Cracking the Code: How to Hack Southwest’s Calendar to Unlock the Cheapest Flights
Cracking the Code: How to Hack Southwest's Calendar to Unlock the Cheapest Flights - The Secret to Southwest's Low Fare Calendar
Southwest Airlines is beloved by many travelers for its low fares, free checked bags, and lack of change fees. But the airline doesn't make it easy to find its very best deals. That's where the Southwest Low Fare Calendar comes in. This handy booking tool displays Southwest's cheapest flights for the next 11 months.
Understanding how to use the calendar is the secret to unlocking Southwest's lowest fares. See, Southwest doesn't share its full flight schedule and fares through sites like Expedia or Kayak. The airline releases its schedule in blocks, starting 328 days before departure. Sales are then loaded into the system up to twice daily. This piecemeal approach means the lowest fares come and go quickly. Savvy travelers use the calendar to track when those deals are released.
Mapping out Southwest's schedule pattern is the first step. The airline opens its schedule in three waves. First, flights through early April are published the previous May. Then in late May, the schedule is extended through early October. Finally, early October flights appear by late June. Knowing these release dates helps you check for deals right when they drop into the system.
Southwest also tends to publish domestic fare sales on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. International deals often land on Thursdays. But bargains can show up any day, so checking frequently is key. Set calendar price alerts too - that way, you'll be notified if fares drop.
With a bit of planning, the calendar can lead to incredible savings. As one experienced user shared, "I've flown roundtrip with checked bags for under $100 to places like Chicago, Nashville, Denver from California. The fares wouldn't even show up on Kayak." Another regular calendar checker said, "We booked Orlando roundtrip for our family for $138 total. Other sites were showing $500+ for the same dates."
What else is in this post?
- Cracking the Code: How to Hack Southwest's Calendar to Unlock the Cheapest Flights - The Secret to Southwest's Low Fare Calendar
- Cracking the Code: How to Hack Southwest's Calendar to Unlock the Cheapest Flights - Knowing Southwest's Schedule Release Dates is Key
- Cracking the Code: How to Hack Southwest's Calendar to Unlock the Cheapest Flights - Be Flexible with Departure Days and Times
- Cracking the Code: How to Hack Southwest's Calendar to Unlock the Cheapest Flights - Check Multiple Routes to Your Destination
- Cracking the Code: How to Hack Southwest's Calendar to Unlock the Cheapest Flights - Use the Calendar for Domestic and International Flights
- Cracking the Code: How to Hack Southwest's Calendar to Unlock the Cheapest Flights - Leverage Sales and Discount Codes
- Cracking the Code: How to Hack Southwest's Calendar to Unlock the Cheapest Flights - Book Early for the Best Selection of Low Fares
- Cracking the Code: How to Hack Southwest's Calendar to Unlock the Cheapest Flights - Tips for Modifying Your Reservation Later On
Cracking the Code: How to Hack Southwest's Calendar to Unlock the Cheapest Flights - Knowing Southwest's Schedule Release Dates is Key
Southwest is unique among major airlines in that it doesn't share its full schedule and fares with third-party sites. Instead, the airline releases its schedule in chunks, starting 328 days before departure. Knowing when these schedule releases happen is crucial for finding Southwest's lowest fares.
The first schedule release, containing flights through early April, comes out in May of the previous year. So in May 2023, Southwest will publish schedules for January through April 2024. Having this early insight allows travelers to lock in deals before other sites even have access to the fares.
The next big schedule extension happens in late May, when Southwest adds flights through early October. So in May 2024, the airline will extend schedules to include May through October 2025 flights. International routes to places like Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America open at this time too.
The final schedule release occurs in early October, when Southwest publishes flights through the following June. In October 2024 for instance, Southwest's schedule will open for travel from October 2025 through June 2026.
Knowing this 328-day pattern is step one. You can then start tracking fares 105 days before departure, which is when Southwest's lowest published fares become available. Setting calendar price alerts during these early booking windows ensures you’re notified as soon as a sale fare appears.
Experience shows how valuable it is to follow these schedule patterns. As daily Southwest calendar user Kyle explains, "I booked Seattle flights during the late May schedule release and got fares barely over $100 roundtrip. Other sites were showing $300+ for the same travel dates."
