A Frontier Airlines airplane taxis past a Spirit Airlines aircraft at Indianapolis International Airport in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images

FORT WORTH, Texas — Airlines have a record 260 million seats to fill this quarter, and to do it, they’re offering fares that will run you about the same as a pair of movie tickets.

Southwest Airlines, for example, last month offered one-way fares of $29 for flights early in the morning or at night, just one example of airline discounting for off-peak periods.

“I would characterize the amount of discounting or sales that we’re doing today as a bit more than normal,” Ryan Green, Southwest’s chief commercial officer, told reporters at the Skift Aviation Forum earlier this month. He said the industry’s increased capacity in recent months means there are more seats to fill, even though the carrier’s average fare was up in the last quarter from a year ago.

Leisure travelers, meanwhile, have largely returned to more traditional booking patterns after years of pandemic swings in demand, leaving airlines looking for ways to fill planes outside of holidays or other popular travel periods.

“Typically, you see a step increase in price at each seven-day mark before a flight,” said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, a flight-deal company that recently rebranded as Going. But airlines are either dropping last-minute fares or not raising them as much as usual, he said.

Airlines have scheduled a record 259.8 million seats for domestic flights in the fourth quarter, up nearly 8% from last year, on 1.86 million flights, up 6% from 2022, according to aviation-data firm Cirium.

Getting the balance right in the off-season is a challenge for airlines, which make the majority of their revenue in the second and third quarters during the busy spring and summer seasons. Most major carriers reported record revenue and strong demand during those periods, with some executives reporting higher growth for international destinations over domestic ones.

Falling fares

Rethinking capacity

Holiday demand is still strong

Could it last?

The rise of airport lounges

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