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Are Southwest Business Select Tickets Worth the Extra Cost?

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Ryan Smith
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Ryan Smith

Content Contributor

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Countries Visited: 197U.S. States Visited: 50

Ryan completed his goal of visiting every country in the world in December of 2023 and now plans to let his wife choose their destinations. Over the years, he’s written about award travel for publicat...
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Nick Ellis

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Nick’s passion for points began as a hobby and became a career. He worked for over 5 years at The Points Guy and has contributed to Business Insider and CNN. He has 14 credit cards and continues to le...
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With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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The author flew on a ticket provided by Hilton Hotels to attend a recent press event. All opinions are the author’s own, and neither Hilton nor Southwest had input in any part of this review.

I recently flew Southwest Airlines from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, to Nashville, Tennessee, on the airline’s most premium ticket offering, known as Business Select.

While you typically think of lie-flat seats, premium TVs, and airport lounges when you see “business” with a flight reservation, Southwest doesn’t have any of that.

Much of what Business Select passengers get is available through other methods when flying Southwest. So this got me thinking: Is Southwest Business Select worth the extra cost?

Let’s look at the benefits and their specific value to see how the numbers shake out.

Understanding Southwest Fare Types

Southwest Airlines offers 4 fare types, listed from least to most expensive:

Regardless of the fare you book, you’ll enjoy all of the following perks:

From this point, the fare types begin to differ. While you’ll earn Rapid Rewards points on all paid fares, the rates at which you do so vary according to the type of ticket booked. You’ll earn 6x Rapid Rewards points on Wanna Get Away fares, 8x on Wanna Get Away+, 10x on Anytime, and 12x on Business Select.

Further, Wanna Get Away+ customers get free same-day confirmed changes on flights and can transfer flight credits (obtained from cancellations) to others. Meanwhile, Anytime passengers get EarlyBird Check-In, refundable tickets, and access to priority and express lanes at participating locations.

Southwest Business Select Benefits

Building upon the perks for other customers, Southwest’s most expensive tickets come with a few extra benefits. The highlights include:

  • Free inflight Wi-Fi
  • Complimentary premium drink on flights of 176 miles or more
  • Guaranteed boarding position between A1 and A15
Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 empty seats in cabin
Looking toward the many empty seats, which you might find by boarding early. Image Credit: Ryan Smith

Aside from preboarding for those needing extra help or extra time during boarding, Business Select passengers will be the first on the plane, essentially allowing them to have their pick of seats on the aircraft, which is pivotal, considering the airline’s open-seating policy.

Cost of Southwest Business Select Fares

Now that we understand the benefits you get when booking Business Select, let’s look at the cost differential between this fare and other Southwest fare types.

My journey to Tennessee began with an 8:10 a.m. flight from Orange County (SNA) to Nashville (BNA). It stopped at Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, though I remained on the plane.

For this trip, booked as a round-trip ticket returning 3 days later and reserved just a week before departure, the cost of Business Select was $795. That was $326 more than the cheapest Wanna Get Away fare at $469 round-trip. That’s a 70% premium compared to the cheapest fare.

Southwest Airlines flight prices in cash SNA BNA
Cash rates for my flight options. Image Credit: Southwest Airlines

What about paying with Rapid Rewards points? The Business Select fare required 59,790 points plus $5.60 in taxes. The Wanna Get Away ticket needed just 34,620 points plus $5.60. That represents a premium of nearly 73%.

Southwest Airlines flight prices in points SNA BNA
Points rates for my flight options. Image Credit: Southwest Airlines

It’s not just this particular flight that presented such a premium for a Business Select fare. I researched several other domestic routes on randomly selected days across the next few months. On average, there was an 81% premium for selecting a Business Select fare over a Wanna Get Away fare. So, as a general rule, you can expect to pay quite a bit more to buy a Business Select fare on Southwest flights, regardless of route and when it’s booked.

Assigning a Value to Southwest Business Select Benefits

Now that we’ve seen how much extra you could pay, we should compare that to the benefits included. Do the extra perks present enough value for the extra cost? Let’s crunch some numbers to see what we get.

Complimentary Premium Drink

Those who would like an alcoholic drink during the flight can save $7 to $9 by getting a complimentary drink from their Business Select fare instead of paying out of pocket for the drink.

Southwest Airlines inflight drink menu
The inflight drink menu. Get a free drink with a Business Select ticket or A-List Preferred status. Image Credit: Ryan Smith

The drink coupon is displayed obviously on the in-app boarding pass.

