Southwest Airlines Raises Prices: Early Boarding Fees Now Skyrocket Up To $149 Per Passenger (Families Could Pay $2,384 Roundtrip)

Southwest Airlines doesn’t offer assigned seats, although that may be changing with a premium seat offering expected to be announced this fall.

In the meantime, even though they do not sell seat assignments, they still manage to earn hundreds of millions of dollars each year on their seats – by selling access to earlier boarding, since picking your seat is first come first served (unless you pretend to need a wheelchair).

Now Southwest, which has seen its financial performance lag, is trying to squeeze more money out of early boarding (but hasn’t yet gone after the wheelchair abusers). They’re raising the price of early boarding.

  • 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 last remaining A-15 (“upgraded boarding”) spots at the gate, but in summer 2022 they began selling them during online check-in. And last year they began dynamic pricing for these spots from $30 to $80. The old fixed $50 sometimes meant not selling out, and sometimes meant running out of spots. This helps them maximize revenue.

Early Bird check-in, where you get a boarding number assigned prior to the 24 hour check-in window opening (so ahead of people that do not pay for it) has gone up in price in recent years, too and now is no longer available on all flight.

Southwest Airlines now charges $15 – $99 per passenger each way for Early Bird check-in. And they charge $30 – $149 per flight segment per passenger for Upgraded Boarding.

A family of four using Early Bird could now pay $792 roundtrip, and on connecting itineraries could pay up to $2,384 roundtrip! And it’s possible to double-connect… Of course only one person per group needs either one – the first passenger on board just ‘saves seats’ for the rest of the party.

Spread your stuff out on the seats, some passengers use bags of donuts, to keep others from sitting there. Southwest Airlines does not have a policy against doing this. (Or, in my experience, just have people with the higher boarding number board with the passenger who has the lowest one – more often than not this winds up ok.)

(HT: Danny Deal Guru)

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. welp, it’s pretty simple now

    buy wag

    hit enter at t-24

    if i don’t get A group, i’m suddenly stricken with severe cramps at the gate and need a wheelchair

    commercial air travel is personal combat

    everyone for themselves

  2. How did you get $2384 for the connecting itinerary, wouldn’t it be just the first number, $792 multiplied by 2 (for $1684)?

  3. The ignorance of the whiners who complain, weekly or even daily about wheelchair passengers assuming they are all scammers, is deplorable.



  4. @Luke let’s simplify with round numbers. $150 x 4 passengers = $600 per segment. Connecting flights each way means 4 segments and therefore $2400.

  5. I stop flying SW because of the wheels chair situation that is abuse by no sick people taking advantage.

  6. And yet they still won’t charge for checked luggage. Even just $5 or $10 a bag. Clownish.

  7. Gary, these are optional fees or luxury fees if you decide you want to sit a family together. Most people, as you stated, will just board one person early and save seats. The story while technically true is not very realistic for the average family.

  8. @ Gary — Great, now everyone will need a wheelchair. Idiots. Managment should be fired.

  9. Hey let’s keep complaining about assigned seats etc and free checked bags that differentiate Southwest from all the others that want to rape you for every single service. Keep writing articles until WN is just as bad as AA or UA etc.

  10. 150.00? for early boarding more than an assigned seat charge at competing airlines
    What could go wrong? !00% increase in wheelchair requests and folks booking assigned seats at other carriers with money left over for baggage fees!
    Southwest is losing it fast!

  11. Gary leff, anyone looking at me would NOT suspect I have a disability. I agree, alot of people using wheelchairs should not. I have 2 knee replacements. The left knee has no range of motion. I must sit on the left side looking down the aisle..

  12. Well seems to me the demand is there. Obviously people have been paying for the early boarding, so why not up the price if people still gonna pay for it? And to the person who won’t fly Southwest because of the wheel chair issue. Here’s a reality check, that’s not Southwest fault, that’s the FAA and also covered under the ADA. So before ya blaim Southwest for the wheelchairs, check yourself again and get your facts straight.

