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72-hour sale: Southwest fares fall below $100 round-trip (with a catch)

Southwest's broad 72-hour nationwide fare sale is back, but with significantly more restrictions than in the carrier's previous big sales.

Southwest rolled out the sale on Tuesday, making dozens of its shortest nonstop routes available for fares of less than $100 round-trip.

The broad fare sale has become a staple for Southwest. The airline has rolled out similar 3-day sales each June and October for the past several years. The sale from June 2015 was so popular that it crashed Southwest's website, prompting the carrier to extend the sale by an additional 24 hours.

A Southwest Airlines jet takes off at Midway Airport in Chicago, Illinois.
Getty Images
A Southwest Airlines jet takes off at Midway Airport in Chicago, Illinois.

But there's something of an asterisk for bargain-seekers this time around. Southwest's latest sale still offers many of the blockbuster fares that have made the sale so popular in the past. However, this iteration also comes with day-of-travel limitations that are more restrictive than what's been offered in Southwest's previous big sales.

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For domestic travel, Southwest's lowest fares are valid only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. For travel to Florida and Nevada, the lowest fares are offered only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. To Puerto Rico, the best prices are available Monday through Thursday. And, for international travel, the best sale prices are only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Higher sale fares may be offered on other days.

Those day-of-travel restrictions are a notable change from Southwest's most-recent big sales, which offered the cheapest fares on all but two days of the week (Fridays and Sundays were excluded).

Still, for fliers that can jump through the day-of-travel hoops, there are a number of low fares available on nonstop routes across much of Southwest's network. Round-trip fares are as low as $98 (including taxes) on many routes, including: Boston-Baltimore; Chicago-St. Louis, Los Angeles-San Francisco and Atlanta-Raleigh/Durham.

However, several of the carrier's shortest nonstop routes were not included in the $49 sale category. Once such route was Atlanta-New Orleans, which showed sale fares at $69 each way and up – but with spotty availability.

Still, Southwest's sale was broad enough that it was likely to make many fliers happy (if they can fly on the prescribed sale days).

Some of the round-trip sale prices on Southwest's 500-plus mile flights included Atlanta-New York LaGuardia ($144); Boston-Nashville ($108); Chicago Midway-New York LaGuardia ($158); Dallas Love-St. Louis ($158); Denver-St. Louis ($138); and Oakland-Salt Lake City ($198).

As for other pertinent fine print for Southwest's latest sale, it covers travel from Aug. 23 through Dec. 14, though some holiday periods are blacked out. Travel dates for international (Aug. 23 through Dec. 13) and Puerto Rico (Sept. 7 through Dec. 8) sale fares are slightly different, though they also have some holiday blackout periods.

The sale concludes at the end of the day Thursday (June 9).

Southwest has generated lots of buzz with its big sales, which the carrier has rolled out each June and October for at least the past three years.

Southwest had previously pegged fares in those sales to mileage thresholds. Earlier this decade, for example, Southwest priced its sale fares at $49 each way for flights of 500 miles or less and prices increased from there. Flights of 501 to 1,000 miles cost $99 each way and flights of 1,001 to 1,500 miles cost $129 each way. Flights of more than 1,500 miles went for $149 each way.

Southwest ended the precise mileage component of its big sales several years ago, but its big sales have continued to closely mimic its previous distance-based promotions. The carrier's four advertised sale-fare tiers — $49, $99, $129 and $149 each way — match the fares it offered on its distance-based sales of years past.

Whatever the details, travelers can snag advertised round-trip fares as low as $98 on short routes. Fares on longer flights appear to increase incrementally, roughly in correlation to the distance flown.

Among the sub-$100 options for flights on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays: Austin-Dallas Love; Baltimore-Buffalo; Burbank, Calif.-Sacramento; Charlotte-Baltimore; Cleveland-Chicago Midway; Columbus, Ohio-Washington National; Dallas Love-New Orleans; Detroit-Chicago Midway; Houston Hobby-Harlingen, Texas; El Paso-Phoenix; Flint, Mich.-Chicago Midway; Indianapolis-Kansas City; Las Vegas-San Diego; Los Angeles-Oakland; Memphis-Houston Hobby; Minneapolis/St. Paul-Milwaukee; Nashville-Pensacola, Fla.; Pittsburgh-Chicago Midway; San Jose, Calif.-Orange County, Calif.; and Spokane, Wash.-Boise.

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