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It’s back! Southwest Airlines launched one of its two big annual fare sales Tuesday, sending round-trip fares below $100 round-trip on dozens of the carrier’s shortest routes as part of a 72-hour flash sale.

Southwest’s longer routes are on sale too, with the carrier roughly pegging its sale fares to distance. The cheapest fares in the airline’s sale begin at $49 each way and increase to tiers of $79, $99 and $129 on longer routes. (Scroll down for restrictions, more details)

The three-day fare sale has become a twice-a-year mainstay for the carrier, rolling out each June and October. The sales are notable not only because of fares being offered, but also because of how broadly they’re usually available across Southwest’s nationwide network.

Southwest’s sale from June 2015 created so much demand that bargain-seekers overwhelmed the airline’s website and caused it to crash. Southwest subsequently extended its sale by an additional day that year. (More on Southwest: Last Chance to Earn 60k Points With Southwest Credit Cards)

The blockbuster sales help Southwest drum up publicity. But what’s probably even more important to the carrier is that the they help juice sales during one of the slowest times of the year for air travel.

The June sale covers flights beginning in late August, when travel demand slows as kids go back to school and adults wrap up summer vacations. It runs through mid-December, a period that remains generally slow for airlines until demand picks up again ahead of the busy Christmas and New Year’s holidays. The one major exception during that window – the dates around Thanksgiving – are blacked out. (More Southwest news: Southwest Airlines Adds 2 Routes, Extends Schedule Into 2020)

The sales that are now a staple for Southwest initially got their start from an iteration Southwest debuted earlier this decade, when it tied fares specifically to flight distance. Flights of 500 miles or less were priced at $49 one way, and then they increased by length of the route. The airline charged $99 one way for flights of 501 to 1,000 miles; $129 one way for flights of 1,001 to 1,500 miles; and $149 one way for flights longer than 1,500 miles.

The recent Southwest sales are no longer precisely tied to distance, though the fare structure tends to loosely mimic the original distance-based version.

Fine print and restrictions

Before you go to book, familiarize yourself with the fine print.

The sale, which rolled out Tuesday morning, covers travel from Aug. 20 through Dec. 18 on most routes within the continental US. Flights on Fridays and Sundays are excluded from the sale and certain dates around the Labor Day and Thanksgiving holidays are blacked out. Flights between Hawaii and the US mainland are not included in the fare sale.

There are different day-of-week restrictions on the sale fares on Southwest’s flights in Las Vegas, Florida and Puerto Rico. (Scroll to bottom for Southwest’s full fine print for sale fares)

The number of seats Southwest makes available at fare-sale prices are limited on any given flight, meaning the cheapest fares likely will thin out the longer the sale goes on.

And remember the sale window is short. It ends Thursday (June 6) at 11:59 p.m. PT.

Aside from the restrictions, there also are a few relatively customer-friendly allowances. Sale fares can be booked one way or round trip and can be combined with non-sale fares. (More Southwest news: Southwest Says So Long to Ticket Jackets, Ending Era Among US Airlines)

Availability

A quick Tuesday morning spot-check of Southwest’s site by TPG showed fairly broad availability of the published sale fares. The advertised $49 fares appear on many of Southwest’s shortest routes, though some days and months show more availability than others. (Tip: Use Southwest’s low-fare calendar to search for the lowest fares.)

Dozens of Southwest’s shorter routes showed round-trip fares of less than $100 as of Tuesday morning. Among those were:

Albuquerque-Los Angeles; Albuquerque-Los Angeles; Atlanta-Jacksonville; Baltimore-Albany; Boston-Baltimore; Chicago Midway-Detroit; Denver-Salt Lake City; Des Moines-St. Louis; El Paso-Los Angeles; New Orleans-Houston Hobby; Las Vegas-Ontario, California; Los Angeles-Las Vegas; Minneapolis/St. Paul-Chicago Midway; Nashville-Charlotte; Oakland-Portland, Oregon; San Francisco-Los Angeles; and Washington Reagan National-Columbus, Ohio. Many other city-pairs are also available.

However, several of Southwest’s short routes that were available for $49 one way in the June 2018 sale appear to have increased in price in the 2019 version. For example, Indianapolis-Kansas City; Kansas City-Chicago Midway and Memphis-Chicago Midway were among city-pairs that sold for $49 last year. This year, those routes are showing sale fares of $59 to $69 one way. (Scroll down for full fine print)

This Tuesday morning screenshot of Southwest
This Tuesday morning screenshot of Southwest’s low-fare calendar showed the availability of sale fares between Oakland and Los Angeles.

Full fine print for the sale (via Southwest Airlines)

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES SALE FARE RULES: Purchase from June 4 through June 6, 2019, 11:59 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time. Continental U.S. travel valid August 20 through December 18, 2019. Interisland Hawaii travel valid September 3 through November 2, 2019. Travel to/from San Juan, Puerto Rico valid September 4 through December 5, 2019. International travel valid August 20 through December 11, 2019. Continental U.S. travel blacked out August 30, 2019 and September 2, 2019. Continental U.S. and International travel blacked out November 22 through December 2. Except as otherwise specified, continental U.S. and Interisland Hawaii travel is not valid on Fridays and Sundays. Travel to Ft. Myers/Naples, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Tampa, Orlando, and Las Vegas and from Ft. Myers/Naples, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Tampa, Orlando to Las Vegas is valid only on Sundays through Wednesdays. Travel from Ft. Myers/Naples, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Tampa, Orlando and Las Vegas and from Las Vegas to Ft. Myers/Naples, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Tampa, and Orlando is valid only on Tuesdays through Fridays. Travel to/from San Juan, Puerto Rico is valid Monday – Thursday. International travel is valid Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Fares valid on nonstop service where indicated; if not indicated, fares are valid on single connecting service. Displayed prices include all U.S. and international government taxes and fees. Points bookings do not include taxes, fees, and other government/airport charges of at least $5.60 per one-way flight. Fares not available continental U.S. to/from Hawaii. Seats and days are limited. Fares may vary by destination, flight, and day of week and won’t be available on some flights that operate during very busy travel times and holiday periods. Travel is available for oneway Wanna Get Away fares. Fares may be combined with other Southwest Airlines combinable fares. If combining with other fares, the most restrictive fare’s rules apply. Sale fares may be available on other days of week, but that’s not guaranteed. Fares are nonrefundable but may be applied toward future travel on Southwest Airlines®, as long as reservations are canceled at least ten minutes prior to the scheduled departure. Failure to cancel prior to departure will result in forfeiture of remaining funds on the reservation. Any change in itinerary may result in an increase in fare. Standby travel may require an upgrade to the Anytime fare depending on Rapid Rewards® tier status. Fares are subject to change until ticketed. Offer applies only to published, scheduled service.

 

Featured image: Robert Alexander/Getty Images.

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