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WHY CAN'T I MAKE RESERVATIONS FURTHER IN ADVANCE?

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
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I am a glad that I will be flying with people loyal to SWA on my trip to MCO in May.
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Sorry Southwest, JetBlue just got my business for a planned trip in May. 90 days of inventory is not sufficient, regardless of all the reasons. My guess is that SW has lost millions more than they 'saved' by doing this.
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I like the fact that swa dosen't open their schedule until 90 days prior to the flight. It keeps us in suspense. It's fun.
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In response to Greg's 1/29/07's 12:52 pm with regard to Southwest's plans at Dulles, I flew back from Dulles (IAD) on Jan 19th and there was a video presentation on the monitors that described Dulles's plans for the airport. There is to be two additional terminals to be built and two additional runways to be built as well. I see Southwest's plans for Dulles as being more long-term. I also see Southwest picking up a good chunk of the gates at the to-be-built terminals. But Southwest and their executives only know the true answer. But I do see service from IAD to look a lot more like it is from BWI years down the road but again Southwest know the answer the that question too.
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I'll bet Bill is glad this has rolled of the home page of blogsouthwest.com :-) But I still admire him for coming in and taking hit after hit from disgruntled potential travelers. Me? I just found out I need to go from El Paso to Phoenix and back, then El Paso to Dallas and back, both during the week of May 14. I'm not worried in the least about getting a flight or a seat, I know SWA takes care of me and I will gladly wait until the "bucket" opens and buy my tickets then.
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This is starting to get serious. I have booked resetvations in Las Vegas for a week and would like very much to fly Southwest. My week in Vegas is just beyond the 10th of May. That means, until the chicken bones or goat innards or whatever method you guys use to decide the release date of new scheduling pops, I can't use my favorite airline. American used to be my favorite airline. Their service's convenience became less than perfect and Southwest had what was at the time the best service and site in the industry. Key phrase in the above is "used to be". If I don't see a schedule update by, say, 2/9 (that's Friday), I may need a new airline of choice.
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Folks, according to Bill, the schedule will open tomorrow...Relax!
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I booked my flight with Delta got a good deal that I could not pass up .
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I have been signed up for the DING and have not seen any flights discounted to Orlando, Florida from Austin, Texas in the past two months. Could you please discount some of those flights? Would appreciate it. Kim
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I have an awesome idea. Can we move this blog back to the front page, and push out the schedule extension one more week? I am hopeful that by doing so we can surpass the comment record set by the assigned seating post. Just kidding. 😄
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The anticipation reminds me of those old Heinz Ketchup commercials. Oh, wait a minute, no it doesn't. I took my business to United. Sorry Southwest, maybe next trip!
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Bill--- I think you should receive an honorary Heroes of the Heart Award when they make the presentation next week! It is wonderful employees like yourself that make me proud to work at the best airline in the world! I can't imagine any of the legacy carriers (or any others for that matter) sharing information as to "why?" something is as it is... for an airline who doesn't "care" about our Customers; the fact that you would share this info and take all this criticism and harsh words, yet still reply to concerns in a compassionate and caring manner is just awesome and speaks volumes. You most certainly possess a Servant's Heart. I can certainly understand our Customer's frustration and guys, believe me, if they could've opened the schedule sooner the would've... the majority of Southwest Airlines employees take their jobs to heart and want nothing more than to make our Customers the happiest that they can be. We also share your frustration in the schedule issue--- I am a Reservation Sales Agent as well as a Customer Care Representative and wish I had a definitive answer when you call and ask when the schedule will be open. We strive to provide you the very best Customer Service imaginable and not being able to give you a concrete answer is a disappointment. Have faith in Bill--- they are offering all kinds of overtime for Reservations tomorrow, so I just bet that you will have your schedule then-- and we will be more than happy to get your flight arrangements for the summer months taken care of ! Once again Bill-- you rock and I admire your courage and thick skin!!!!
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The last part of my post was cut off--- and thank you to our Loyal Customers. You are the reason why we remain profitable and we appreciate your patience and understanding!
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I second that ... Bill you ROCK !!!
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Hi again, Bill. I had a little spare time and read the whole blog. Have some comments: 1. It's hard to find. Archived while active? Fits right in with schedule release. 2. I commented in my last entry that 2/9 is drop-dead day. Now i see a promise right from Little Orphan Annie: Tomorrow! Tomorrow! We'll see. 3. You have a lot of support and a lot of aggravation in this blog, Remember that Nielson uses 1000 families to plan TV schedules for 3,500,000 viewers. 4. You still have until Friday to keep this customer. Friday, not Saturday. 5. Jet Blue flies where I fly for about what SWA costs. Now that you've removed all the NS service to Manchester NH and most to PVD, one connection through JFK to Boston isn't that bad. Except for the Big Dig, which brings us back to similes for the scheduled release. Fix it by Friday, Bill. I really like SWA but my patience went away when I hit 65. I don't have time to waste.
