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Southwest Sells Early Boarding for $40 Each Way

Southwest Sells Early Boarding for $40 Each Way

Beginning today, Southwest customers can pay to be among the first to board their flights.

The new early-boarding option will be available beginning 45 minutes prior to the flight departure time, if there are still spots available in the airline’s “A” boarding group. Others entitled to “A” boarding include those who have paid $10 for EarlyBird Check-In and those who have purchased Southwest’s pricey Business Select fares.

The price: $40 per flight.

Southwest tested the new boarding option in San Diego and reportedly received “positive” feedback.

Deal or No Deal

There’s no benchmark against which the new fee can be measured and evaluated, but charging $40 just to get an earlier start in Southwest’s first-come-first-served boarding scrum seems cruelly unreasonable. That assessment will be reality-tested as travelers vote with their wallets.

More generally, it’s disconcerting to see the airline that boasts “Bags Fly Free” succumb to the nickel-and-dimeing that has become a commonplace at other airlines.

Reader Reality Check

Would you pay $40 to board a Southwest flight earlier?

Does the new move strike you as an unfortunate departure from Southwest’s roots as the “people’s airline”?


  • vortix

    I personally think $40 is crazy for the average person on a routine trip. However, there are several situations when the flight is running late and I would LOVE to have the option to pay $40 at the last minute to jump into the A boarding group:

    1) going to a wedding, funeral, or other important event

    2) trying to make a connection on another non-Southwest flight

    3) going to an important business meeting

    4) trying to get home for a family emergency

    I’m sure there are other reasons as well. I see this as a way to capture more money from people that fail to pay for EarlyBird Check-In or a Business fare. And even if people don’t bite at the $40 option, it may point more people towards paying for EarlyBird or Business fares, which could be the actual motive by Southwest.

    Either way, I personally don’t think this new option will have a negative impact on the average traveler. It is simply a new option.

  • Glorob1

    I think this is the beginning of the erosion of Southwest’s “NO FEES” policy that’s generated by greed. Personally, I think $40 is much too much to charge on a one-way ticket for the privilege to board early. By stipulating that the early boarding policy will be available 45 minutes prior to departure if spots are available, Southwest avoids having to include the $40 in the cost of the ticket. Come on Southwest, say it like you mean it “NO FEES.”

  • Luke Kim

    This fee is usuriously high, and I wish we could see the percentage of eligible customers who actually purchase this option. I suspect it is less than 1%.

  • Jason Gerdon

    Hell no! SWA has turned in to the U.S. version of RyanAir. To me it $40 for early boarding is crazy. Why not just pay for EB? This seems like a total cash grab. At this point, you’re better off booking with a legacy carrier with an assigned seat instead of flying like cattle.

  • Travis

    It’s actually the end of a lucrative oil futures hedge that paid off for them a few years back allowing them to get their fuel at deeply discounted rates compared to the competition. AA’s CEO amongst others said that they would just have to wait until the contract expired and then southwest has to make up revenues elsewhere as their fuel (and operating) costs increase.

  • Unanymous

    No, this is crazy, and even crazier if it leads WN to change its Early Bird option — which is okay at $10 and is one of the reasons I fly WN. If they start tampering with that relatively reasonable option, they’ll wipe out one of the main reasons I fly WN. Be careful with your greed, folks — the honeymoon may be ending!!

  • Jalan94

    If it is so “crazy” and the price is too high then it wouldn’t have worked in a test market and they wouldn’t be expanding it. They clearly are not stupid enough to expand a program that doesn’t work.
    Human nature suggests that some people will take their chance and not commit to Early Bird Check-In at the time of booking. But once they check in and realize that they are boarding position C23 they have second thoughts. This program is clearly targeted as an impulse buy, just like the stuff at the check-out lane at Target. When you are sitting there ready to board, you see your boarding position is bad and you start to think about who you might be getting stuck next to you are more likely to open your wallet and save yourself.
    The idea that people are getting all uptight about a voluntary fee is laughable. Don’t pay the fee – you can still get on the plane, find a seat and fly.

  • Jim Walker

    So, what does this do to the frequent flyers who were rewarded with the “A-list” for boarding?

  • mmathers

    I think Allegiant is the US version of Ryan Air. Cheap flights but seat selection, carry on bags, and checked baggage all cost xtra $$$. We’ll see how SWA goes. I’m not sure how $40 makes sense when they already collect a premium for “Business Select”


  • Jonathon Dunn

    $40 for something other airlines give you as part of buying your ticket: guaranteed seat…well almost. Unless you sit in the exit row, there’s nothing special to spending $40. Other airlines charge less than that to sit in their wider-seating, more comfortable economy plus/premium seats. I definitely don’t plan on doing it. Than again, I avoid SWA as much as possible.

