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Southwest Airlines Quietly Raises Another Key Fee

Southwest Airlines prides itself on what it calls “transfarency,” a philosophy that the carrier defines on its website.

“Transfarency: Philosophy in which customers are treated honestly and fairly, and low fares actually stay low — no unexpected bag fees, change fees, or hidden fees.”

And to be fair, Southwest (LUV) – Get Free Report has not deviated from those core principles. When you book a seat on the airline, the cost is all-inclusive. You don’t pay extra to bring a bag, nor are you charged for seat assignments because Southwest does not assign seats.

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The airline famously uses an open seating plan. Each passenger is assigned a boarding letter (A, B, or C) and a number between 1 and 60. The “A” group boards first followed by “B” and “C,” all in numerical order.  

Passengers aren’t treated equally when it comes to those boarding assignments. Some passengers get to jump the line either based on their loyalty status or because they have paid extra, while everyone else gets assigned a spot based on when they check in 24 hours before the flight.

Now, the airline has dramatically raised the price for one of the ways passengers can jump to the front of the line.

Image source: Tim Boyle/Getty Images

How to Get a Better Southwest Boarding Spot

While Southwest has a sort of democratic boarding process, it does offer a number of ways to cut to the front of the line. 

The first is earning “A-List” status by flying 25 flights in a year (or earning 35,000 points). “A-List” customers can check in early, and while they’re not guaranteed a spot in the “A” group, if they don’t get one they’re allowed to board before the “B” group.

The airline also sells Early-Bird boarding, where people who pay at least $15 per flight segment (the number is generally higher) get checked in before the 24-hour window opens. Early Bird costs have risen since the pandemic, but not nearly as much as the carrier has increased the cost of a last-ditch way to get a top boarding spot.

Southwest offers 15 “Business Select” fares on each flight. Those passengers pay more for their tickets and get to board in the A 1-15 spots.

When the airline has not sold 15 Business Select spots when check-in begins, it puts the remaining ones on sale. You used to be able to buy those remaining seats only at the gate, but they’re now sold online during check-in. And the price has gone up.

Southwest Raises Upgraded Boarding Cost

Pricing for these last-minute upgrades has always been dynamic, but the airline has quietly raised the ceiling. These changes have not been publicly announced, but View From the Wing reported on them after the website was able to view an internal memo.

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.

This seems like a case of the airline raising a price because it can. People who book these last-minute upgrades generally do so because they need an early spot to guarantee that they get overhead-bin space and/or can get off the plane quickly.

This nickel-and-dime move won’t be noticed by too many people, since the passengers who pay for these upgrades generally need them and price likely isn’t a factor. This move, however, follows another change that many more passengers are likely to be angry about.

The airline recently changed its WiFi fee policy. Previously, passengers paid $8 for access to WiFi for any flights they had that day. Now, the airline charges $8 per flight segment.         

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