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All 11 US airlines are running Black Friday sales, but the meager discounts are just another sign of an industry in crisis — here's the list

Business Insider logoBusiness Insider 27/11/2020 tpallini@businessinsider.com (Thomas Pallini)
a airplane that is covered in snow: Flying on a Spirit Airlines Airbus A320neo. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider © Provided by Business Insider Flying on a Spirit Airlines Airbus A320neo. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
  • All 11 major US airlines are participating in Black Friday in which flyers can get the jump on deals for 2021 travel.
  • Those not offering discounted flights are offering sale prices or bonuses when purchasing points or miles. 
  • International flight deals are largely missing as travel restrictions continue to hinder where Americans can travel. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Black Friday is here, and airlines are looking to get a jump on 2021 travel bookings after a lackluster Thanksgiving.

All 11 major US airlines have some kind of Black Friday special with discounted flights and other enticing specials but one problem facing all airlines is that flying now is already incredibly cheap compared to last year. The pandemic's toll on airlines has forced fares down between 30%-40% from last year, Liana Corwin, consumer travel expert for Hopper, said in an interview with Business Insider. 

So instead of ridiculously low fares, airlines are encouraging now customers to book in advance for 2021 and lock in the great rates for the future. Demand is expected to meaningfully increase and prices will normalize, making now one of the best times to snag a deal for next year, according to Corwin.

Airlines are also pushing their new flexibility initiatives over great prices as four airlines have eliminated change fees and others are waiving the fees for 2020 bookings.

Those not offering flight discounts are selling discounted points and miles through their loyalty programs. While not always beneficial to flyers, according to Scott's Cheap Flights founder Scott Keyes, the practice has been hugely profitable for airlines during the pandemic. 

Stay away from most advertised deals, one expert says

Keyes doesn't usually look forward to Black Friday sales, or any publicized sale for that matter, when it comes to US airlines.

"The deals tend to be, frankly, so uninteresting that I have trouble remembering them, even from all years past," Keyes, who had no trouble remembering even some of the more obscure flight deals in recent years, said of Black Friday in an interview with Business Insider.

International airlines like Air New Zealand and Emirates have historically been the leaders in Black Friday deals with great deals to exotic locations, Keyes said, but they were nowhere to be found this year due to the pandemic. 

The best deals, according to Keyes, are the ones that the airlines aren't publicizing. Delta Air Lines, most recently, sold round-trip tickets between Atlanta and Santiago, Chile for around $60

It's what's known as a "mistake fare," where airlines will accidentally set the price lower than it should. And most airlines will actually honor the fare.

The sale notifications that we get in our email inbox, however, are often not great at all. 

When can we expect the real deals to return

Airlines now are offering great flight deals to international destinations but the question "will the destination be open for me once it's time to fly?" is turning people off from buying tickets. 

Keyes expects true international travel deals to return once there's a firm light at the end of the tunnel for the pandemic. Vaccine news from Pfizer and Moderna reveals a promising timeline for when international travel will become common again and those looking to travel can get the best deals by ahead of the trend. 

And even as prices normalize in 2021, as Corwin predicts, Keyes says there's still room for deals even with pent-up demand. The competitive nature of airlines will encourage more deals among international airlines. 

But, according to Keyes, consumers must be willing to book on faith that their destination will be open to them by their travel date. 

Here's which airlines are running Black Friday specials today and how to get the best deal. 

American Airlines

a plane sitting on the tarmac at an airport: American Airlines aircraft seen at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images © Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images American Airlines aircraft seen at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

American is giving customers a percentage of their fare back to them in the form of a promotional code to use when booking a future flight when they book travel between now and March 31, 2021. 

Here's the breakdown:

  • Spend up to $199: get 10% back
  • Spend between $200 and $499: get 12% back
  • Spend between $500 and $999: get 15% back
  • Spend upwards of $1,000: get 20% back

Though the savings are meager, it gives customers a reason to choose American again when making their next booking, especially as airlines fight harder to win business amid a slow recovery from the pandemic. Delta Air Lines fares, for example, have typically been slightly more expensive as the airline is blocking middle seats onboard its aircraft, so offering any further discount makes American more attractive to price-motivated customers. 