  13. @ Flyover Brian — Pay for what extras? With mid or high elite status you get free extra legroom assignments, free checked bags (something I avoid using like the plague) and early boarding. Except for a carry on bag and Big Front Seat on Spirit, I haven’t paid a fee for anything to an airline in decades. Even then, the total cost for those Spirit flights is FAR less than a traditional airline, so I save lots of money by flying them occasionally. In the meantime, Southwest’s fares are the same as AA, DL and UA, AND you have to fight for a seat even after paying their ripoff early boarding fees. No thank you.

  14. I have never had a seat saver keep it as if I get to where I want I take it and have had THEM move to another area. If no one is sitting in it it’s mine. Simple.

  15. What I would do to be able to just walk normally and just wait my turn to get on board. Unfortunately due to my illness which sometimes is better or worse I cannot do a long walk so I do need assistance to Gate I do keep my disability parking permit in my purse when traveling so I can use in rental car or when with family member if they drive me.

  16. I use one of those flexible vomit pads on the seat next to me. If anyone seems to start to question its placement, I grab my mouth and lean forward so they can’t see my face. Even stewards flinch and run.

  17. My wife and I are both disabled with arthritis and very bad knees and I am also a disabled veteran. Although we can walk very short distances like the jetway, it is difficult to do so. With the size of airports today, navigating the distance from baggage check to the gate is a slow and painful process which is sometimes necessary because wheelchairs are not available due to the scammers. Because of this, I will walk whenever possible to leave a wheelchair for a passenger who can not mange otherwise, My wife, however generally can’t do that. Additionally, as a result of my military service, I have claustrophobia resulting in need to sit in an aisle seat near the front of the aircraft. I realize these disabilities are not highly visible, and sometimes we get harsh stares from fellow passengers, but we are not scamming the system. We would gladly trade our disabilities for enhanced priority if it were possible. Please don’t encourage people to game the system. We hate it as much as you do because it not only creates hostility towards those of us who really need assistance and sometimes means wheelchairs are not available. Although the airlines can not ask for proof of disability because of the ADA, we would welcome a system that helps solve this situation. Please don’t automatically assume anyone in a wheelchair is a scammer.

  18. I spend my live in a wheelchair and have for about 15 years. I get tired of these types of articles about people with disabilities being scammers.
    The last time I flew on SW, a group of people were screaming obscenities at passengers with disabilities and making physical threats. One suggested I was too young to board first even though it’s pretty obvious I’m missing half of my foot and can’t walk. The other passengers that were boarded early were elderly and feeble.
    This isn’t just SW that accommodates people with disabilities, but a federal mandate. I haven’t ever seen someone sitting for pre board faking it, and I travel relatively frequently.
    Just be thankful your not in my chair. I would be glad to be the last body in the plane if I could walk again.

  19. Did anyone bother to consider the increased number of people over 65 and the fact that we are on fixed incomes and Southwest’s fares fit our budget? And yes, our knees, feet, backs, and brains are worn out! Therefore, we use “Special Assistance” to and from the gate because we don’t want the whiners to run us down because we can’t navigate the jetway like the majority of travelers. Hold your judgement because if you get the privilege to live past 65 and still need/want to travel—wheelchair assistance may be on your profile too!

  20. Southwest should just get on with having assigned seats. I have no problem letting truly needful people get on before me even when I pay for Early Bird check-in. Problem is, like most things in the world, this is ruined by dishonest people. The honest person is the sucker in this world. And this is ruining Southwest’s reputation, whether it is their fault or not.

  21. The wheelchair problem is an EASY fix: if you need a wheelchair to pre-board, fine, you are in a WC and you board before everyone else.

    Then when the flight ends and is at the arriving gate, you need to wait until the plane completely deplanes and then you are assisted off the plane.

    There won’t be any scammers if they have to be the very last people off the plane when it arrives.

  22. Yeah I’m tired of this wheelchair witch hunt stuff churning the blogosphere. Maybe it is abused, but my money is on able bodied ppl losing their shi* that they can’t be the first on the plane.

