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Southwest puts fall flights on sale briefly

DALLAS (AP) -- Southwest Airlines Co. is running a three-day sale on fall travel, and other airlines are starting to match the lower prices.

Southwest and its AirTran subsidiary launched the sale Tuesday, with round-trip prices ranging from $98 to $298 based on distance.

The sale, which ends Thursday night, covers a limited number of seats on nonstop flights from Aug. 26 through Dec. 18. Days around Labor Day and Thanksgiving are blacked out, and the lowest prices aren't available for Friday and Sunday flights.

United, Delta, American and US Airways all matched the Southwest offer, according to officials for each airline.

Southwest's lowest price of $98 covers trips up to 500 miles each way, such as Atlanta to Orlando, Fla., and Los Angeles to San Francisco. Trips of at least 1,751 miles each way start at $298 round trip, such as Baltimore to Las Vegas.

Many routes are not included in the sale, including flights to or from New York, Philadelphia, Seattle and Dulles Airport outside Washington.

Airlines expect mostly full flights this summer, but travel drops in the fall. Also, Southwest and other airlines have seen weaker average pricing the last two months than in the same months of 2012.

Tom Parsons, CEO of travel website Bestfares.com, said Southwest was offering the sale because "they would rather fill empty seats now" than wait until fall. "It's an aggressive sale." He said some fares were half the price they were before the sale, citing Chicago-Louisville and San Francisco-Hartford, Conn., as examples.

Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins said the airline was trying "to get people thinking about their autumn travel plans, a time of the year when we typically see softer bookings."