The offer ends at midnight on December 1.  

Delta Air Lines

a large passenger jet flying through a blue sky: A Delta Air Lines Airbus A321. Bruce Bennett/Getty © Bruce Bennett/Getty A Delta Air Lines Airbus A321. Bruce Bennett/Getty

Delta is offering sale prices for flights through its "Takeoff Tuesday" special. Travelers can enter their home airport and see the best deals for flights, as well as when the best prices for each route are offered.

As the airline is blocking middle seats through March 30, 2021, technically offering passengers two seats for the price of one when flying on certain mainline aircraft.

United Airlines

a large passenger jet flying through a blue sky: A United Airlines Boeing 767-300ER. Lukas Wunderlich/Shutterstock.com © Lukas Wunderlich/Shutterstock.com A United Airlines Boeing 767-300ER. Lukas Wunderlich/Shutterstock.com

United is offering to match mileage purchases through its MileagePlus program instead of offering flight discounts. Starting with a minimum purchase of 3,000 miles, United will match up to 100% of the purchase, depending on how many you buy. 

  • Purchase between 3,000 and 14,000 miles: get a 30% bonus
  • Purchase between 15,000 and 34,000 miles: get a 60% bonus
  • Purchase more than 35,000: get a 100% bonus

According to Keyes, however, purchasing miles is often only effective for those who need an incremental amount of miles in order to reach a certain threshold and not for those purchasing miles from zero. 

"In general, buying miles is almost always a terrible use of money," Keyes said. "Horrible value."

Southwest Airlines

a large passenger jet flying through a blue sky: A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8. Carlos Yudica/Shutterstock.com © Carlos Yudica/Shutterstock.com A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8. Carlos Yudica/Shutterstock.com

Southwest is offering a discount on purchasing points through its Rapid Rewards program. The total price is discounted by 45% when you buy 5,000 or more.

Same with United, the deal is good for Southwest flyers with an existing points balance who need to buy an incremental amount more to achieve a free flight. If starting from zero, it can actually be more expensive to buy enough miles for a free flight. 

A $90 round-trip flight from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, one of the cheapest in its network, costs 5,442 points plus $11.20 in taxes. With the sale, flyers must buy at least 5,000 points in 1,000 increments and as 6,000 points cost $90.75, it's cheaper to pay for the flight using cash than buying the miles and booking an award ticket. 

The deal ends at midnight central time on November 30.

Alaska Airlines

a large passenger jet flying through a cloudy blue sky: An Alaska Airlines Airbus A320. Angel DiBilio.Shutterstock.com © Angel DiBilio.Shutterstock.com An Alaska Airlines Airbus A320. Angel DiBilio.Shutterstock.com

Alaska is offering a standard fare sale this Black Friday with discounted fares on routes across the country. 

Intra-California and flights between Las Vegas and the West Coast are on sale for as low as $29 one-way. Some of the airline's longest cross-country flights, including those between New York and the West Coast, are on sale starting at $89 for New York-San Francisco. All fares are in Alaska's "saver" basic economy fare class with economy class tickets more expensive.

Alaska is blocking middle seats on its flights through January 6, 2021, as of now, so each ticket technically yields two seats when traveling on a mainline Alaska Airlines flight. Customers who book using the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card will also receive six times the number of points for each booking. 

No promo code is required to access the sale fares and the special ends at midnight on November 30. 

JetBlue Airways

a large passenger jet sitting on top of a runway: The first JetBlue Airways Airbus A220-300. JetBlue Airways © JetBlue Airways The first JetBlue Airways Airbus A220-300. JetBlue Airways

JetBlue is offering discounts on its vacation packages, where travelers can book a mix of their flights, hotels, and cars all in one shot, instead of individual flights. The promo code-based deal sees customers get a set discount based on the price of their package.

