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Southwest Just Jacked Up the Prices for Early Boarding, as of May 15

The airline is known for not giving seating assignments.

The chance to pick your preferred seat on a Southwest Airlines flight just got more expensive. As of May 15, passengers looking to opt for Upgraded Boarding—an add-on that lets passengers board earlier—will have to pay as much as $80 extra, per flight segment, according to an internal memo reviewed by travel site View From The Wing.

Southwest boards their planes a little differently than other airlines. The company doesn't offer advance seat assignments, which means passengers can choose any seat on the plane where they'd like to sit. Those who are first to board the plane get first pick of their seats, so Southwest offers an Upgraded Boarding option for an additional fee. It puts passengers in the A1-A15 boarding position for the earliest access to seats and overhead bins.

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Luckily, getting on a Southwest plane for general boarding isn't a crazy survival-of-the-fittest situation. Passengers are assigned a boarding order number (grouped as A, B, or C) and position (a number per passenger typically ranging from 1-60+) upon check-in on a first-come, first-served basis. If you're one of the last guests to check in, you might end up in the last group with a higher number and your choice of seats will be much more limited. The process is orderly enough and Southwest is often praised for its "quick and efficient" system, according to Cheap Air. But leaving your spot to chance can be anxiety-inducing, especially if you're trying to avoid the dreaded middle seat for a long-haul flight. That's why some passengers choose to pay extra for early boarding.

Prices for Upgraded Boarding, which is available for purchase from 24 hours prior to one's flight, start at $30 per flight segment, according to Southwest's website, but can reach as high as $80. Previously, the maximum a person might pay was $60 per flight segment, according to The Points Guy, and the price can change based on a number of different factors such as route timing and passenger capacity.

View From The Wing noted that Upgraded Boarding is not necessarily offered on every flight. "The first 15 boarding spots are given to people paying for the most expensive 'Business Select' fares," notes the site. "When there are fewer than 15 people on a flight buying Business Select, they will sell the remaining spots."

The company also offers Early Bird Check-in, which is another extra fee that provides passengers with a boarding order number in advance, before check-in officially starts.

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In a statement to Best Life, Southwest stated that: "Upgraded Boarding is one of Southwest's most popular ancillary products, allowing Customers the option to buy an upgraded boarding position in Group A1-A15 (when available). We've shared with our Employees that effective May 15, Upgraded Boarding now will be offered in a variable range of $30 to $80." 

While the company has perks like two free checked bags, Southwest was recently dubbed one of the worst U.S. airlines, according to WalletHub. These new price increases for Upgraded Boarding could impact their reputation further, as many are still upset from the thousands of cancellations Southwest implemented during peak holiday travel in December 2022.

"I was shocked to hear a price of $50 being offered for that upgrade today on LAS-DEN," tweeted @RandomSegments, in response to The Points Guy sharing news of the price increases. It'd be an extra $50 on top of what the flier had already paid, for a route that is approximately 1h 44m long according to flight tracking information from Flight Aware.

Another Twitter user @Rg_Ca replied: "For that kind of money, I can get the exact seat I want and extra room and occasionally free drinks on other airlines."

Katka Lapelosova
Kat is a born and raised New Yorker exploring the world as she writes, eats, and everything in between. Read more
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