Southwest Airlines (LUV) Last Update 6/23/24
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Southwest Airlines
Trefis Price
Top Drivers for Period
Key Drivers
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Potential upside & downside to trefis price

Southwest Airlines Company


  1. Freight, Service Fees and Other Revenue constitutes 47% of the Trefis price estimate for Southwest Airlines's stock.
  2. Passenger constitutes 45% of the Trefis price estimate for Southwest Airlines's stock.


LUV Stock Performance

LUV stock has suffered a sharp decline of 35% from levels of $45 in early January 2021 to around $30 in late June 2024, vs. an increase of about 45% for the S&P 500 over this period.

Notably, LUV stock has underperformed the broader market in each of the last 4 years. Returns for the stock were -8% in 2021, -21% in 2022, and -14% in 2023. In comparison, returns for the S&P 500 have been 27% in 2021, -19% in 2022, and 24% in 2023 — indicating that LUV underperformed the S&P in 2021, 2022 and 2023.

Q1'24 earnings

Southwest Airlines reported operating sales of $6.3 billion in Q1'24, up 11% y-o-y. Higher maintenance costs and a rise in salaries in wages resulted in an operating loss of $393 million in Q1'24 vs. a $284 million loss in the prior year quarter. The adjusted loss surged to $0.33 per share, compared to a loss of $0.27 per share in the prior-year quarter.

FY'23 earnings

Southwest Airlines reported operating sales of $26.1 billion in FY '23, up from $23.8 billion in FY '22. Rising fuel costs and expenditure across other operating cost drivers, resulted in operating income of $224 million in 2023 versus $1.0 billion in 2022.


Below are key drivers of Southwest Airlines' value that present opportunities for upside or downside to the current Trefis price estimate.

Southwest Passenger Flights

Southwest's Fuel Expense for Passenger Travel: Fuel expenses are the largest operating expense incurred by an airline. For Southwest, it has averaged around 24% (as a percentage of its revenue) over the last five years. It stood at 28% of its revenue in 2022.

We expect the fuel costs to drop gradually in the coming years. If, however, crude oil prices jump further, and fuel expenses remain at 28% instead of the current end-of-the-period forecast, then there could be a potential downside of around 20% to the Trefis price estimate for Southwest Airlines's stock.

Southwest Passenger Yield: Southwest's Passenger Yield has increased to $0.17 in 2022 after seeing a dip to $0.14 in 2020 and 2021 due to the impact of the pandemic. We expect the airline to take measures to reduce the rising competition. Consequently, we estimate that the airline's passenger yield will grow steadily to $0.18 by the end of the Trefis forecast period. If, however, the carrier's passenger yield rises more than anticipated to grow to $0.21, then there could be a potential upside of almost 15% to the Trefis price estimate of Southwest Airlines' stock.


Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) is one of the largest domestic carriers in the U.S. Southwest thrives on maintaining low operating expenses through its point-to-point service model, modest onboard services (with add-ons at an extra charge), and fuel hedging programs. Savings through such an operating model allow the carrier to maintain low fares, which have been instrumental in growing its market share over the past several years.

The point-to-point model rather than the hub-and-spoke service model allows Southwest to maximize the use of its key assets, including aircraft gates and employees. This also helps the company provide its markets with frequent and conveniently timed flights at low fares.

The hub-and-spoke system concentrates most of an airline's operations at a limited number of central hub cities and serves most other destinations in the system by providing one-stop, or connecting service, through a hub. Any issue at a hub such as bad weather, or security problems, can create delays throughout the system. By not concentrating operations through one or more central transfer points, Southwest's point-to-point route structure allows for more direct non-stop routing than the hub-and-spoke model.


Southwest's low cost model

The low-cost model is a significant source of value for Southwest. The carrier has achieved and maintains a low-cost operating model by operating on a predominantly point-to-point route structure. Low dependence on hubs allows the airline to provide more direct service, utilize aircraft, terminal gates, and employees more, saving costs. Southwest also flies a single aircraft type - the Boeing 737. This helps lower its personnel training, spare part maintenance, and costs. This low-cost operating model translates into a significant competitive advantage for Southwest. Low costs allow the airline to offer lower fares, attracting passengers from competitors.

International flying

Southwest's launch of flights to near international destinations in the Caribbean will likely grow its results. We believe Southwest's zero baggage and ticket change fee will attract passengers in the international market as it has in the domestic market.


Oil prices significantly impact bottom line

Fuel expenses constitute the single largest cost head for airlines, making them vulnerable to hikes in crude oil prices. For Southwest, fuel costs constitute around a third of its total operating expense. To reduce vulnerability to fuel price volatility, Southwest engages in fuel price hedging.

Demand for flights is related to global economic growth

Demand for flights is highly correlated to global economic growth. Thus, a decline in economic growth, or recession, reduces demand for flights, impacting passenger traffic for airlines. On the contrary, steady growth in the global or U.S. economy, grows demand for air travel, allowing airlines to raise their airfares, occupancy rates, and profits.

Focus on ancillary revenue

Many airlines, including Southwest, are figuring out ways to grow their top lines through ancillary means such as baggage fees, access to onboard WiFi/food/drinks, etc. Accordingly, airlines are investing to enhance their product offerings which include in-flight WiFi and other entertainment options, improved lounge facilities, and extra-legroom seats.

According to an Amadeus/IdeaWorks study, North American airlines collectively produce one of the largest streams of ancillary revenues compared to other regions. A majority of the increase is attributable to stronger merchandising efforts by the carriers as well as the addition of more à la carte services for sale.

Growing preference for low-cost carrier model

During the past decade, low-cost carriers such as Southwest and JetBlue have gained significant market share in the U.S. Looking ahead, we believe these low-cost carriers to continue to grow their market share, as their lower fares attract passenger traffic.

Consolidation in the industry has helped raise profits of all airlines

The U.S. airline industry has seen many mergers and acquisitions in the last decade including the five big combinations of US Airways and America West, Delta and Northwest, United and Continental, Southwest and AirTran, and American and US Airways.

A more consolidated industry has worked to improve the profits of all airlines. Fewer players in the market have made it easier for those remaining airlines to add capacity with restraint. Prior to this consolidation in the airline industry, individual airlines were adding capacity at higher rates in an attempt to grow their market shares. This rapid capacity addition resulted in an oversupply of seats, reducing the margin and profits of all carriers.

Going forward, we believe as long as airlines add capacity with discipline, the industry will remain profitable overall.