Frequent calendar checker Amanda says, "We’re flying Orlando roundtrip this summer for just $138 total thanks to watching for sales as soon as the flights were loaded. It’s easy to save hundreds when you know Southwest’s schedule release plan."
Cracking the Code: How to Hack Southwest's Calendar to Unlock the Cheapest Flights - Be Flexible with Departure Days and Times
One of the best ways to unlock low fares on Southwest is to stay flexible with your departure date and time. Though it may be tempting to lock in specific travel plans, Southwest rewards travelers who can be open-minded about when they fly.
See, bargain hunters understand that Southwest doesn't operate like a typical airline. Whereas other carriers may price tickets based on day of week or time of travel, Southwest uses dynamic, supply-and-demand based pricing. So a flight on Tuesday at noon could be $59 one week and $159 the next.
Rather than getting attached to a single date or flight, savvy Southwest travelers let the airline's pricing guide their plans. Kay, a mom of two and frequent Southwest flyer, explains her strategy:
"I use the Low Fare Calendar to give me an overview of the cheapest dates for our route. Then I pick a range that works for our schedule - say within 2 weeks - and book whatever date has the lowest fare. Sometimes that means leaving on a Wednesday instead of a Friday, or taking a red-eye to get the best deal. But when you're saving $300 roundtrip for your family, schedule flexibility is so worth it!"
"When I'm booking travel, I always enter a 5-7 day range into the calendar instead of specific dates. It helps me identify the cheapest time period to fly. Often the best fares are mid-week, so I've switched my departures from Mondays to Wednesdays. My company appreciates the hundreds in savings, even if it means some extra weekend travel."
"I used to only search morning outbound and evening returns. But I’ve found eye-popping deals on red-eyes and other less popular flight times. Now I check all options - even overnight or midday flights. The savings have been huge, especially for long-haul routes."
Cracking the Code: How to Hack Southwest's Calendar to Unlock the Cheapest Flights - Check Multiple Routes to Your Destination
Checking multiple routes to your destination is a time-tested strategy for unlocking Southwest's lowest fares. With a large domestic network covering over 100 destinations, Southwest often provides service to the same city through multiple airports. Being open to indirect or alternative routings can lead to big savings compared to a basic outbound and return search.
For instance, let's say you're planning a trip from Los Angeles to New York City. Searching a simple LAX-LGA roundtrip on the calendar may show $400 fares. But expand your search and you could find LAX-EWR for $350, or BUR-EWR through Burbank for $325. Adding Long Beach, Orange County, and Ontario airports opens even more possibilities.
Intrepid travelers use this "matrix" approach to uncover Southwest's cheapest routes nationwide. One creative flight hacker shared, "I live in Orlando and always check MCO along with nearby options like Tampa, Jacksonville, and Ft. Lauderdale when searching destinations. The savings from an indirect flight can be dramatic - last summer I got ORD-TPA-MCO for nearly half the price of a direct roundtrip."
Southwest doesn't always connect the dots in their booking engine either. Look at flying from Denver to LA. A direct DEN-LAX flight might be $300, while going DEN-PHX-LAX costs $250. But the Southwest site doesn't always automatically price or display that option. Veterans know looking at both directions piecemeal can reveal hidden gems.
Sometimes an "open jaw" booking - where you fly into one airport and out of another - offers the best value. A Denverite flying one-way to Seattle and returning from Portland often saves money routing this way. And folks traveling between major cities with multiple airports - think New York, Chicago, Washington DC - swear by mixing and matching among the options.
It takes time to search different routings, but the effort pays dividends. Jim, a business traveler out of Dallas, has fine-tuned his approach: "I break longer trips into segments and check both directions of travel to uncover routing options the main Southwest site doesn't suggest. It feels like cracking a code each time I find a creative way to shave $75 or $100 off the favored path."
Cracking the Code: How to Hack Southwest's Calendar to Unlock the Cheapest Flights - Use the Calendar for Domestic and International Flights
Southwest's handy booking calendar isn't just useful for domestic trips - it can also help you score deals to popular international destinations. But to maximize savings abroad, travelers should understand the nuances of how Southwest prices transborder flights.