  • Mordock

    As someone else said, this is for the person that gets a C boarding pass because they didn’t check in from home and is willing to pay the money to stay out of a middle seat. I wouldn’t be surprised if it works. For the rest of us, it means filling up the A1-15 boarding slots putting most of us 10 people further back in line since there are rarely more than 5 people in those slots. Basically it is a way for people to cut in line when they don’t deserve it. So for $40 you can now be a rude SOB and get a way with it.

  • Kenneth Snyder


  • cowboyinbrla

    Well, business select already includes early boarding, so anyone paying for that won’t need to pay this fee.

  • cowboyinbrla

    You’re probably right. But on most of their new planes, which seat 170-ish people, that’s still almost 2 people per flight paying the fee, or $80/flight – for something costing the airline zero. At 3,200 flights per day, 2 people paying per flight comes to $256,000/day, or over $90 million a year. That ain’t chump change, especially as it goes straight to the bottom line.

  • cowboyinbrla

    As I understand it: the current system automatically gives Business Select people and the A-List tier the first spots in the A-group. I believe spots A1-A15 are reserved for those people; that way, if a walk-up customer purchases a Business Select fare, or a walk-up A-List customer purchases any fare, there are probably early boarding spots available.

    After that, the computer allocates spots when check-in opens up 24 hours in advance to those who paid for the automated “Early Bird” checkin. Those slots will stay unchanged – they’ve already been issued. Those slots begin (I believe) at A-16 and proceed through A-60 and on to the B-group, if need be. After that, slots are assigned to people manually checking in, picking up wherever the Early Birds left off.

    So I assume these $40 slots are for any unsold A1-A-15 slots, 45 minutes before flight time. At that point, it’s unlikely any new A-Listers will be buying tickets, and any tickets purchased earlier would already have been given an A-slot.

  • cowboyinbrla

    Why should it lead them to tamper with the fee? It’s a completely separate option, using a different pool of slots.

  • Dr Edsel

    Southwest has completely abandoned its roots as defined by the terrific Herb Kelleher. Fares are among the highest of all carriers, the frequent flier plan has been dramatically watered down, and adding another row of seats just screams CHEAP.,as in Spirit and Ryanair.
    They routinely charge more from Tampa to Nashville then they charge from Tampa to Los Angeles. (more than twice the distance).

  • Ken Kallusky

    Great reply, you should CEO Southwest

  • Ken Kallusky

    Have a better option PHX _ BUR,, 10 times per year ? For a 14 year old ?

  • Ken Kallusky

    And if that isnt enough watch whats next !!

  • Fred Davis

    Who cares AA palys the game with AMB, and the Flag Shop Switch..Club, many play it with CC’s AA let’s you do the chalange, and many let you buy up…

    Good deal SouthWest, they pay they play. if I dont like the T-24 positiion I might pay it..only to find a retrat saving 2 extra seats.
    Profit is not a dirty word.

  • Fred Davis

    Many Airlines charge 20 and 30 for select seats what is an extra $10.00 for Frist Choice…
    Good Move…Southwest…I pay $2.50 for my wifes CP set, and $10.00 for EB… sure beats US at $60.00 for a 2 decent seat..,
    Do the math this is a good deal, for both the the travler and the investors.. no need to con the GA for a Blue Pass with a limp..

  • Brian_R_Allen

    …. Would you pay $40 to board a Southwest flight ….

    Nope. I don’t do aerial Greyhound Buslines!

  • Scott

    I think this is a smart business decision by Southwest. They are selling the unsold A1-A15 boarding slots. So you can gamble and buy their cheapest Wanna Get Away fare and not pay $10 (soon $12.50) for EarlyBird Boarding and then pay $40 to be one of the fist 15 people to board (assuming there are no people in wheelchairs). The total price will be much less then paying the Business Select fare that comes with one of those 15 boarding positions.

    I like Southwest for a three reasons. They let people check 2 bags per flight for free so I never have any trouble finding space for my carry on bag. The crew usually act as if they actually enjoy their jobs and treat me well on board. Third, and lost important, I can change my mind anytime before the flight and cancel my ticket and get back all the money or points I paid (less the $10 for EarlyBird Boarding). This is HUGE for me.

  • cowboyinbrla

    So far, Southwest has been pretty good about implementing new fees – they don’t take away something that used to be free and start charging for it, like checked bags. For now at least, that doesn’t seem to be in their philosophy as an airline.

    The no-show/no-cancel penalty fee is an exception, of course – you used to be able to just not show up and apply your ticket value to another flight. But cancellation is easy to do and so this penalizes only those who are making things difficult for everyone else.

  • cowboyinbrla

    Of course, because coach on Delta, United, American or USAirways is soooooooooo much more luxurious an experience.

  • cowboyinbrla

    Why is it “rude” to for someone to pay extra for a different level of service? Isn’t that what first class and economy plus sections on other airlines are–paying extra for a different level of service, including boarding before everyone else?

