Are Southwest Sales Still A Good Deal?

Another week, another Southwest Airlines “sale”. This time Southwest is promoting tickets as low as $59 each way. Book soon, they say, as this deal ends on Thursday 3/2! I remember in the mid 2000’s these sales would prompt me to rush to the closest computer I could find. If there was somewhere I needed to be in the coming 6 months, I was booking my flight. Often times Southwest would discount flights so much that it would create a buzz among family and friends. Sadly, I don’t recall this happening over the last 5+ years. This had me wondering…  Are Southwest sales still a good deal?

Southwest and Me

I’m a Phoenix based flyer. By a narrow margin over American, Southwest flies more passengers out of Phoenix Sky Harbor than any other airline. When I was in my early 20’s, many of my trips were short hops to San Diego, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. Back then, (8) round trip flights bought you a free round trip ticket anywhere Southwest flew. It was quite the deal. (8) quick trips to California for $100 and hello free flight to New York!

For a variety of reasons, I’ve moved on from Southwest over the years. First, they moved to a traditional points system. Gone were the free flight awards. Then my travel started to diversify a lot more and their route map just wasn’t expansive enough. Even more alarming, Southwest’s fares seemed to go from cheapest available, to often much more expensive than their competition. Remember that trip to New Jersey we’ll be taking this summer? Let’s compare Southwest to my other options out of Phoenix:

Southwest search results

 

Google flights search results

Southwest isn’t even trying to match their competitors. Making matters worse, Southwest refuses to allow their flights to be displayed by online travel agencies. As a result, I’m forced to open another page to compare one airline to the rest.

Are Southwest Sales Still A Good Deal?

Out of curiosity, I hopped over to Southwest to check out the latest sale. I didn’t qualify for AAdvantage elite status last year, so for 2017 I’m a free agent. If Southwest has a great deal, then I’ll be open to flying with them. Here’s a list of destinations on sale from Phoenix:

Are Southwest Sales Still A Good Deal?

I’m going to try to be nice about this, but there’s really nothing to see here. On the surface these prices don’t really stand out. Even worse, the fine print limits the sale to Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. How convenient. I decided to run a test for flights this summer to San Diego. My sample dates are Tuesday June 6th – Tuesday June 13th, which fits within the parameters of the sale. Here is my best fare:

Southwest search results

That’s not really the type of price that’s going to get me to rush to the computer and book a flight. But perhaps I’m being unfair. Let’s see what American is offering:

American search results

What a surprise. The same exact fare. Southwest’s latest sale is so sad that American is matching it without blinking an eye. $177 round trip to San Diego is exactly what I would expect to pay 3 months out. It might even by on the high side. We’re now living in a world where sub $500 flights to Europe are becoming the norm. Why would anyone think this sale is anything special?

Bottom Line

I’m not trying to be too harsh on Southwest here. I think they’ve done a great job in building brand loyalty that is unrivaled in the airline industry. Additionally, they’ve held firm on their pledge to let bags fly free. Since my wife and I will be traveling with a child soon, this could be a great benefit. My preference would be for them to limit their sales to a day or two, perhaps only a few times a year. With less frequency, Southwest could theoretically slash fares like they used to and bring that buzz back.

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