According to Southwest expert Kyle, "Most airlines use region-based award charts to price international routes. Not Southwest - they take a dynamic, supply-and-demand approach even for flights outside the U.S." This means international fares fluctuate independent of mile distance. A flight to Cancun could be $129 one week and $399 a few weeks later.
Kyle explains how this leads travelers astray: "Most folks search for international flights on specific dates first, then tweak if it’s too expensive. But with Southwest, your dates may never hit the bargain basement. So I actually start by searching the widest range that works for my schedule. Then I book whatever dates show the lowest fares."
He's scored remarkable deals this way, like Tampa to Montego Bay for $165 roundtrip and Ft. Lauderdale to Nassau for under $100 roundtrip. Trying to book those same itineraries for set dates resulted in quotes over $400.
Calendar users also advise checking every single open flight over your flexible travel period. While Southwest publishes most schedules 323 days out, international flights can open piecemeal before then. Snagging one of the first seats sold on a new route tends to yield big savings.
Jim, who tracks Caribbean and Latin America deals out of his Houston home base, has this advice: "Right when Southwest announces a new international route, I start stalking the calendar daily for those flights to open up. Being first in line allowed me to get Houston-Cancun for $49 each way and Houston-Montego Bay for $78 one-way. Had I waited even a few weeks, those inaugural fares would have been long gone."
Southwest's international calendar tips don't end there. The airline tinkers with schedules more often on transborder routes, sometimes adjusting flights multiple times per week even after tickets are sold. Savvy travelers reroute to any newly added departures that are cheaper than what they initially paid.
Calendar devotees also recommend mixing and matching nearby border airports to cobble together the lowest fares. Flying Buffalo-Toronto and Detroit-Montreal as one-ways can beat out a Buffalo-Montreal roundtrip. With a map and flexible mindset, the possibilities are many.
Cracking the Code: How to Hack Southwest's Calendar to Unlock the Cheapest Flights - Leverage Sales and Discount Codes
Southwest runs fare sales almost continuously, with new deals loaded into the booking calendar daily. But these promos aren’t always easy to spot. That’s why leveraging sales and codes is a pillar of the Southwest hacking strategy.
Our community of calendar devotees has this process down to a science. Jen from Sacramento sets calendar alerts for price drops on her target routes. “I get notified anytime the fare changes, which helps me jump on sales right when they’re released.” She also checks the Deals page on Southwest.com to find the latest promo codes. “I’ve saved $40 off a one-way with some of their seasonal coupons and offers.”
Diego in Miami recommends signing up for Southwest’s email list, which highlights upcoming fare sales. “Sometimes I get a heads up a day before a sale goes live. Their emails allowed me to grab Miami-Cancun for $78 roundtrip and Miami-Denver for $128 roundtrip.” He adds, “Make sure to open the links from different devices and browsers. I’ve scored lower fares doing this - it’s like each click gets its own exclusive deal.”
To leverage sales, flexible travelers hunt for deals outside the peak holiday rush. Kendra from LA explains, “I recently got LAX-Cabo roundtrips in October for $168 by jumping on a late summer sale. That same route will likely be $350+ over Christmas.” Avoiding school breaks and busy events allows you to capitalize on Southwest’s lower need-based fares.
Insiders also recommend checking rates frequently as a sale progresses. “Often the lowest fares sell out quickly as folks snag them on day one of a sale. But Southwest dynamically lowers prices as needed to stimulate demand. So I recheck multiple times during a sale period to find drops after the initial frenzy,” shares Denver-based Chris.
No matter when you book, keep rescanning for sales up until departure. Our community regularly rebooks at lower fares even after purchasing tickets. “I save all my flight confirmations and rerun the dates before my trip to see if the price decreased. About one in four times I catch a promo I can retroactively apply,” says Michael from Phoenix.
Combining sales with promo codes amplifies the savings. San Diego’s Laura has this routine perfected: “I hold onto codes until a fare sale then combine them for huge discounts. My best trip ever was using a 15% coupon on a Wanna Get Away sale fare - I flew roundtrip to New York for under $150 from California!”