  23. It’s not complaining about the wheelchair…it’s the southwest wheelchairs. Why can’t those who need help navigating the airport use the electric cart transport to get to your gate? When it’s time to get off the plane, SW attendants are lined up with the large number of wheelchairs in the jetway but those people walk off without needing the chairs to exit. We fly SW often and also American depending on scheduling. It just seems odd that a SW flight can have 15-20 people who are in SW marked chairs, (not personally owned). While over at American there might be 5 wheelchairs….not AA chairs).

  24. Everyone that is so upset with wheel chair users need to check themselves. Your disdain for others that don’t fly “business class” (almost always paid by their employer) is laughable. Who the f cares? You do, silly “business” travelers/wannabes. Whine & complain. Gotta feel superior to someone desperately.

  25. The FAA Rules are not the Ten Commandments. Acute anxiety is a recognized disability. But the Rules re-defined the definition of service animal to exclude the darling cocker spaniel you hug when there’s turbulence. There are plenty of ways to establish disability. Since you are going public that you are disabled by asking for priority boarding, you have waived your right of privacy about it. Require upload of handicapped parking permit, VA medical card, Social Security disability benefits award letter, Department of Defense Letter, letter from doctor, plenty of ways. What you can’t do is say “my knees hurt, so I deserve priority over other passengers.” That’s why my next flight on Southwest in July will be my last until they go to seat assignments. Flying business select which guarantees boarding position A 1 – 15. I’m guessing my actual boarding position will be in the A 30s. At least half of the regular fare passengers who board before me will leave the plane as easily as I will, probably easier. I am 75 and have two bad knees.

  26. Wheelchair people should board after A1-15 and after early bird purchasers. There will still be plenty of room for the many wheelchair cheaters. This cheating is spreading as word gets out. Used to be 2-3 wheelchairs, now it’s a dozen. Why would anyone pay more for early bird when the cheaters get on for no additional charge? Southwest, wake up and I’m an A list customer.

  27. The wheelchair problem seems endemic to airlines without assigned seating. Simple solution: SW should assign seats. Until then, if the system invites abuse, abuse it.

    I sympathize with disabled people. My father is blind and flew with a seeing eye dog. He was regularly denied boarding because “dogs aren’t allowed in the cabin.” That was then; this is now. You live in a golden age and place for disabled people.

  28. For those who have disabilities and need early boarding no one is complaining about you. However, SW in particular has many people that abuse the system and frankly do not need a wheelchair or early boarding. How do you think i know this? 2 reasons:

    1. When 25 people use a wheelchair or hobble on the plane early and only 5 people need a wheelchair or have to wait due to problems walking at arrival you know there is a scam going.
    2. The percentage of people claiming disability to preboard at SW is much higher than average for any other airline. BTW for the person that said retirees are on a “fixed income” (God I hate that phrase and am retired living totally on my investments since not claiming SS until I’m 70 to max it out) SW fares are basically the same as DL/AA/UA in most cases. The only true discount airlines are Spirit, Allegiant, Frontier and Sun Country but you don’t see the same percentage of preboards on them because they have assigned seating!

    SW needs to go with assigned seating quickly. That is the only way they will get many business or more frequent fliers to travel on them. Otherwise they are fighting for the same class of travelers as the ULCCs and bus companies which is pretty sad – I sure don’t want to travel around all those people

  29. Again, another article about wheelchair abuse on Southwest My wife who has muscular dystrophy would pay any amount we have in our bank account not to have to use a wheelchair to get from check in to the gate or to walk down the long sloping jetway. But instead we have to endure the callous comments here and looks to kill at the airport. Enough is enough. Last flight I bought Business Select seats and my wife and I got A1 and A2 position just so I didn’t feel guilty. What a fool I was. As far as miraculous recovery and walking up the jetway….do you know that sometime there are not wheelchair attendants in the jetway.and they wait outside till the crowds have dispersed? How about when you need to make a connection…should my wife have to wait till the very last person has left the plane before she tries to get out as been suggested here? It just seems like we need a little more compassion in this world and to focus on the more important things like the plane arrived safely. I’m pretty sure I’ve had it now and will do my best to avoid Southwest until they go to assigned seating. While most of us have mobility now, someday all of us will likely be in the same situation.

