Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY
Southwest rolled out a fare sale this morning (Oct. 8) in which the price of its flights are based on distance. By early afternoon, rival carriers had begun to selectively match Southwest's fares on certain routes.
Bargain hunters can snag round-trip fares as low as $98 on short routes, with longer flights costing incrementally more. Regardless of the length of the flight, however, deal-seekers will have to act fast to lock in those prices. Southwest's sale runs only through the end of the day Thursday (Oct. 10).
Southwest's distance-based sale prices - which also are offered on subsidiary AirTran - break down as follows:
$49 each way (500 miles or less)
$99 each way (501 to 1,000 miles)
$129 each way (1,001 to 1,500 miles)
$149 each way (More than 1,500 miles)
That pricing puts round-trip fares at less than $100 on dozens of Southwest and AirTran city pairs. Among the sub-$100 options: are Akron-Chicago; Atlanta-Orlando; Austin-New Orleans; Baltimore-Boston; Charlotte-Orlando; Chicago-Minneapolis; Denver-Salt Lake City; Houston-Dallas; Las Vegas-San Diego; Los Angeles-San Francisco; St. Louis-Atlanta and Wichita-Dallas.
Some rival carriers also dropped their fares to those levels on competing routes. Among the many routes where other airlines had matched Southwest's fares as of 12:30 p.m. ET on Monday: Baltimore-Boston ($98 round trip on JetBlue), Los Angeles-San Francisco ($98 on Delta and United), Denver-Salt Lake City ($98 on Frontier and Delta) and Atlanta-Orlando ($98 on Delta.)
And, on at least one route, Southwest's fares were being undercut by Spirit, which was offering $88 round trip fares for flights between Chicago and Minneapolis/St. Paul.
As for the fine print, the sale covers nonstop flights from Dec. 4 through Dec. 18 and from Jan. 7 through Feb. 12. The cheapest sale fares will disappear from flights as they begin to sell out. All Friday and Sunday flights are excluded. Systemwide blackout dates are Sept. 2 and Nov. 26-Dec. 3.
Tickets must be purchased Thursday by 11:59 p.m. in the time zone of the originating city.