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To John L.....RELAX DUDE!!! Bill said the schedule will be out tomorrow.
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Well, here we are ... the 8th of February ... and no schedule beyond 5/10/07. Bill, if the schedule isn't up at some point today, then I've taken my last flight on Southwest. This INSANITY that your company calls strategy has taken what was a very high opinion of your airline, and flushed it straight down the lavatory. Delta and US Air fly to every destination that I frequent. The frustration of your unreliable, forward looking schedule has now officially outweighed any price difference that may exist between you and other carriers. One customer ... big deal. Yea, I get it. What would happen to your airline though, and how much sense would this "strategy" make ... if more people shared my opinion and frustration? Looks as if many do. For the life of me, I can not see how a company can survive and be viable if they can't project more than four months into the future Bill. How do you satisfy Wall Street when you file with the SEC?
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David G., If you've read the comments on this blog, you should know that the schedule usually comes out around 10am (9am CST).
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Hey David, If you took out the time to read, you would have seen more then once that the new scheduled would be posted after 10am CENTRAL time!
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For all those who lost patience and booked on another airline, be prepared for more frustration when SW does release them (hopefully today), because you will likely see the rates on the flights you booked on another airline drops a well. It's no secret that the legacy airlines often time their sales with SW releases and sales. The problem is you will have no recourse to rebook at the lowere fare like you can with SW. Yes the other airlines have been loving this, they have been able to keep their fares higher through this time and snatch up the impatient SW customers. Well, the joke will be on you. And just FYI, I am not a loyal SW flyer. I am a mercenary who will fly with whoever has the best rates and times at the time I need my flights by. However, I RARELY will buy tickets on another airline until SW has their rates up just for this reason.
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Thanks for flying SWA David.
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Alright already...10am has come and gone. Still waiting...
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It's 10:05am, everyone take off your Southwest blinders and make your reservations! What? I STILL can't make a reservation past 5/10/07?
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I called Southwest this morning and I asked if I could change my itinerary when the dates come out. Then i said " I know the dates are coming today and you cant tell me that" and the woman responded " Well lets put it this way, alot of us are working extra today" so I am confident its gonna happen
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Alas the moment of trush has arrived! I hope people will shut up and stop complaining (presuming everything goes according to SWA plan!) about every little thing. It's time to stop theorizing and speculating because you are not their in there offices and have no idea what's going on. Why are you guys so impatient? What difference does it make if you have tickets for September07 today compared to 4 days ago? They have tried their best to explain what's going on and give us any information possible. On the other hand, if there's no change at 10am CST today, I'll have to cross the fence and pick up a torch! Warm regards to SWA and to the people...
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Yes, settle down, he said 10am CST not 10am EST...Geez
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smack.. smack... smack... I hear folks eating crow out there! It is 1004 CST and the schedule is open PAST through 24 August, 2007!!!!!! Let the booking begin ; )
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...and the waiting continues. This is starting to remind me of Y2K. Still waiting for all of that turmoil to destroy the world as well.
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10:10 CST no change,anybody gotta match..LOL
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I waited an extra 2 1/2 months to book LAS to MCI because the May 4th flight (one week prior) was $49 at that time. Now, after all this, May 11th goes on sale for $169 one-way! I'm done with with Southwest. The prices are about as bad as the service!
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Gary and Don, Hit Refresh on your browser, the new schedule is open but it sometimes needs to be refreshed because your browser caches pages you have visited recently.
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Were good forget da match!
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Okay, so I wait and I wait until I can book and guess what... These tickets are more expensive than both American OR United!!!! This is ridiculous! I think SWA has just about lost me for good! Where are our deep discounts???
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I'm booked to Vegas. Way to go SWA! Bill thanks for your patience and understanding.
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OK, I digress...the wait was well worth it even though it still seems quite unnecessary. 5 people to Sacramento for $1025...unbelievable guys. Thanks for the continued low fares.
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Well worth the wait!Thanks Bill
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Whoo hoo! Flight out of vegas to st. louis! yay SWA! It was worth the wait. I would not fly any other airline!
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Wow, prices are high. Last Novbember trip to Vegas I paid $195.00 round trip. Now, it is $276.00. Really was not worth the wait for me. I am just hoping they will go down a bit. However, I will start checking other prices at different airlines.
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Just booked our June trip from Vegas to DC. Used our RR Awards. Thanks SWA!!!!
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Just booked with American. Would have cost me almost $500 rt from Seattle to Dallas with SWA for the dates I wanted. I paid $218 for AA. Sorry, SWA. The wait + prices = shopping around.