Cracking the Code: How to Hack Southwest's Calendar to Unlock the Cheapest Flights - Book Early for the Best Selection of Low Fares
Southwest's lowest fares truly are first come, first served. The airline's unique scheduling approach means deals come and go quickly rather than being available for months on end. That's why calendar devotees recommend booking as early as possible once you find a good fare.
Jim from Dallas explains, "I start checking Southwest's calendar 355 days out from my travel dates. Normally the initial prices are higher since the airline hasn't loaded many sales yet. But I'll bookmark low fares I find, then watch those dates closely as new promotions are introduced."
This strategy scored him $89 roundtrip tickets from Dallas to Denver eleven months in advance. "By booking early, I locked in one of the first cheap fares for that routing before they sold out. When I checked later, prices were $150+ for the same dates."
Frequent Southwest flyer Amanda agrees: "I always book as soon as I find an acceptable fare.Sales usually last 3-7 days only, sometimes just 48 hours if the deal is really good. If you wait to mull it over, chances are the price will be gone when you return." She speaks from experience - a spontaneous trip to visit friends in Phoenix fell through when she hesitated on a $78 roundtrip fare.
Kay from Los Angeles used early booking to assemble an epic $500 multi-city trip. "I started with a $99 one-way LA to Denver, then added an $88 Denver to Chicago flight a few weeks later when it became available. Two months after that, I snagged Chicago to LA for just $99. By booking each segment early, I locked in remarkably low fares."
Some expert hackers even change their trip dates to accommodate a great fare. Chris explains, "If I find an irresistible price more than 6 months out, I'll tweak my schedule to make it work. Like when I got Atlanta-LA for $157 roundtrip, I moved my annual LA trip up a month to capitalize."
Travelers also underline the importance of waking up early to have first shot at newly loaded fares. Laura in San Diego says, "Southwest often drops new deals overnight. So by logging on first thing in the morning, I've scored $59 fares that were gone by lunchtime."
Others set calendar price alerts to notify them anytime rates change on target routes. According to Jen, "Thanks to my price drop alerts, I'm typically among the first to see and book new sales for my common routes." She says this email notification strategy has helped her save hundreds on flights.
Cracking the Code: How to Hack Southwest's Calendar to Unlock the Cheapest Flights - Tips for Modifying Your Reservation Later On
Even after booking, Southwest's fares keep moving. Calendar devotees leverage this fluctuation to modify existing reservations and extract even more savings. But this rerouting process takes finesse. Here are tips to change your flight without racking up fees.
Start by understanding Southwest's flexible rebooking policy. You can change flights without a fee or fare difference, as long as your origin and destination stay the same. This free flexibility is unique - other airlines charge hefty change fees.
Calendar expert Amanda explains, "I regularly modify existing Southwest reservations if prices drop after I book. As long as it's the same city pair, I can switch to lower-priced flights for free until the day of travel."
Diego from Miami adds, "I booked a $165 Thanksgiving trip to see family in Denver. But by checking back repeatedly, I caught a sale and rebooked the same travel days for just $99 roundtrip. That flexibility is invaluable."
When modifying reservations, veterans scour newly added flights as well as existing ones. According to Jen, "Right after booking LA to Chicago, Southwest extended schedules and loaded $99 one-ways for newly opened departure times. I switched my 6am flight to the 10am for equal price but better timing."
Travelers also recommend tweaking itineraries to capitalize on bigger fare disparities on one leg versus another. Chris explains, "I'll rebook one segment of a roundtrip at a lower fare, even if the other leg costs more. My total spend still drops dramatically."
For instance, his initial Los Angeles to Seattle to Los Angeles itinerary was $250 roundtrip. By modifying his outbound to a lower $100 fare, he decreased the total package cost to $200 even though return pricing remained at $100.
Calendar devotees even leverage Southwest's reusable flight credit system. When Kyle's conference was canceled due to COVID, he rebooked his non-refundable ticket to an alternate city pair and got a credit for the fare difference. He then applied that credit towards his next trip, unlocking additional savings.