Skip to content

Southwest Airlines caps bookings through Thanksgiving as holiday season looms

Sept. 16, 2020
4 min read
Southwest Airlines caps bookings through Thanksgiving as holiday season looms
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Southwest Airlines will now cap the number of passengers on its flights through November to boost traveler confidence, following the lead of other carriers even as the industry girds itself for a tough coronavirus pandemic winter.

The Dallas-based discounter has extended its booking caps that allow middle seats to remain open on all of its flights through Nov. 30, Southwest said Wednesday. The move covers the historically busy Thanksgiving travel period, but not Christmas and New Years.

The extended flyer cap, which had been set to run through Oct. 31, comes as Southwest prepares for what will be a rough fall and winter. The airline has cut its schedule in September and October from a summer peak and — despite plans to add three new cities to its map by year-end — is preparing to be at least a quarter smaller in December than it was a year ago.

New! Sign up for TPG's free new biweekly Aviation newsletter for more airline news!

Air travel in the U.S. remains down around 70% compared to 2019, according to latest data from trade group Airlines for America (A4A). While a solid recovery from the depths of April when travel was down more than 90%, the road ahead is expected to be long with a full return to pre-pandemic levels not expected until at least 2024.

"The worst is clearly over, but the recovery in demand is clearly stalling," said Cowen analyst Helane Becker in a report on Sept. 10.

While summer travel recovered faster than analysts at Cowen expected, they do not expect Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screenings to hit one million a day until either the Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays. But even that would be less than half the number of people who flew at the same time a year ago.

Related: Southwest Airlines CEO says expansion part of long-term strategy, not ‘pandemic play’

Guide: Which US airlines are blocking middle seats and requiring masks?

Sign up for our daily newsletter

TSA screenings hit a pandemic high of 968,673 people on Sept. 4, the Friday before Labor Day weekend. Screening numbers have since fallen, except for on the odd Sunday, to below 800,000 people a day.

With flyer numbers low — and expected to stay low — Southwest's decision to extend booking caps in the name of traveler "confidence," as the carrier put it, appears more marketing ploy than COVID-19 safety measure. Delta Air Lines similarly considers its blocking of middle seats more about making travelers comfortable to fly than protection agains the virus.

For now, Delta is blocking seats through Jan. 6, the longest of any U.S. airline. Alaska Airlines is limiting the number of travelers on its flights through Oct. 31 and JetBlue Airways through at least Oct. 15.

Related: Delta will block seats into January as it tries to boost traveler confidence

American Airlines and United Airlines are notably not blocking seats or capping bookings. Both say that other measures, from enhanced cleaning procedures to mandating all travelers wear masks, keep flyers safe from COVID-19.

Southwest is doing everything in its power to break even by year end. The airline has slashed expenses and enough staff have taken voluntary leaves or departure packages to avoid furloughs this fall.

In addition, Southwest is adding Miami (MIA), Palm Springs (PSP) and Steamboat Springs, Colorado (HDN) to its map in what CEO Gary Kelly said will generate much needed cash during the downturn.

Related: US airlines ‘fighting for survival’ with no hope of V-shaped recovery

Featured image by Boston Globe via Getty Images

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 10X points
10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

80,000 bonus points
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

Annual Fee

$550

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more