  • Spend between $250 and $1,499: get $50 off using promo code FRIDAY50
  • Spend between $1,500 and $2,499: get $100 off using promo code FRIDAY100
  • Spend between $2,500 and $3,999: get $200 off using promo code FRIDAY200
  • Spend more than $4,000: get $400 off using promo code FRIDAY400

Packages can be booked for travel until September 7, 2021, as airlines seek to bring in more cash by opening up their schedules further in 2021. The deal has a minimum of two people per room and ends at midnight on December 1. 

Hawaiian Airlines

a large passenger jet flying over a body of water: A Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A33-200. Markus Mainka / Shutterstock.com © Markus Mainka / Shutterstock.com A Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A33-200. Markus Mainka / Shutterstock.com

Hawaiian is running a standard flight sale, offering discounted rates on its routes between Hawaii and the mainland with no promo code required.

Flights from the West Coast to cities across the state start at $198 round-trip while longer flights from the East Coast are on sale starting at $598 round-trip. Hawaiian flies from New York and Boston non-stop to Honolulu with connections throughout the state. 

Keyes called the $198 fares from the West Coast "solid" and said that while the East Coast fares are a good deal for the non-stop flights, a savvy traveler can likely pay less for a flight with a connection.

"Basically, anything under $250 is a really big deal to Hawaii," Keyes said.

Hawaiian's cheapest fares are in "main cabin basic" class, the airline's version of basic economy. The sale comes as travel to Hawaii grows in demand as one of the few distant and tropical locales open to Americans as less than 100 countries worldwide are currently accepting US passports for tourism

The airline's Black Friday sale is open today-only for travel between January 5, and March 11, 2021, though Hawaiian is expected to participate in "Travel Deal Tuesday," a similar deal day for airlines, according to Corwin. 

Frontier Airlines

a large passenger jet flying through a blue sky: A Frontier Airlines Airbus A321. Carlos Yudica / Shutterstock.com © Carlos Yudica / Shutterstock.com A Frontier Airlines Airbus A321. Carlos Yudica / Shutterstock.com

Frontier is offering 90% off base fares for Black Friday with the promo code "SAVEBIG." The sale is nothing new for the ultra-low-cost airline that frequently offers promo codes for discounted flights but there are some good deals to be had here. 

A normally $18 flight from Las Vegas to Los Angeles can now be bought for $10.80, for example, though the discount varies with different routings. 

The promo code only applies to flights between November 29 and March 4, 2021, and can only be used to discount the fare, not the taxes. Frontier's Black Friday sale ends at midnight on November 29. 

Spirit Airlines

a large passenger jet sitting on top of a tarmac: A Spirit Airlines Airbus A320neo. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider © Thomas Pallini/Business Insider A Spirit Airlines Airbus A320neo. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Spirit is offering 85% off base fares for Black Friday with the promo code "85PCT," offering slightly cheaper prices on already discounted flights.  A $17.10 flight from Las Vegas to Los Angeles now only costs $13.69, for example. 

The deal ends at midnight on November 29 and only applies to flights or vacation packages with travel dates between November 30 and December 22. 

Allegiant Air

a large passenger jet flying through a blue sky: An Allegiant Air Airbus A320. Markus Mainka / Shutterstock.com © Markus Mainka / Shutterstock.com An Allegiant Air Airbus A320. Markus Mainka / Shutterstock.com

Allegiant is discounting flights across its network with no promo code is required to access the deals. The discount varies by flight and is only valid within a certain travel period. 

The deal ends November 28.

Sun Country Air

a large passenger jet flying through a blue sky: A Sun Country Airlines Boeing 737-800. natmac stock / Shutterstock.com © natmac stock / Shutterstock.com A Sun Country Airlines Boeing 737-800. natmac stock / Shutterstock.com

Sun Country is discounting flights across its network and also giving bonus points for bookings on certain routes. Up to 10 times the original points can be earned, depending on the route, with no promo code required to access the deals. The discount varies by flight and is only valid within a certain travel period. 

The deal ends at midnight central time on November 28.

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