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Hi again, Bill. Last comment on this subject. Since the only response i got was from Harpo telling me to chill, I guess the blog's good for venting. As promised, the schedule was updated today, I assume at 10:00. I looked for my 5/25 award flights at 11:00 and by golly there were only TWO FLIGHTS available on 5/25. Lots of "not available" on the other dozen or so. There were lots of choices on the return, so that was good. And by coincidence one of the two on 5/25 fit my needs. But I see a lot of price differences, trending upward. You guys aren't out of hot water yet. I fly SWA because it's a good deal and because of those silly little things the crews do that make flights enjoyable. The crews seem a little less happy and the deals are not as good. Pan American acted like they were doing you a favor letting you use their airplane. You guys need to go back to your roots. Fun flights that cost less. If you don't have a differentiator, you won't survive and that would indeed be a shame.
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Hey all the schedule is OUT!!!! (just for fun...think the oscar meyer song......) MYYYYYYY, airline has a first naaaaame it's S O U T H my air - line has a sec - ond name it's W E S T......A ;-) I love the gold I love the blue reasonable fares and fun fun creeeeeeeews aaaaaand that's why I'm smiling now cause now I am a LUV-head toooooo. cheers!!
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WOW, I waited and the prices from Little Rock to Vegas are higher than American. What gives?
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Any guess' when the Ding fares will catch up to summer? Last year I booked end of May in February on a Ding.
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Just an afterthought since I posted 2 weeks ago on this blog. I booked on American 10 days ago because the fare was right and the flight time was right and I didn't want to risk waiting on the off chance of saving a few bucks. For fun, I checked SWA on the beloved 8th of February only to find their fares were HIGHER than AA. Glad I didn't wait ! Thanks again for the blog, other companies which deal directly with consumers should follow suit.
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I'd like to thank Bill for his openness with us and for so politely handling the inevitable catcalls. This degree of frankness from a large corporation is quite rare, and it deserves to be rewarded. Please consider casting a vote for Southwest in the Freddie Awards at http://freddieawards.com/ blogsouthwest.com is a major part of why I believe Southwest deserves to win the Best Newsletter/Member Communications, Best Web Site, and Best Customer Service awards. Another is that Southwest has an official representative assigned to flyertalk.com's Southwest forum, which I moderate. I can count the companies that have earned this much loyalty from me on one hand, with fingers left over.
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Southwest recently announced that it would cease service from Philadelphia to Hartford, CT. Is there a possibility that that route may be added back into their schedule in the future?
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Time to start guessing again for the next release date. I remember reading over at Flyertalk their expert guessing late March, which would have been either today or next Thursday. Using the 120/180 rule Bill mentioned, doesn't April 26 make more sense, since it would be close to the 120 days out from the current end of inventory, which is Aug. 24?
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Bill - I love to fly SouthWest and your prices are almost always the best deal, but when trying to plan a vacation, not being able to secure flight reservations is a real pain. As of today you can only make reservations as far out as August 24th. That is only like 4 1/2 months out... not very customer friendly for those of us trying to coordinate many different people. As I am looking for the Labor Day Holiday and I need to get things firmed up, unfortunately this time I will have to go with another airline. And quite honestly, because of the inconvenience and the "not-so-nice attitude" I received from calling your Reservation Line, more than likely I will not be flying SouthWest in the Future.
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I can understand the reason you gave (a little bit) but I am not happy as a first time customer to find that I cannot book my vacation because I prefer to go with a company that I hear so much about, yet their planning department cannot even take off the months that have even passed and are no longer available nor needed to me nor anyone else, let alone put up a schedule that can be available to me. Now that is disturbing! I've read your policies about my rights and what I am responsible for, and I am eager to ask, Arent YOU (SWA) all responsible for taking down any months that are past to put up new months on the rise? You know some people (like myself) have families to plan trips for, some people (like myself) would like to go with an airline who are advertised more than any other airline available, last but not least when I call to make reservations for a vacation that is 5 months in advanced and not a year, I should be able to book and know how much I am paying to go on my (family) vacation. I should not have to call/nor go to an airline site to find what I 'm looking for with an airline I haven't heard about for a trip LESS than 6mos AHEAD. I thank God I am not working in your planning department because there would be some change in that department, It'll probably be a new dept when I finished with it. DING! I am not bashing, but there are some things that you as an airline carrier should be aware of and if it takes me a 26 year old married mother of 3 to tell you I will. I love to see/hear your commercials. I says to myself "I can't wait til I move up out of the country" and soon as I am ready to plan and eager to go, I have to wait till the ariline get ready to put up a schedule to go back to my travel agent to book. That's not exciting! It makes me want to say the hell with either the trip or booking with you. I am not the only person who fells that way and I also know that enough people just haven't come forth to say anything. They probably just gave their money to another airline and said forget (SWA). Well I won't! I'm going to give you the facts whether you like it or not, and /or whether you hear me or not, and take it from there. DING!!!! I hope you get better in that planning/ scheduling Dept. Good luck SWA, Wennetta Feagin wfeagin@bccc.edu