Southwest Airlines has quietly increased the upgraded boarding fee on some flights. Previously it cost up to $40 at the gate, but in some markets, Southwest upgraded boarding fee has been increased to $50.
Southwest Boarding Process
If you’re not familiar with Southwest, the airline does not assign seats. It sounds crazy and surely some would imagine it being like a NYC subway where everyone rushes in to grab a seat. But it’s not that bad.
When you book a flight you are assigned a boarding group, A, B, or C. You then get a position (1-60+) upon check in. Your group and position combination (for example: B23) 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 a few 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 B23, 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. You can also pay $15 for EarlyBird Check In, but that only improves your place in line but doesn’t guarantee you Group A, or rarely even B. Then you have last minute upgraded boarding which can be purchased at the gate.
Upgraded Boarding Fee
Upgraded boarding was introduced in 2013 as a way to monetize open spots in group A at the gate. On flights without Business Select fares, there would be more posistions open in Group A. 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 apply only to some of their markets, likely their busiest ones.
The change itself is not something drastic and won’t affect many people. But it could be upsetting for someone to find out at the gate that they would have to pay $50 instead of $40. Especially if it’s a big group.
The upgraded boarding fee at the gate might not be worth it for everyone, especially on short flights. If you’re flying for several hours and you’re stuck at the end of Group C, is might make sense.