Southwest Airlines’ boarding system is different from other US-based airlines. Instead of getting a seat assignment, you get a boarding position. Once boarding the plane, you can pick any available seat, even the endless legroom seat.
People who know will immediately grab this seat, so the only way to get it is to get one of the first boarding spots. While Southwest pushes EarlyBird to passengers, there’s a better way to get on the plane before everyone else.
Southwest’s Upgraded Boarding program lets passengers purchase the A1-A15 positions not allotted to people buying Business Select fares. Previously you had to buy a better seat assignment at the gate before your flight, which meant only those who knew about it would take advantage of the small upcharge from EarlyBird, which can still leave you with a B group boarding.
Southwest got wise and has incorporated the purchase of an Upgraded Boarding position into the Southwest website and app. After checking in for your flight 24 hours before departure, you can buy an A1-A15 spot if available.
Since we receive reimbursement for 4 Upgraded Boarding fees per year with the Southwest Priority Card, Sharon wanted to use one of the upgrades for a better boarding space for an early morning flight to Providence, RI. I checked her in 24 hours before the flight (she wasn’t available at the time) and received space B-35.
I tried to purchase Upgraded Boarding on the app but it was acting up so I went to the computer. I was able to select the upgrade and paid with my Southwest credit card. The boarding position was A-2. The upgrade fee was $50.
According to the Southwest website:
Upgraded Boarding pricing starts at $30 per segment, per Customer, based on the popularity and length of each flight segment. A credit card must be used for the purchase of Upgraded Boarding. Please review our optional travel charges for more details.
Checking the optional travel charges, Upgraded Boarding fees range from $30 to $60 per segment. Since 2019, we’ve never paid more than $40 for Upgraded Boarding.
Has Southwest jacked up the prices now that they’ve made Upgraded Boarding mainstream? You can’t say that it was demand determining the price because we were assigned spot A-2, so only 1 other person booked a Business Select seat and they had 14 spots to sell.
I don’t care if they’re raising the price because I’d only buy a better boarding spot if I’m getting the fee back. In fact, it’s better for us because a higher price means fewer people will buy it.
However, I can’t help but consider that the highest price I’ve ever seen for an upgrade on a mid-range flight on a Friday morning with little demand happened just after Southwest added Upgraded Boarding to the app and website. Maybe they’re seeing what people are willing to pay now that it’s easier to buy.
In the end, Southwest is a business and they’re able to charge whatever the market will pay for one the best boarding spots. As long as the Southwest Priority card will reimburse the fee, the airline can charge whatever they want.
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