Southwest Airlines Increases The Price To Board Early And Get A Better Seat

Southwest doesn’t offer advance seat assignments, and that works well for them. It helps get passengers on the plane quickly, since people show up at the gate on time and queue up in order to get better preferred seats. That’s a huge efficiency gain.

They don’t sell advance seat assignments. But since the order you board the plane determines what seat is available for you to choose, they sell getting the on the plane sooner.

  • They offer ‘Early Bird Check-in’ – pay extra to get a boarding order number in advance of those checking in 24 hours prior to flight.

  • The first 15 boarding spots are given to people paying for the most expensive ‘Business Select’ fares, which are more expensive than refundable tickets. When there are fewer than 15 people on a flight buying Business Select, they will sell the remaining spots. It used to be that you had to buy these at the gate, but last summer they began selling them during online check-in.

Since yesterday Southwest has increased how much they’re charging for upgraded boarding. Pricing is still dynamic, but has become more so, with a higher potential price than before, according to an internal memo reviewed by View From The Wing:

Effective yesterday, May 15, we implement a price change to Upgraded Boarding, now offering Customers the product for a variable price point between $30 and $80.

Upgraded Boarding prices can vary based on the length and popularity of each flight (per segment). Price points within the new range are subject to change at any time, as is the case today.

The airline gave employees talking points that are… somewhat suspect? They claim to be doing to “protect the value” that Upgraded Boarding “offers to our customers” as the feature “becomes more popular on specific routes.” But this makes no sense at all.

  • The total number of spots available is fixed.
  • They sell some of these with Business Select fares.
  • And then monetize the rest at check-in and at the gate.
  • Increased demand doesn’t mean more people boarding early, creating some sort of diminution of value for those purchasing it. It is just a price increase.

The price used to top out at $50, and then $60. Then also there’s this, from the internal memo:

This is another way we’re different. Other airlines charge you fees for things you need or have to have. This is a service that has a value that some Customers are willing to purchase. When they do, it helps us keep fares low for everyone.

According to Southwest Airlines, here’s their official statement on the price increase:

Upgraded Boarding is one of Southwest’s most popular ancillary products, allowing Customers the option to buy an upgraded boarding position in Group A1-A15 (when available). We’ve shared with our Employees that Upgraded Boarding now will be offered in a variable range of $30 to $80. Upgraded Boarding price points will work the same as they do today whereby prices can vary based on the length and popularity of each flight. Price points within the new range are subject to change at any time, as they do today. We hope our Customers continue to enjoy this product.

Holders of Southwest’s premium co-brand cards from Chase shouldn’t worry so much about this, since the terms of conditions of reimbursing upgraded boarding payments four times per year don’t specify a dollar amount.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I don’t know who at Southwest has Ok’ed this but it is asinine and will not sit well with long time flyers. Apparently the bean counters have taken over and are ruining the airline. After flying Southwest for 35+ years, I will be looking elsewhere for my choice of airlines to fly. They are looking more like American Airlines every day.

  2. Do they teach this in the accounting classes at the University of Texas in Austin? That customers are willing to fork over an extra $80 to early-board a 17″ wide seat in an all coach 737? One that’s like, um, Ryanair?

  3. I think what they are saying is so many people are buying early bird that now some even with it are probably getting deep into the B boarding group. By raising the price, fewer people will buy it and improve the :”value” of getting it. LOL yes a price increase but buying it after probably will result in higher priority boarding vs today.

  4. I stopped flying Southwest post-pandemic and couldn’t be happier. Southwest was a great domestic airline but lost their way after covid.

  5. @JL 100 – I don’t think this price increase is for Early Bird (although would expect that to go up as well). I think this is just the extra spots in the first 15 places if not sold for Business Select.

  6. The issue with this is a party of 9 will have 1 person buy the upgrade then hold 9 seats Ive nearly gotten into fist fights when I sit there anyway. I get holding a seat for a wife or 2 in the same row for a wife and kid, but holding multiple rows is ignorant and I just sit there

  7. Avoid them at all costs
    Just charge for seats already
    the current policy is just As****** to push and shove for a fee to board earlier
    Good luck to them (roll eyes)

  8. The number of A1-15 boarding position is somewhat flexible. Twice in the past year, I had someone approach the boarding queue with a duplicate boarding position number (last time written by hand by a WN rep who sold it) In other words, SW double dips on those A1-15 when there is a huge demand

  9. As if I needed another reason to not fly Southwest.

    Other airlines give me a seat assignment, which I both want and need, for free. And I don’t have to engage in any of the games Southwest requires to get a decent seat.