  30. This is pretty simple: if you don’t like how SW does business, fly another airline.

  31. I am 80 with Health problems. If it was not for wheelchair access, I would not be able to fly. It is disappointing to hear the negative comments about people that need wheelchairs.

  32. Easiest way to solve the wheelchairs problem at sw is to board them first and bring them to the back of the plane after all first on last off everyone is happy

  33. Cheaters, liars, abusers…will always be around. They couldn’t care less what others think. SWA should go ahead and throw in the towel by converting to seat assignment (for EVERYBODY) and charge for bags. I have always been a fan of SWA and have appreciated their concern for customer service; but people just keep getting crazier and, shamelessly, more self-entitled daily. Honestly, it’s literally to the point where I can barely tolerate people…just let me share my time with my dogs and I’m happy. BTW…when I do have to fly, I sit in an empty seat of My choice whether it’s being ‘saved’ or not. Consider yourselves warned all Ye Seatsavers!

  34. I’m 62 I have asthma and anxiety which affects my breathing I have good days and bad days both work against each other, and a knee injury which can make my balance off sometimes which these disabilities are invisible except for having my inhaler in my hand or a Cain sometimes for my balance and I have a hard time moving fast through the large airports and crowds zoom past me which is fine I usually give myself extra extra time. But when it comes to boarding I do not do well with the fast pace of pushing and fast moving travelers so I ask for pre boarding help so I do not have to deal with these issues setting off my disabilities. I usually do not get a wheelchair but use the pre boarding assistance for the extra time without being in anyone’s way. This helps me and others so I’m not in the way. But I have dealt with verbal abuse and judging glaring stares from people who don’t even know anything about me but judge me because of whatever they are assuming about me. Yes there are probably cheaters but it’s not fair to assume that ALL of us are and in the end we ALL achieve the same thing in the end which is to get on the same plane the fastest and the best we can and arrive safely to our destinations
    Take the time to enjoy your abilities to travel without judgement or Hate you don’t always know the whole story about everything and everyone so try and be understanding positive and KIND you never know when you might be in the same situation

  35. All the disabled reviewers are really missing the point. If a passenger that would like a first 5 row seat PAYS more, then they should be able to get it. Whether abused or not, the first rows are taken by those who board first and it slows us all down. Why would someone pay additional to sit in row 10 when the expectation of having A1-5 is that they would be sat closer to the door. SWA is my last resort, but like it or not in today’s airline environment they have captured the market in certain cities, so to say “just fly someone else” is a stupid comment. Take LAX-LAS, there are 7 flights daily on SQA and 2 on United (at ridiculous times). So shut your pieholes about flying someone else. Fact remains that if SWA charges a premuim with an implied promise of front seating, then the policy of wheelchair boarding is flawed and needs to be fixed.

  36. @paz. Airport wheelchairs do not fit in the aisle onboard the aircraft so truely disabled people would have to transfered to the specialized wc and by one all the way to the rear of the aircraft prior to general boarding. Obviously, this would significantly delay boarding, create chaos in maintaining a schedule and tie up gates, further delaying arriving flights. Just like so many laws and regulations passed by governments, this “solution” suffers from unintended consequences

  37. The seat saving is cheating the system and your fellow travelers. Basically, a dishonest practice. SWA needs to enforce or just join the world and let us get a seat at purchase time. If one doesn’t want to pick or pay for a seat, they get pot luck. Purchasing early bird only to have a seat saving person deny you a preferred seat in favor of their cheap companion is wrong on all levels. Yes, I have had it happen and attendant said she can’t stop saving of seats—Really!

  38. For everyone complaining about wheelchair use, I recently needed to use a wheelchair because of 2 knee replacements, copd with oxygen use. I did not choose this. I hate waiting to be pushed, most of the time there are not enough agents and it takes a long time to get to the gate. I am 77 and would GLADLY walk to the gate.