Southwest mobile app with Business Select boarding pass
Some of the benefits were displayed with my boarding pass in the Southwest app. Image Credit: Southwest Airlines

It’s also labeled on the boarding pass in your mobile wallet.

Southwest Airlines Business Select boarding pass
My mobile wallet boarding pass also showed the drink coupon. Image Credit: Apple Wallet

But is the drink really worth $7 to $9? I don’t drink alcohol, and the premium drink offerings don’t include any nonalcoholic options. All of the nonalcoholic drinks are complimentary (such as soda, juice, water, coffee, etc.). Thus, I didn’t obtain any value here.

Alcohol is also not available on flights under 175 miles in distance. And (obviously) it’s not provided to minors who may be traveling on Business Select fares. Plus, you might fall asleep or may not be up for a drink early in the morning.

If this perk does not benefit every passenger on every flight, it may not be worth the face value. I’ll value this at $3 for each direction, so $6 for my trip.

Inflight Wi-Fi

Southwest provides all passengers with complimentary inflight entertainment and access to 2 messaging services: iMessage and WhatsApp. There’s also internet available for $8 per device on all flights.

Business Select passengers, however, get complimentary internet. I was able to use it on both my laptop and my phone (for free) at the same time, which was nice.

The speeds weren’t anything special, at 8 Mbps downloads on average, but they were good enough to complete some basic work functions. It would have been a different story had I needed to download any large files.

Southwest Airlines inflight Wi Fi speed test
Inflight Wi-Fi speeds on my first flight. Image Credit: Speedtest

Would I assign this an $8 value? No. Here’s why: Not everyone works online or needs to get work done during the flight. Or maybe you’re on vacation, and you don’t want to be connected.

Alternatively, there are other ways to enjoy this benefit. While Southwest’s Wi-Fi won’t trigger travel credits on credit cards that have them, it is possible to get 365 internet credits on Southwest flights with the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card.

Again, I’ll take the 50% approach and assign this benefit a $4 value each way, so $8 for a round-trip journey.

Southwest Airlines check in confirmation with wifi message
A message about my inflight Wi-Fi benefits after checking in. Image Credit: Southwest Airlines

Extra Points Earnings

We value Southwest Rapid Rewards points at 1.3 cents apiece, on average, when redeeming them for flights. Business Select passengers earn 12x points on their tickets, excluding the taxes portion of the fare.

For my flights, that means earning $123.15 worth of points. With the Wanna Get Away fare, I would’ve earned $36.15 worth of points. Thus, the benefit here is worth the difference, or $87.

A1 to A15 Boarding Guarantee

With Business Select fares, you’ll get automatic check-in (i.e., no setting your alarm to remember to check in or else be stuck with a C-group boarding position) and a guaranteed number between A1 and A15. This means you’ll be one of the first passengers to board once preboarding is complete.

And therein lies the caveat: Preboarding could include anywhere from 0 to dozens of people. When boarding in Orange County, we had just 5 people in preboarding, but they claimed nearly all of the seats in row 1 at the bulkhead — a favorite position for many people and a reason to want an early boarding number due to the extra space at your feet.

Southwest Airlines space at bulkhead on Boeing 737 200
Space in front of my seat at the bulkhead. Image Credit: Ryan Smith

Those in preboarding aren’t permitted to claim seats in the exit rows, which means those seats can still be available. That’s little consolation to families with children too young to sit in the exit row, however. Preboarding can also be quite a crowd on some flights. The flight from Nashville on the return journey had over 20 people in preboarding, and they occupied most of the seats in the first 4 rows of the plane.

Southwest Airlines preboarding at BNA Nashville
The number of passengers in the preboarding group can vary wildly — and directly affects your seating prospects. Image Credit: Ryan Smith

On rare occasions, the crew will tell preboarding passengers that they can’t choose the bulkhead seats in row 1, but don’t count on this.

Thus, your early boarding benefit has more or less value depending on how many people are preboarding on your specific flight. How much is this benefit worth in dollars? Not everyone will agree. Southwest sells earlier boarding positions at varying costs, but they start at $30 at minimum.

But since this perk regularly costs more than $30, we can base the value of choosing a preferred seat in the front row or exit row based on what other airlines charge in the U.S. That makes this benefit worth $35 in each direction, or $70 round-trip.

Checking the Math: Is Southwest Business Select Worth It?