  10. Another “corporate speak” change in policy to benefit consumers, but under the charade it’s simply a price increase. At least in this case, it is NOT something you have to have. Its an optional add on. I do not like the SW boarding process, but I realize it works for many people. I avoid using SW unless they are the only nonstop flight for my destination.

  11. @JL100…
    I just flew two segments on SWA last week, with “Early Bird,” and got A-26 and then A-25 positions for the two flights. In ALL the years I have flown SWA using EB, I have been assigned in the B group only once. It’s well worth it, IMO.

  12. @ David R Miller. I’m not sure SWA “looking more like American Airlines every day” is an insult . . . looking more like British Airways definitely is (160 Pounds Sterling to select your seat in advance on a J fare ticketed LHR-AUS on AA reservation) Pay toilets next just like the train station.

  13. It’s the holding of seats that I detest the most with SWA!!
    Many a time the middle seat on the first row (1B or 1E) is empty, or has a jacket or purse on the seat. In a rather raised voice, I’ll say “Hey, Is That Seat Taken!!”. You’ll get the “evil eye”, especially from women (OK, I said it!!) as in “how dare you!!” Ninety-Nine percent of the time, they relent. It’s usually a husband & wife team or two sisters traveling together as confirmed by them passing food or other items in front of me in the middle seat, but it’s worth the extra leg room!!
    I skip on the exit row(s) for I have seen some very testy exchanges between hoarders and passengers. Don’t want to get into that cat fight!!

  14. I love Southwest! They have an amazing customer of size policy. My partner qualifies for it. We get to pre-board and always get an entire row to ourselves with a special “seat reserved” card to put on the empty seat so no one esle will sit in it. We used to just ask at the airport for it but while flights have gotten more crowded I’ve been purchasing it in advance and it’s always been an easy phone call to customer service after our trip with the charge for it refunded to our credit card in a few weeks. It’s by far the most comfortable way for us to fly and it should be mandated (like for domestic flights in Canada) that airlines must give a second seat to those who need it.

  15. No need to pay for A1 -15. Just limp up to podium and get request Pre Boarding. and get in before A1. Sure no exit row,, but with a A 15 you won’t get that anyway.

  16. There is a bunch of idiots on here and they don’t fly much. They don’t understand all the things that SWA doesn’t charge for. First off spots 1-15 are almost always sold out so they haven’t found the top yet. They don’t charge for bags, changing your flight and flight credits never expire. I fly every week and my boarding position is usually 16 or 17. The same people saying they will not fly SWA said the same thing after the previous 3 meltdowns

  17. This will mean there will be more wheel chairs at the gate in Tampa to Islip for all the people do do not have a disability , but want to board early so they can take up
    The first 10 rows to 15 rows of the plane with out paying for early bird. However when the plane lands they are running off the plane it is disgraceful . The airline does nothing to stop it and all their employees call it the Long Island Miracle Flight

  18. The Long Island Miracle flight? Really? I normally fly between Wisconsin and Florida and do use wheelchair service and handicap preload. I can’t say I remember ever seeing even one person who boarded early get up and run off the plane. Personally, I usually wait until just about everyone is off the plane before I get up to go find my wheelchair person. Waiting beats getting run over by everyone in a rush to get to connecting flights, etc.

  19. Subway Nut layoff the subs and you might not need the whole row for ypurself

  20. I hate the way SWA boards. We have paid for the Early Bird but by the time we board we are still half way the plane and God knows where our overhead luggage may end up. I pay to board early and then another person pays to board early and is allowed to save seats for those who didnt pay. We have vouchers for our next trip, since our last trip was a complete nightmare and after this trip i wont be flying South West again .

  21. I’m a LONG TIME SW rewards customer and happy to be so, that is fast fading with the crap from them over the past years. I’m seriously considering canceling my SW visa card, fed up with the whiplash I’m experiencing with every crisis SW puts on the customers.

  22. @Karen – try any Southwest flight to or from Florida. Jet bridge Jesus visits often. They wheelchair onto the plane, and they walk off!

  23. I don’t understand why people are complaining, they are charging more depending on flight popularity, 30.00 to 80.00 upcharge.

    Well if people weren’t faking the funk, by using a wheelchair when they dam well don’t need it SWA wouldn’t have to price gouge the masses, but it happens all the time and people don’t have to prove a dam thing to board early. Sprained ankle, or simply I have some lung issues COPD, I need to board before 200 others do, with my over sized luggage I don’t want checked.

  24. In my last SWA flight out of FLL, grandma (with a cane tucked under her arm) did a 100 yard dash through the terminal as group A was called in order to board with the group needing assistance.
    A divine miracle!!!!!

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