    The beauty of it is, if there are slots available at the 45 minute mark, anyone can line up to buy them. If it’s not in your budget, I’m sorry, but I don’t see someone else buying the slot as “rude” – certainly no ruder than if the person had paid a Business Select fare, which would have given him one of those slots before you even got your own boarding slot.

  • cowboyinbrla

    Their fares are sometimes higher than other carriers, sometimes not. What they are, usually, is reasonable. Contrasted with Delta for instance, which offers competitive fares in markets where they go head-to-head with Southwest/Airtran on specific routes, but charge through the nose when they control the routes. MSY-ATL and BTR-ATL are almost identical flying distances, but because Airtran (part of Southwest) also flies MSY-ATL, fares from MSY are often half or less what fares from BTR run.

    Southwest charges what it needs to in order to make a profit on a route. They’re sometimes not the lowest price – until, of course, you start adding in the fees for two checked bags (if you’re going on a vacation where you need gear, for instance), and fees for this, that, and the other thing.

  • Brian_R_Allen

    What’s “Coach?”

    (I’ve heard it’s some kind of ghastly place where all of those cattle go who bang my shoulder with their bags as they shove past rows 1 thro’ 4?)

  • ursine1

    Allowing anyone with $40 to jump ahead of Southwest’s most frequent flyers (A-List members) is just a baffling new “service”, especially in light of all the effort WN has put forth allegedly trying to court frequent business travelers. Sadly, this just shows exactly how much their loyalty is worth to WN. This new fee will only lead to greater ill will towards WN; from those A-Listers who now learn that the thousands of dollars they spend annually to earn priority boarding status are trumped by anyone with $40; from anyone who purchases the increasingly devalued (and increasingly more expensive) Early Bird boarding but now boards later because of “upgraded” boarders; and by those people who pay the $40 and then board the plane to learn that all the seats upfront and the exit row are filled with thru passengers, and that they’ve just been ripped off. It’s stupid, show-sighted, and wrong.

  • ursine1

    The Early Bird fee increases to $12.50 in March.

  • ursine1

    Bag fees are coming, of course.

  • ursine1

    No. A-Listers are assigned boarding positions beginning with A-16, so anyone paying the new $40 fee will jump ahead of everyone except BS travelers — including A-Listers, allegedly Southwest’s most valued customers. A-Listers on multiple forums I read are justifiably pissed off about this.

  • ursine1

    FYI: This program was “tested” in a single market, for one month.

  • cowboyinbrla

    True, but there’s nothing to suggest this is a related development except insofar as it’s coming out at the same time.

  • cowboyinbrla

    Perhaps. Though Southwest has made it clear that’s not in their plans. Ever since Southwest standardized on two free checked bags up to 50 lbs each, they’ve made a point that their fee plans involve finding ways to offer new value to customers in exchange for fees, rather than charging for something that formerly was free. And they’ve stuck to it. If you have evidence to the contrary about their long-term plans other than a fevered imagination, by all means, provide it.

  • ursine1

    Sorry, my reply was to the OP’s statement, “If they start tampering with that relatively reasonable option…” to point out that it’s already scheduled to happen.

  • ursine1

    I disagree that “Southwest has made it clear that’s not in their plans.” Gary Kelly’s recent infamous “Never say never” statement makes it clear to me — and nearly every industry observer — that bag fees are coming. My prediction is a fee for the 2nd checked bag in 2014, followed by a fee for the first sometime later. Both will likely be waived for BS fare and A-List flyers.

  • cowboyinbrla

    But you forget – the “business” travelers they want are the ones willing to pay a Business Select fare. Otherwise, a business traveler is indistinguishable from a leisure traveler.

    A-List members aren’t necessarily business travelers; there are plenty who are simply frequent leisure travelers. There was a time when I easily flew 25 flights a year, all for leisure. I almost always paid the lowest fare, well in advance, so while I’m sure Southwest was happy to take my money, I don’t think that made me an especially valuable customer.

    And if people are spending thousands of dollars a year “to earn priority boarding status”, then they’re paying Business Select fares, because that’s the only program in which you’d spend thousands of dollars on top of the regular airfare “to earn priority boarding status” – i.e. the difference between a Wanna Get Away and a Business Select fare, repeated many times. If you simply mean someone who flies a lot on Southwest – well, again, people flying the cheapest fares on a constant basis aren’t the most preferred customers.

    What the $40 fee does is move the passenger into the same group as those who paid a higher fare in the first place.

    But – if people do in fact have bad experiences with the fee, i have no doubt they’ll stop paying it. And if enough do, Southwest may reconsider whether it’s a program worth continuing.

  • cowboyinbrla

    Did some digging; you’re correct. I don’t understand the gripe, though.

