Southwest’s latest fee: $40 to board first

It is no secret that  Southwest wants to aggressively pursue ancillary revenue opportunities as they look to remain profitable. They’ve already announced things like restricting the value of canceled tickets; this week they added the option to board first for $40 to their schedule of add-ons. The "A" boarding slots will only be available starting 45 minutes prior to departure and only on an "as available" basis, meaning only if the company hasn’t already sold them via their Business Select fares.

Southwest Airlines Customers LUV the coveted "A" boarding group, and now they have one more way to be among the first to board.  Beginning today, Southwest Airlines will offer Customers the opportunity to purchase one of the earliest boarding positions at the gate for $40 per flight, when available.

Up to 15 Boarding Upgrades will be available for purchase on any given flight. Passengers will have to purchase them from an agent at the gate via a credit card; agents will be announcing if they are available prior to the flight. The company says that testing of this program last month in San Diego was successful.

Essentially the $40 fee is a second chance at getting towards the top of the boarding process. Many airlines are selling similar options at varying price points but not all allow passengers to move all the way to the front of the line for boarding as Southwest will be providing. In this case paying $40 – on a space-available basis – allows a customer to jump ahead of A-List customers, Southwest’s version of elite status. Yes, there is a limit to how many will be sold (plus the logistics of selling them in the ~15 minute window makes me question how many will ever sell) and more often than not it will still be passengers on high fares at the front of the line. Still, it is a bit of a slap in the face to the A-List folks to learn that their long-term loyalty is supplanted by $40 on an ad hoc basis.

Like many program updates this one likely won’t drive any behavioral changes on the part of members. But death by a thousand cuts is always a bit awkward to watch from the outside looking in.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. At some point an airline will simply allow people to bid on each seat and highest bidder will get the seat.

    Just because someone will pay for it doesn’t mean it should be done. Like the rest of society companies are just trying to squeeze extra money out of people but there is only a finite amount of it.

  2. It’s steep, but how else do you prevent people from not buying the $10 at booking? I agree it sucks for A listers, but its no different than if every Select seat was sold, and with 15 people on board, its not like A list wont have any bin space. DL Silvers board with people who have the credit card, southwest is just late to the game.

  3. I am sure the bag fees will follow
    first 2 bags free then 1 bag free then as with the rest, cabin bags free etc etc
    I do not really see SWA as anything other than the rest. Their IT systems are too old and hard to change, so they have not made any changes to their operations; I am sure that as that IT is fixed, the rest of the improvements will follow.
    The only reason SWA is getting rid of the Airtran MD90/917s is that their IT would not support the change to include F class, I think

  4. I’m stuck flying th tomorrow, as a UA 1k I’ve become accustomed to early boarding, having an exit row, space for my bags… Heck maybe even an upgrade. If I can pay $40 to avoid the cattle-like boarding process that is SWA, I will!

  5. I heard the gate announcement in San Diego 2 weeks ago. I thought it was funny since the flight was only half-full. Needless to say there were no takers.

  6. sw is cheap, man, pay for what u got. I have to fly them because of the comp pass. Once my points are all used, i am done with them. Period. Its just insane every flight is full and people desparated to board early to use the compartment and free bag, suckers!

    1. I have no problems with Southwest in general nor with this policy. All carriers are flying record high load factors so Southwest isn’t any different in being full these days. And they are hardly cheap, certainly not compared to other carriers on an average basis of comparable routes. Oh, and the crowds desperate to board first aren’t unique there, either.

  7. I’m 1K with United and I far prefer the Southwest boarding system. It’s much more civilized to give each person a per-defined boarding slot. No “gate lice” and no hurt feelings when I use the special boarding lane.

  8. Maybe I’m not reading the release correctly, but it says “one of the earliest boarding positions” without specifying where. They don’t mention beating out A-list members for seats or getting first pick. It’s vague enough to only assume you’d get an A-position. If you’re assigned a C-position because you arrived late and could buy up to A-20, it would indeed seem like one of the “earliest positions.” I’d like them to specify where in the queue these last-minute UGs would land you. I’m not paying $40 to be 20th on the list, but I might for a top 6 seat (think exit-row).

  9. This is actually good news. If you’re running late to your destination (think wedding, funeral, important business meeting, home to be with family, etc.), you now actually have a last-minute opportunity to board (and exit) the plane first. Passengers will not likely pay the $40 fee often…but at least we now have an option for those time-sensitive scenarios.

  10. Daughter flew on SWA today. ONT to DEN to LGA. On 1st flight no takers since only about 50 people on flight. On 2nd flight 3 people paid to move up, plane still had a handful of empty seats.

  11. Jon, excellent point. For people who really need the quick exit(where not wasting an extra 15 minutes getting off the plane is critical), this is probably well worth it.

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