Southwest Transfarency a Thing of the Past

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Upgraded Boarding Fee

Southwest Transfarency a Thing of the Past

Southwest Airlines has quietly increased the upgraded boarding fee on some flights. It would previously cost up to $40 at the gate, but in some markets it has been increased to $50.

Southwest Boarding Process

If you’re not familiar with Southwest, the airline does not assign seats. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. People do not rush the plane and grab whatever seat they find while jumping over each other.

When you book a flight you are assigned a boarding group (A, B, or C) and position (1-60+) upon check in. Your unique group and position combination (for example: B22) will be displayed on your boarding pass and represents a reserved spot in the boarding group at the gate. Boarding positions within each group are based on factors such as frequent flier status, type of ticket and time of online check-in.

Numbered posts in each of our gate areas indicate where to line up. When your boarding group is called, you find your designated place in line and board the aircraft in numerical order with your boarding group. If you have B22, you would board 22nd in group B.

As you would imagine, those in Group A get the best seats and those in Group C get stuck in middle seats or can’t find seats next to each other. Business Select fares and those with status automatically go first.

Upgraded Boarding Fee

Upgraded boarding was introduced in 2013 as a way to monetize open spots in group A at the gate. Southwest started out with a price  of $40 per person each way. In 2015 they added a $30 option on some flights. Now they have quietly introduced a $50 option as well. The new pricing is already showing on the Optional Travel Charges page on the Southwest website. The $50 fee will likely apply only to some of their markets.


Southwest keeps making these changes without any notice, and making “transfarency” a thing of the past. They added in dynamic pricing on award tickets a few years ago. Last year they made changing flights more difficult. And now they raised the upgraded boarding fee on some flights. Not the worst news, but it might catch some people by surprise when they’re asked to pay $50 instead of $40.

The upgraded boarding fee at the gate might not be worth it for everyone, especially on short flights. But if you’re flying for several hours and you’re stuck at the end of Group C, is might make sense. They also offer EarlyBird Check In, which costs $15 each way, but that only improves your place in line but doesn’t guarantee you Group A.

Based in NYC. Points/miles enthusiast for years and actively writing about it for the last two years at Danny the Deal Guru. I'm always looking out for deals. Making a few bucks is always nice, but the traveling is by far the best part of this business.

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  1. Interesting. I don’t really see this as the death of transfarency. All their other policies are clear and *way* better than the competition (e.g. fully refundable award reservations).

    But I also didn’t even know this was a thing before this post…

  2. “those in Group B get stuck in middle seats or can’t find seats next to each other”

    Uh, no. Every time that I have been in B, I have been able to avoid a middle seat. That only happens in C.

  3. Every person has their own personal preference in flying. For me, the fact that I have the ability to change or cancel the flight for free if my plans change is worth more than anything the other airlines can offer. And numerous times I have sat in the middle seat, and you may be shocked but I am still alive and around to talk about it.

  4. I’m so glad that you pointed this out. Southwest is expensive. I know that Southwest fanboys hate anyone saying anything negative about them.
    When they raise prices like this without any notice this brings the call for more regulations which I’m sure the airlines don’t want. All Southwest has to do is give some sort of notice. Or they can come into the 21st century and have assigned seating rather than have someone board and then hold the whole row for their “family members”.

  5. @henry LAX, settle down internet tough guy…

    Example: I recently took two trips from Chicago to LA, one on AA and one on Southwest. I am very tall and grabbing an exit row seat makes my life MUCH easier. For both weekends, the price on both airlines was the same. On American, they wanted $80 at booking for me to secure an exit row seat (I have no status on either airline). With Southwest, I was able to pay $40 at the gate, after which I acquired boarding pass A2, which pretty much guaranteed me an exit row or bulkhead seat. Granted, my Southwest flight was the first of the day (and thus no “through” passengers), so I was sure I’d get a good seat. Also, my two checked bags were free on Southwest as well, whereas AA wanted $60 ($25 + $35).

    But I guess I’m just an idiot, right?

    • I wouldn’t say you’re “an idiot,” but I would definitely say your preferences are somewhat unique. Most travellers wouldn’t pay an extra $50 — or $40 — to sit in an exit row. I’m fairly tall (6 feet) and I wouldn’t pay. Like most frequent travelers, I also rarely have checked baggage. I generally think it’s silly to give WN any money for a better position in line: if you check in 24-hours in advance, you’ll almost certainly get a “B” and that’s good enough to avoid a middle seat. That would be enough for 90% of travellers, but obviously not good enough for everyone.

  6. only idiots would support an airline that charges for $50 for a boarding position instead of an actual seat assignment.

    and that’s on top of people lying to you saying they’re “holding seats for my wife and kid” and FAs too chicken to enforce the “any seat” policy.

  7. Are you kidding me? They “quietly increased the upgraded…”? What would you like them to do? Send you a personal e-mail? It’s at every counter how much the “move up in line” fee is. And it’s not like you have to pay it.
    Sheesh. What a non-issue.

    • Southwest has been showing a history of silently devaluing their programs over the last 2 years without any notification. Not something you would expect from an airline that used to call themselves the most transparent airline in the business.

  8. SW besides their fare sales is rarely competitively priced. Not a fan of unassigned seats and again when I price check them they’re almost always higher priced than the big 3.

    • It all depends. I will say that WN offers a better value proposition for infrequent travelers than frequent travelers. There are so many infrequent travelers I know who think they need checked baggage. If you’re one of those people, WN can be a good deal. If you’re a very frequent traveler who likes lounge visits, gets a preferred economy plus seat (with a possible upgrade) and uses their frequent flyer points to travel the world, WN can be less attractive. How flexible you need to be to change your reservation also matters a lot. Different strokes for different folks. I will say that the folks who think WN is a “low fare airline” are wrong these days. Frontier and Spirit are “low fare airlines” — although, usually, you get what you pay for (not much).


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