    At present, A1-A15 are BS-reserved. As I understand it, ONLY if there are open A slots available 45 minutes before the flight will they be sold for the $40 fee. If there are already 15 or more BS fares sold on a given flight, then you can pretty much assume that A-List, Early Bird, and regular checkins will have consumed the remainder of the A slots.

    So, assuming NO business select fares were on the particular flight, 15 people *might* buy an A1-15 slot. More likely is that there will be some number of BS fares (could be 3, could be 8, could be 12), and only the remaining slots become available for purchase. So A-Listers on a cheap fare who are pissed that “maybe” as many as 15 people (rare), usually fewer, might get on the plane ahead of them need to take a chill pill.

  • cowboyinbrla

    I understand – still, though, I think $12.50 is a still a “relatively reasonable option”.

  • cowboyinbrla

    We shall see, won’t we? I’m not saying it can’t or won’t happen, just that I don’t think it will. Southwest has a lot invested in the recognition of “Bags Fly Free”.

  • ursine1

    Of course Southwest wants more business travelers to buy BS fares, but clearly they’re not (across all markets), as evidenced by the fact that Southwest has enough of those positions left open to begin selling them for $40.

    Southwest A-List status requires min. 25 one-way flights (or 35,000 tier-qualifying points). That costs thousands of dollars. By far the majority of A-List members are business travelers. But that’s really beside the point. Southwest has a tiered loyalty program for a reason — to engender loyalty (and thereby increase sales) by rewarding their most frequent customers with perks like priority boarding. Introducing a new fee that gives anyone with $40 a better benefit than someone who has earned status is just stupid, wrong, and short-sighted. While I have no doubt the bean counters anticipated the negative effects of the new policy, I suggest they were blinded to the potential revenue increases and failed to factor in the cost of ill will in the long run.

  • ursine1


    It takes a great deal of flying (25 one-way trips annually) which add up to a significant cost, to earn A-List status. One primary benefit earned is priority boarding. Introducing a new fee that allows anyone with $40 to leapfrog ahead of A-Listers is a slap in their face.

  • ursine1

    Clearly, we disagree. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • ursine1

    While $25 round trip isn’t unreasonable, my point was that the fee is already being tampered with.

  • Jalan94

    And? That is why companies employ business analysts. Southwest likely had a strong idea that this is going to work before they even tested it because of the work their internal analysts and market researchers do. The test market was likely just a confirmation of what they already believed would work. It wasn’t an experiment.

  • ursine1

    I disagree. Much of what Southwest does these days seems like an experiment to me.

  • Jalan94

    That is a hard comment to take seriously given approximately 40 years of profitability and their perpetual ranking in the top 3 of customer satisfaction ratings. The idea that they are winging it or experimenting as they go is hard to believe given those performance metrics.

  • ursine1

    Have you been following their performance metrics? They’re not what they used to be. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • JGFL

    Two years ago, I flew SW enough to gain companion pass status and enjoyed all the A benefits with A-List. Last year, my travels changed and I lost my status. Knowing how things worked, I recently added Early Bird and was shocked to see a B-42 boarding pass clearly marked as EB. When the $40 upgrade was offered I jumped at the chance to jump up. At the combined $50 of options that I chose, I was still half the Business Select price.

    I have been in line at A16-A25 area as a A-List’r and always assumed I may have at least 15 people ahead of me. Many times, you can’t count how many as the Business Select people know the routine and jump up to line up just in time to board. I can’t understand why any A-List’r is troubled that the full 15 slot potential is full. If every flight had the full 15, we would never have any additional ‘fees’ discussions. Does it really matter ‘how’ the slots were filled if the overall flight revenue increases and helps SW avoid instituting additional fees.

  • disqus_SDkjvu3LXC

    A Southwest employee when I suggested that $40. each way was a bit expensive, told me “but that is First Class”. What? Still the same seats, same cabin, same soda and pretzels. Over the top expensive, I will never pay it!

  • disqus_SDkjvu3LXC

    ah, if the “flight is running late” how does boarding first give you and advantage, time wise? They still won’t take off until everyone is on board….


    This would mean $80.00 per person roundtrip and for a couple it would be $160.00 for two roundtrip tickets. I think that is a little steep for Senior citizens or anyone else living on a fixed income or do you not want people to fly Southwest. I love Southwest but I am a senior and so is my husband and we can pay a total of $40.00 roundtrip but the new charge will make it difficult for us.

  • baglady

    Don’t pay it!!!! It’s that simple.

  • Guest

    I don’t think there will be many takers of this new option. I will not affect me and I will still fly Southwest.

  • Warren Weitzman

    I don’t think there will be many takers of this new option. It will not affect me and I will still fly Southwest.

  • dsanywhere

    heck no! I would however pay $40 for an assigned seat (which SWA seems to not get the concept of!)