The Best Airfare Sale You’re Going to See in Months. Here’s Why

Deal Expert, New York
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It’s a date we circle on our calendars here at Travelzoo.

Southwest Airlines earned its wings as a low-cost carrier, but these days the airline only launches an aggressive sale two or three times per year.

In a new three-day sale launched Oct. 13, Southwest is offering flights starting at $49 one way on most routes for travel into 2016 (Dec. 2 – Feb. 10, with blackouts around Christmas and New Year’s).

A new Southwest sale? Big deal, right?

Actually, yes it is a big deal. Here’s why this sale is the airfare event of the fall.

1. These fares are $20-$25 each way cheaper than their usual sale fares.

2. The dirty little secret of the airfare world is this: If you’re booking a fare on United, Delta or American — there’s a good chance that the fare you’re booking was actually set by Southwest.

In this post-merger world, more than 80% of domestic air travel is controlled by those four airlines — so market competition doesn’t really drive down fares any more. The Big Four would rather you choose your flights based on loyalty, flight times, amenities … anything really, instead of price.

Fare wars — when one airline discounts fares and forces others to follow suit or lose market share — are more or less a relic of the past. Except when one of the Big Four go off the script — like this Southwest sale.

3. Expect other airlines to match (or beat) these fares for the next three days. Frontier has already gotten into the game, offering up 300,000 seats for as low as $19 each way (after a $5 off promo code) this fall (Oct. 20 – Dec. 16). And, if you look closely at this new United sale, it’s almost a direct match of the Southwest sale.

Bottom line: It’s a great day to shop for a cheap flight. It’s an early Christmas for those of us that love to fly, but hate to pay retail.

You’ll find the best flight deals if you follow a few simple rules.

1. Be flexible on your dates. Maybe one week is $400 roundtrip for your dream trip, but the following week is $250. A little flexibility goes a long way toward keeping your travel on budget. I love to use the fare calendars in our Today’s Best Fares section to highlight when I can save the most on my trip.

2. Try to fly at least one leg on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. These are the days of the week planes are least full, and so these are the days that most sales target with the lowest fares. By contrast, Friday and Sunday flights are rarely discounted.

3. Consider alternate airports. For example, JetBlue flies to Long Beach instead of LAX — so if you can fly into the LBC, you might save as much as $50-$100 on the flight. Consider the same for Chicago (Midway or O’Hare), New York (JFK, La Guardia, Newark — or for the adventurous Westchester County {HPN} or Trenton {TTN}, the Bay Area (San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose), Dallas (Love or DFW), Houston (Bush or Hobby), Los Angeles (Long Beach, LAX, Burbank, Orange County), South Florida (Miami, Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach), Washington, D.C. (BWI, Dulles or Reagan National).

4. Fly early. The early bird gets the best deal. The first flight out in the morning is often the cheapest of the day — and it’s the most likely one to be on time.

5. Don’t forget about the fees. Are you a heavy packer? Check. Do you want extra legroom? Check. Are you going to want more nourishment than a cup of soda during the flight? Check. Those checks add up when you check-in. Perks like free checked bags on Southwest, or free Wi-Fi on JetBlue — those can make a big difference depending on your preferences.

6. Don’t hunt and peck. A metasearch site, which searches several airlines and travel agencies at the same time for your itinerary, is a great way to find the best combination of price and date for your future trip.

7. Don’t sleep on a good fare. You’re allowed to cancel your flight at no penalty up to 24 hours after booking, so if you see a great fare, grab it and figure out the details (hotels, time off of work, etc.) later.

All’s fair during airfare wars, and the cheap flights won’t last forever. When these sales end on Oct. 15, expect prices to soar once again.

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Show 1 Comments
  • Sam Bergman

    Why do you still have this link active on line given that the offer was from Oct. and only good from 12/-2/10?