Cheap fares have ruled the airline industry this year as airlines struggle to fill a shrunken number of seats during the coronavirus pandemic, and there’s no sign it will end anytime soon.
Southwest Airlines on Tuesday launched another three-day fare sale, with travel dates into February on most routes and as late as April on flights to Hawaii. The nation’s largest domestic carrier generally has two big fare sales a year, in June and October,but has tossed that calendar out this year.
The latest sale is the third broad sale since May and the second to feature round trip fares starting at $39 one way on short flights.
Southwest is pitching one-way fares as low as $39 for nonstop domestic routes like Raleigh/Durham-Nashville and and Oakland-Las Vegas. For travelers looking to hit the beach on the cheap, there’s also a $136 one-way fare from Lubbock, Texas, to Cancun Mexico and a $139 one-way from Baltimore to Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic.
Tickets must be purchased by Thursday, Aug. 27, on Southwest’s website or through its reservations center since the airline does not sell through major online travel agencies like Expedia or list its fares on Google Flights. Check other airlines’ prices, too, as airlines often match each others’ fares on competing routes.
The best way to shop for the cheapest prices on Southwest? Use the airline’s low-fare calendar.
Of course, there is fine print galore, the most notable detail being that key holiday travel dates are blocked out and Friday and Sunday travel is excluded, which generally rules out quick weekend getaways.
Southwest is the only U.S. airline that allows two free checked bags and does not charge ticket change fees.
Southwest has plenty of company in the fare sale department. Alaska Airlines recently had a 2-for-1 sale and American has been advertising fares as low as $49 one way.
The Dallas-based airline’s latest sale comes against a bleak industry backdrop. Last week, Southwest told investors in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that it continues to experience “significant negative impacts to passenger demand and bookings.”
Like all carriers, the airline said it was encouraged by May and June trends but said the momentum stalled in early July due to the rise in COVID-19 cases, prompting it and other airlines to slash future flights to better match demand.
Southwest said it has seen a modest improvement in August but noted it was for last-minute vacation bookings.
The sale is designed to spur travelers to book travel further out.
In the the week ending Aug. 16, passenger volume on U.S. flights was down 68% from a year ago, international flights, 88%, according to industry trade group Airlines for America.
Airline passenger volume won’t return to 2019 levels until 2023 or 2024, with revenue lagging that, the group predicts.