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'It's back!' Big Southwest flash sale drops round-trip fares below $80 on short routes

June 23, 2020
11 min read
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It's back! It’s a few weeks later than usual, but Southwest Airlines' big twice-a-year fare sale has returned.

The carrier rolled out a 72-hour flash sale on Tuesday with round-trip fares below $100 on dozens of its shortest nonstop routes for later summer and fall.

The sale fares begin at $39 each way, typically on Southwest's shortest nonstop routes. But longer routes are on sale too, with fares roughly pegged to distance. Prices on many longer nonstop routes were selling for $79, $99 and $119 on Southwest's website early Tuesday, though a Southwest spokesperson told TPG there were specific fare tiers.

Sale fares apply only to nonstop routes, though some connecting itineraries are showing fares similar to those offered in the sale.

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To illustrate the deals from one of Southwest's big East Coast bases, fares from Baltimore/Washington (BWI) were pricing at $39 each way to "close" destinations like Boston (BOS), Buffalo (BUF), Cleveland (CLE) and Charleston, South Carolina (CHS), among others. Round trip, those itineraries could be booked for less than $80 at the sale fares. Prices from BWI ticked up on longer routes to places like Chicago Midway (MDW) and Nashville (BNA) — $79 each way; Kansas City (MCI) and Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) — $99 each way; and Oakland (OAK) and Phoenix — $119 each way.

Similar pricing was showing from other Southwest cities. A Sept. 10-14 itinerary between Oakland (OAK) and Los Angeles (LAX), for example, came out to $77.96 round trip.

And because Southwest's Rapid Rewards program ties points to fares, bargain hunters can use points to take advantage of the sale, too. That $39 BWI-Boston one-way fare can also be had for just 2,253 points and $5.60 in taxes and fees. Similarly, the $77.96 OAK-LAX round trip can be bought with just 4,506 points plus $11.20 in taxes and fees.

(Screenshot courtesy of Southwest Airlines)
(Screenshot courtesy of Southwest Airlines)

Fares on a connecting, cross-country route from BWI to Portland, Oregon (PDX), in September were going for as little as $98 one way as of Tuesday morning.

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Still, fares varied by market. New Yorkers, for example, are out of luck. Southwest did not show the $39 fares for any of its flights from LaGuardia (LGA), where it flies few short routes.

Related: Southwest Airlines Is Ending All Flights From Newark Liberty

On June 23, 2020, Southwest's low-fare calendar showed one-way tickets from $98 in September between BWI and Portland, Oregon. (Screenshot courtesy of Southwest Airlines)

Flash sale has become a staple for Southwest

The three-day fare sale had become a twice-a-year mainstay for the carrier, typically rolling out each June and October. In recent years, the June version of Southwest’s big flash sale was unveiled earlier in the month. But that did not happen this year as the coronavirus pandemic upended travel, leading some to believe the sale wouldn't be offered this June.

But it appears to have just been delayed, with Southwest announcing it Tuesday with press release declaring: “It’s back!”

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.

More: Opening America: State-by-state guide to coronavirus reopening

They’ve also been a big hit with bargain hunters. 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.

Southwest’s big blockbuster sales have always been a way for it to drum up publicity. But what’s even more important to the carrier is that the the sales help create incentives for travel during what are typically the slowest times of the year for air travel.

The sale that rolled out Tuesday covers travel from mid-August through Dec. 17 (blackout dates apply). In normal years, that’s when travel begins to fall off as summer vacations wind down and leisure travel levels off as kids go back to school and parents to work.

But all bets are off for 2020.

More:As travel reopens, here’s what it’s like flying in the US right now

Southwest and all other U.S. airlines have been hit with a historic drop in the demand for air travel. Fears about coronavirus coupled with stay-at-home orders in place across much of the U.S. this spring sent passenger counts to their lowest levels in nearly 70 years.

Travel has been trending up, though, suggesting more Americans are ready to take to the air after months of being cooped up at home. The Transportation Security Administration screened more than 600,000 people on Tuesday – its highest total since March 19, but still down more than 75% compared to the same day a year ago.

Still, underscoring the unusual times, Southwest said it will continue to cap sales on its flights at about 65% of capacity to ensure empty seats remain out of concerns for social distancing.

The sales that are now a staple for Southwest initially got their start from an iteration the airline debuted in the 2010s, 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.

More: Southwest Airlines begins capping flight bookings to keep middle seats open

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 for Southwest's flash sale

The sale, which rolled out Tuesday morning, covers domestic travel in the contiguous 48 states from Aug. 11 through Dec. 17, though there are notable blackout dates around the major holidays.

Blackout dates for mainland U.S. routes include the following dates around Thanksgiving:

  • Nov. 25, 28, 29, 30

More: Southwest Airlines may cancel your flight on short notice as it ‘tactically’ trims more capacity

Friday and Saturday flights are excluded from the sale, though flights on those days can be combined with sale fares on other days.

Flights between Hawaii and the U.S. 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. International travel also has differing fine print, including more day-of-travel restrictions. The details are spelled out on Southwest’s website.

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.

More: Southwest Airlines adds 11 new routes, plans to resume a full schedule by year’s end

And remember the sale window is short. It ends Thursday (June 25) at 11:59 p.m. CT.

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.

Availability

A quick Tuesday morning spot-check of Southwest’s site by TPG showed fairly broad availability of the published sale fares. The advertised $39 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.)

Some examples include:

More:Southwest Airlines is cutting more than 100 routes from its ‘full’ schedule this winter

San Francisco (SFO) to Las Vegas (LAS)

(Screenshot courtesy of Southwest Airlines)

Washington National (DCA) to Providence (PVD)

(Screenshot courtesy of Southwest Airlines)

Chicago Midway to Minneapolis/St. Paul

(Screenshot courtesy of Southwest Airlines)

Full fine print for the sale (via Southwest Airlines)

  • Purchase from June 23 through June 25, 2020, 11:59 p.m. Central Time.
  • Continental U.S. travel valid August 11 through December 17, 2020. Travel to/from San Juan, Puerto Rico valid August 18 through December 3, 2020. International travel valid August 18 through December 9, 2020.
  • Continental U.S. travel blacked out November 25 & 28-30, 2020. Sale fares to San Juan, PR and international destinations blacked out November 20-22, 2020; sale fares from San Juan, PR and international destinations blacked out November 27-30, 2020.
  • Except as otherwise specified, continental U.S. 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 Monday - Thursday. Travel to Mexico is valid only on Sundays through Wednesdays. Travel from Mexico is valid only on Tuesdays through Fridays.
  • 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 to/from the 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 one-way 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.

More:Hawaii extends 14-day quarantine through end of July: Here’s what tourists need to know

Featured image by A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-800 in Denver. (Photo courtesy of Denver International Airport)

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  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
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  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023