Let’s add up the benefits and the values we’ve assigned:

  • Complimentary premium drink: $6
  • Complimentary inflight Wi-Fi: $8
  • Extra points: $87
  • Early boarding guarantee: $70

Adding it up, the Business Select benefits are worth $171, at least in my specific scenario. The fare difference on my ticket was $326, though. But a few things might skew your valuation.

On my way home, we left Nashville 20 minutes late, cutting my 50-minute layover to just 30 minutes. This meant I’d be landing exactly when my next flight was set to begin boarding.

Southwest Airlines boarding number signs BNA
Signposts with boarding numbers at our gate in Nashville. Image Credit: Ryan Smith

Thus, I knew I wouldn’t get to board with the early A numbers. But it got worse: We arrived at the C gates for my connection in Phoenix (PHX), but my next flight departed from the D gates. That’s a far walk, in case you’re not familiar with the Phoenix airport.

If I hadn’t been in the front row and first off the plane in Phoenix, there’s a strong chance I would’ve missed my connection. Does that increase the value of early boarding? Maybe. It depends on how often that happens.

I also could have made my connection by choosing to sit in a middle seat in row 2, which was still available well into the boarding process. Someone with a B boarding position took this spot, so paying to snag a seat near the front wasn’t even necessary.

I also wouldn’t consider the early boarding benefit any more valuable because of the additional ways to get a quality boarding position. You can get 2 EarlyBird Check-Ins (typically giving an A16 to A30 boarding position) each year with any one of these cards:

In addition, purchasing EarlyBird Check-In (which starts at $15) will trigger the $75 annual credit available on the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card. This card also offers 4 Upgraded Boardings per year, guaranteeing an A1 to A15 boarding position. Those are in addition to earning A-List or A-List Preferred status to get priority boarding.

So while it’s easy to imagine situations that might increase the perceived value of early boarding, it’s just as easy to note extra ways to get an A boarding number.

Tangible vs. Intangible Benefits

It’s worth pointing out that the points are the only thing you’ll take home in this equation. The other benefits provide intangible value, and you may value them differently based on the perceived value.

If you believe these benefits merit at least $155 of higher valuation, you’ll cover the cost difference between Business Select and the cheapest fare, Wanna Get Away.

Final Thoughts

When adding up the benefits for Southwest Business Select passengers, it’s likely not worth the cost in most situations. Unless you value the drink and Wi-Fi at face value and assign incredible value to the early boarding position, you can’t wrangle the math into a number that corresponds to the cost premium of these tickets.

If you’re truly concerned about an early boarding number on a Southwest flight, look at purchasing Upgraded Boarding or EarlyBird Check-In. To be clear, the latter doesn’t promise an A boarding position but greatly increases your chances of getting one by checking you in before the 24-hour window opens for other passengers. Either of these will be cheaper than the 70% premium for buying Business Select.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Southwest Business Select seats bigger?

No, there are no bigger seats on Southwest Airlines planes. The only seats with extra space are those in the first row (bulkhead) and exit rows, and you may be able to choose these seats by getting on the plane early with a Business Select fare and then choosing any available seat in the open seating policy.

What are the advantages of Business Select on Southwest Airlines?

With a Business Select fare, you’ll get an A1 to A15 boarding position, a complimentary premium drink, complimentary inflight Wi-Fi, and bonus points earnings (12x) on paid fares.

Does Southwest Business Select include EarlyBird Check-In?

No, it doesn’t. It includes a better boarding privilege. With Business Select, you get a guaranteed A1 to A15 boarding position. EarlyBird Check-In doesn’t guarantee an A boarding spot, but it has a good chance of providing an A16 to A30 boarding spot.

What is the difference between Southwest Anytime and Business Select?

With Business Select, you get 12x earnings on paid fares, guaranteed A1 to A15 boarding, a complimentary premium drink during your flight, and free inflight Wi-Fi. Anytime tickets provide different benefits. These passengers get 10x earnings on paid flights and EarlyBird Check-In (which starts at 36 hours before departure but doesn’t guarantee a particular boarding number or group).

Ryan Smith's image

About Ryan Smith

Ryan completed his goal of visiting every country in the world in December of 2023 and now plans to let his wife choose their destinations. Over the years, he’s written about award travel for publications including AwardWallet, The Points Guy, USA Today Blueprint, CNBC Select, Tripadvisor, and Forbes Advisor.

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