Southwest’s “No Gotchas” Airfare Sale Comes With Its Fair Share Of Gotchas

We all know that airfare sales generally come with all sorts of strings attached — restrictions on dates, routes, and seat types are to be expected — but if you’re going to advertise a sale as having “no gotchas,” then it’s a bit disingenuous to have nearly 400 words of mouseprint conditions full of restrictions.

Consumerist reader Ben pointed us to the terms and conditions for this ongoing Southwest sale, which clearly states “Say yes to getaways with no gotchas.”

Looking at those conditions there are some — the 14-day advance purchase requirement, limited time window for buying tickets, or the restriction that you can only book non-stop flights — that aren’t terribly confusing and may even be expected.

The conditions that may cross the line into “gotcha” territory begin with location-specific restrictions on travel windows.

The general window of travel is Oct. 11 through March 8, 2017. What’s that — You want to fly to or from Puerto Rico? That window closes Dec. 8, but reopens from Jan. 17 through March 2, 2017.

Traveling internationally? Your window closes Dec. 13, but reopens Jan. 10 through March 2, 2017.

And even if you want to book travel within your allotted window, there are a bunch of blackout dates for Puerto Rico travelers and people traveling within the continental U.S., so the sale doesn’t apply to travel on November 22-23, November 26-28, December 21-23, December 26, or January 1-2, 2017.

In the parlance of badvertising: But wait, there’s more. The following bullet points are all quoted directly from the terms of this promotion, so don’t blame us if they are confusing.

• Domestic travel is valid only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

• Travel to Florida and Nevada and from Florida to Nevada is valid only on Sundays through Wednesdays.

• Travel from Florida and Nevada and from Nevada to Florida is valid only on Tuesdays through Fridays.

• Travel to/from San Juan, Puerto Rico is valid Monday – Thursday.

• International travel is valid Monday – Thursday.

• Travel to Cancun, Cabo San Lucas/Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta is valid only on Sundays through Wednesdays.

• Travel from Cancun, Cabo San Lucas/Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta is valid only on Tuesdays through Fridays.

• Travel to/from Mexico City; Liberia, Costa Rica and San Jose, Costa Rica is valid daily.

We’re not saying these conditions — however confusing — are necessarily outrageous; it’s the kind of stuff you might expect to run up against when actually trying to book a deeply discounted airfare.

But a “no gotchas” sale should, ideally, be the opposite of what you’d expect from an airfare sale: minimal or no blackout dates; travel/booking windows that apply to all (or almost all) departure and destination cities; no, or few, restrictions on which days of the week you can fly.

That sort of sale may be a pipe dream for an airline the size of Southwest, and that’s fine. But if you can’t deliver on a gotcha-free promotion, maybe you shouldn’t be advertising one?

We’ve asked Southwest to explain its use of the “no gotchas” marketing on this sale, but have not yet heard back.

UPDATE: Southwest has sent the following statement explaining its use of the “no gotchas” language:

“Our ‘No gotchas’ approach refers directly to what we’re known for at Southwest and that’s the incomparable combined offer of low fares, no change fees, and up to two bags that fly free. Our sales are designed to offer great low fares and stimulate travel during the typically low travel periods. Sometimes those sales are limited to particular markets and particular travel days where seats are available.”

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