Southwest Airlines: Is Any Seat Worth $100?

There may be no airline craftier than Southwest. They’ve created a folksy image as an “Aw, shucks” airline and positioned themselves as the underdog but, over time, they’ve been nothing but a profit beast, outshining their larger competitors by leaps and bounds.

One of the images that they portray is that of a fee-free carrier. But even Southwest will take the occasional extra buck.

Southwest Raises “Upgraded Boarding” Fees


Photo Source: Creative Commons

While Southwest does charge fewer fees than most of its competitors, it makes up a lot of those charges when it comes to boarding. Unlike most airlines, which offer seat assignments, Southwest has a choose-your-own policy on-board. Check-in begins 24 hours in advance, and you’re assigned a letter based on when you check in. Boarding is done alphabetically based on those check-in letters. You can choose any open seat (as long as it isn’t saved).

Upgraded boarding offers customers a guaranteed position in the A group, but at a price.* When it was created five years ago, upgraded boarding cost $40 per one-way flight. Last week, however, that number went up a bit. While most markets are still $40 each (or possibly $30, depending on the route), the airline has pushed that fee to $50 on select routes.  Keep in mind, we’re not talking about first-class seating here. At best, you can get a front row seat or an exit row, with a little more room.

So is priority boarding worth it? Apparently so. The airline made $358 million last year on boarding fees and looks like it is primed to increase that number this year. That’s a heck of a number for an underdog.


*Beginner’s Hint: Upgraded boarding is different from its predecessor, EarlyBird Check-In, which will check you in automatically at the 24-hour mark, getting you a better boarding group. EarlyBird costs $15.


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