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WHY CAN'T I MAKE RESERVATIONS FURTHER IN ADVANCE?

Bill
Employee
Employee
Schedule Planning Department members are used to being asked questions.  Usually, it's "What's the next new city?"  or "When are we going to add nonstop service from X to Y?"  Of course, we can't give direct answers, as we have to protect the confidentiality of our growth plans.  In fact, we've learned to tap dance our way around those types of questions better than the cast of 42nd Street.   However, one question we do get asked repeatedly is why Southwest doesn't allow Customers to make reservations further in advance.  I can easily (and happily) de-mystify that one!  It really boils down to one, very simple reason:  we don't like to confirm a reservation to a Customer, and then have to change their schedule.    As all of us know, the farther you look out into the future, the harder it is to make accurate predictions.  TV Weathermen have trouble telling us what it's going to be like outside tomorrow much less ten or eleven months from now.  Because the airline industry is as chaotic as the weather and in a constant state of flux, we can only predict with a high degree of certainty what our Corporate, and our Customers', schedule needs will be up to roughly six months in advance.  Therefore, we publish our schedule and allow bookings only up to about 180 days in advance--six months of inventory, if you will.  After we publish, we let the clock tick down, day by day, until we have about 120 days worth of inventory left to sell, at which point we publish another "block" of schedules and push the inventory back up to about 180 days.  On rare occasion (and we're in one now) the inventory can drop as low as 90 days, and on even rarer occasions we'll have more than 180 days available--but the general goal is to keep between 120 to 180 days of inventory for sale.  Outside of that six-month timeframe, we're free to make whatever schedule changes we need to in order to remain competitive, maintain operational excellence, and give our Customers the Freedom to Fly all over America.   If we were to allow bookings as much as a year in advance--in effect, before our plans were solid--we would have to make changes to many, if not most, of those longrange reservations.  Nobody likes that outcome.  For one thing, it's expensive to spend the time and resources to notify Customers whose itineraries have changed.  Second, and worse yet, depending on what we changed in the schedule, we couldn't always rebook changed reservations onto replacement itineraries at similar times.   Not that we haven't thought about this issue, many times, at great length.  We've repeatedly examined the benefit of extending the booking "window," and each time we've found that in general, very, very few Customers would take advantage of booking flights ten or eleven months from today.  So by allowing bookings further in advance than we now do, we'd be setting up a potentially very disruptive chain of events that really would not provide a significant benefit for either our Customers or our Company.   We think our existing policy strikes a great balance between offering Customers the ability to confirm their travels far enough ahead of time to suit most of their needs, and allowing Southwest to keep our costs low and our flexibility high to respond to changes in the marketplace.  So remember the "120/180 rule" for future bookings on Southwest.  We will usually make up to 180 days of inventory available for sale, then allow that booking window to tick down to 120 days-then "recharge" the booking window by putting another 60 days or so of salable inventory out there, taking the total days available back up to around 180.  But if you keep this general rule in mind, it'll provide a good yardstick to see where Southwest stands in with respect to the booking window.   Hopefully this will help "de-mystify" planning future travel on Southwest.  Keep the questions, and the comments, coming!  And feel free to ask me or anyone in the Schedule Planning Department what the next new markets are going to be.  We can't tell you....but we do a mean soft-shoe.  
262 Comments
cheap_holidays_
Not applicable
In my experience the further ahead you try and book flights or hotel reservations the more time there is for stuff to go wrong! Companies are taken over, hotels need refurbished, aircraft are unable to fly due to unscheduled maintenance etc. Obviously I dont leave booking my travel and holiday plans to the last minute but there are limits when it comes to booking in advance.
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[...] another change was made supposedly due to feedback on a previous post. As many of you know, Southwest only keeps their schedule open for a certain period of time in [...]
Karen_Meekins
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Although I would like to make SW Air my first airline of choice, you will lose our family's business for an upcoming holiday trip due to your annoying "180 day" rule. 10 of us need to finish up family travel plans for December. Wish you could be more considerate during the crucial holiday windows! I will instead book with other airlines who are still posting fairly decent fares...
mchernovetz
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SWA - Please Add Hartford to Philly back to your schedule - I will fly this at least once a week if you do, Also, a Hartford to IAD or DCA flight would be highly popular Thanks for listening
grantr1961
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I am visiting the US in October/November and part of this time is going to spent at an old high school friend's place in Phoenix. I need a flight in and out of New England, and partly because of me starting from Phoenix, but mainly because I have asked my friends who travel a lot, I decided to book SouthWest for the internal US travel. I have booked my international flights from Australia, however when I went to book the internal flights (both November) the SWA site had a cut off of Oct 30. I reasoned this would probably push out to late November come June, but it still says Oct 30. Any ideas when I will be able to book? Other things such as car hire, train tickets, accommodation can't be booked until I know the flights are confirmed. The web makes it easier but its still a bit frustrating (and the wife keeps asking When?) Thanks - I hope its not that long before I can book.
David8
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Frankly, the explanation of why at I can't book a flight for November in late June is lame. The explanation is as credible as SWA's explanation of why they have no way for customers to email them comments or suggestions. How can you even pretend to value customer service with these lame excuses on such fundamental issues. I can currently book a flight in November on any major carrier EXCEPT Southwest! How does that value me as a customer?? I can send an email to any other major carrier except Southwest! This is a joke. SWA has no problem sending out MILLIONS of marketing emails a month, but can't seem to figure out how to receive a single one from a customer??? Customer service and SWA should never be used in the same sentence! Just call me frustrated in Phoenix...or a better name would be....booking on US Airways because Southwest won't take my flight reservation.
justpicky
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I know one thing , I can plan my vacation for June 2009 . If the prices would stay at a reasonable price , it would be easy for people to make reservation months advance . This way they would've a guideline to go by . I have my other plans for Feb 09 , so Southwest I'm depending on you to keep everything the same pleaseeeeee. It's not like I can travel , just anytime , I have to plan or else , I will not be able to go . I'm not as lucky as many others. This will be my first time booking / traveling with Southwest .
Becky1211
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what is up with only being able to book through March 6 2009 (for like the last 2 months). I just want to book a trip for March 13th!!!! what is going on after March 6th that is stalling the airflights???
kochbo
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Ouch - this March 6th date is a killer. I only have to travel until March 7th (return). Does anyone have a guess as to when the next window will open? Should I book the "To" flight now and book the return later?
Catman
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With the new schedule coming on April 14, 2009 can we please have a flight from (MCO) to (PVD) return to a early morning route sometime between 6:15 am and 7:00 am The flights during the summer leaving (MCO) AT 9:35 am are to late in the morning to enjoy a full day in Rhode Island
Willis
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You guys are TOTALLY amazing.Thank you for your beautiful music. I am from Cyprus and know bad English, give true I wrote the following sentence: "Anti allergic therapies market is on the brink of dramatic change.Contact with some commonly used pesticides farm work. Increase their risk allergic asthma." Thank you so much for your future answers ;-). Suki.
Anonymous2749
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When will you open up tickets for Winter Break 6 months from now approx. Feb 13 - 20th? The hotels (even the ones that only books 6 months ahead of time are already). Hardrock opened today, other airlines are booking that don't do too far in advance IE: Jetblue. I have a huge credit with you guys do to an error on your website - I want to try and book my Feb. trip through you (if your not more then the major airlines and I find you are many times). The advantage is you fly out of Islip.