  39. It seems, as usual, people think in such black or white terms. The writer talks about scammers and here’s a ton of comments from people with legit disabilites complaining about the writer. He’s not talking about you. The problem is, it’s getting harder and hard to know who truly needs a WC or not and unfortunately, WN’s policy makes them get abused the most as they don’t have assigned seating. I actually liked it for a while, but now it’s getting worse. The biggest issue with WN is that they allow WC and pre-boarders to sit wherever they want. Once in a while I am amazed to see them move a pre-boarder from row 1, but they allow them to sit in row 2. Business Select and A1-15 are paid for, the first 5 rows of the plane should be no-go for anyone but A1-15 premium paid seats. It shocks me that WN doesn’t get this and allows someone who paid them extra money to have to go halfway down the plane. I recenetly had A10 and my wife A11. The first seats we could get together was in row 12 (yes, I know 1st world problems). The first 8 rows were all WC and pre-boarders scattered so you couldn’t sit together. Then there was a lady who put snacks on a bunch of seats and when she stated getting glares said, “there’s 9 of us!”, so she occupied about 2 rows herself. Just have common-sense policy and leave the first few rows, and obviously the exit rows, available for your premium paying customers.

  40. I’m Handicapped and so is my wife- we both have Handicapped Stickers because neither of us can walk very far so we use a wheelchair or folding walker with seat and assistance from the minute we enter the terminal to the time we leave in a rental car after picking up our baggage. I usually pay for or ask for an extra seat when possible so I get a ‘RESERVED’ ticket to place in the middle seat. We board in the wheelchair and wait for the wheelchairs or our checked walkers to arrive before we get off and we require assistance to and from every gate which I believe is how it should be

  41. I just hope none of you complainers never need a wheelchair. Sure, some people scam the system, but not all. My wife has limited walking ability. She uses a wheelchair to get from the check in counter to the gate, then we WALKS into the plane.
    You people want shame everyone who needs help.

  42. Personally I think if you need a WC to get around because you can’t walk long distances then maybe you should have your own WC, or at least a walker with a seat, to get around then people would know you really need it since it’s yours. Now people who are on crutches definitely should have a WC to get through the airport because it’s very tiring to use them to get around. Now if you’re in a walking boot or your arm is in a sling you don’t need a WC but could use preboarding to make sure no one hits your affected body part. I’ve personally been in a walking boot before and wear a metal hinged knee brace daily but when I fly SWA I may ask for extra time (between the A & B groups) and usually go straight to the back to sit. People have learned what to say and do take advantage which does make it bad for people who really need the service unfortunately. I also agree that the FAs should make sure that people aren’t holding seats for others in their group, if they’re not there then they go ahead and take that seat.

  43. Now that SW offers so few non-stop flights to popular destinations, I’d rather fly another airline anyway. As far as pre-boarding and cheaters, just charge more for better assigned seats same as the other airlines OR take early boarders to back of plane and have them wait for wheelchairs after others have deplaned. Problems solved!

  44. This is a red-herring to “allow” Southwest to announce the change to assigned seating later this year. I got a rather lengthy survey from Southwest earlier this week clearly soliciting opinions on a switch to assigned seating. I’ve been a Rapid Rewards member for years. Between the wheelchairs, seat savers, bin hogs, among other abuses…bring on assigned seating. Safer too for the airline and flight crew to know who is sitting in a given seat.

  45. Just add $5 to the price of a ticket to get an assigned seat. I would pay it and the seat savers would disappear. All wheel chair uses should board first – all the way in the back of the plane. Upon arrival, they would deplane last. That would stop that crap.

  46. I think if you use early boarding due to “disability” (whether real or not), at arrival you should have to wait until all non-disabled passengers clear the plane so you can deplane safely. This would cut down a BIG percentage of pre-boarders!!

  47. One bag flies free, the second bag has a fee. That is where they could cut back.

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