040212_phl_nonstop2.html.)

The standard, 14-day advance purchase, roundtrip fares will be:

  • Providence: $58 (the walk-up fare is only $99)
  • Chicago, Orlando and Tampa Bay: $158
  • Las Vegas and Phoenix: $198

Some other connecting fares that you should note:

  • Nashville: $166
  • Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach: $158
  • Los Angeles: $198
  • St. Louis: $216

Southwest's frequent systemwide sales, meanwhile, make dozens more destinations -- from Tulsa to Tucson to San Diego -- a $198 ride from Philly. The airline has a sale on right now through Feb. 26, so this is a good time to buy if you're considering flying to or from Philadelphia this summer.

For booking fares to and from Philadelphia, go to www.southwest.com. Tickets are available to buy on Southwest's Web site right now.

What Does It All Mean?

Philadelphia already has some low-fare options -- AirTran and ATA both fly into Philadelphia, and Spirit does plenty of business in nearby Atlantic City, NJ. But Southwest's entry promises to ratchet up competition several notches.

We've certainly seen $158 fares from Philadelphia to Florida (on US Airways) and Chicago (on ATA.) And $198 fares to Las Vegas happen now and then, especially with Spirit. But those are sale fares. Southwest's fares are available any time, year round. That's the big news here. Low fares that you formerly had to dodge and weave for, are now available all the time.

The $198 regular fares to Phoenix and Los Angeles are even bigger news. We rarely see those fares even as sales. ATA's current sale, for instance, would charge $238 roundtrip to both cities -- and fares are even higher when there's no sale on.

Also, check out Southwest's $49 walkup to Providence, which slams Amtrak's $87 walkup fare on the same route. Now, the plane and the train don't really compete here -- flights to Providence end up at T. F. Green Airport in Warwick where you're stuck with an inconvenient shuttle or bus ride to the city. Trains, meanwhile, dump you right in downtown Providence or downtown Boston. But Southwest is severely undercutting AirTran's regular fares here and making it even easier for Pennsylvanians to zip up the coast.

For consumers, Southwest's arrival finally makes Philadelphia a truly competitive airport. That's good news not just for Philadelphians, but for anyone coming to Pennsylvania. If you're flying especially from the West to see the City of Brotherly Love or the nearby Amish country, make sure to check Southwest's site for fares -- as they don't show up on any major travel agency site.