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Southwest Business Select is confusing to many people because it sounds like you’re purchasing a traditional business class/first class ticket with more spacious seating.
However, Business Select on Southwest is more like an Economy Plus flying experience with special additional perks. While it’s not a true business class experience, it can still be worth it and better than Wanna Get Away and Anytime fares (depending on your situation).
Here’s everything you need to know about Southwest Business Select to determine if it’s worth it.
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What is Southwest Business Select?
Southwest Business Select fares are the most expensive type of Southwest Airlines ticket sold.
Business Select comes with a number of benefits including:
- Guaranteed A1-A15 boarding
- Fly By lane access
- Free premium drink
- 12 Rapid Rewards per dollar spent
- Fully refundable fare
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Guaranteed A1-A15 boarding
Business Select tickets offer guaranteed A1-A15 boarding, which means that you’ll be one of the first passengers to board. On Southwest this is a big deal since seats are not assigned and you can sit wherever you want on the plane.
Having a high boarding pass could result in you getting stuck in a middle seat or even with no overhead storage for your carry-on. But having an A1-A15 low boarding position could mean snagging emergency exit row seats with extra leg room.
I should mention that if you check-in right at the 24 hour mark, you should be able to get a window or aisle seat and find overhead bin space. So if you just want a window or aisle seat, you don’t need to purchase Business Select to secure that.
If you’re really worried about not getting a good seat then consider signing up for Southwest EarlyBird, which will automatically check you in before your flight and increase your odds of getting an A boarding pass. EarlyBird is not always worth it for everyone but you can read more about it here.
This will get you through the expedited check-in and security lines. This is also a benefit given to A-List and A-List Preferred Members. You can read more about it and find airports with these express lanes here.
I’ve seen some long lines to check in/check bags for Southwest before so having this perk can be pretty valuable especially if you’re traveling on business and in a time crunch.
Free premium drink
Whenever you check in you should be given your free Southwest Business Select drink coupon. Make sure that they give it to you since some times they don’t even mention to you that you have the drink coupon along with your boarding pass. You can click here to view the drink menu.
12 Rapid Rewards per dollar spent
With Business Select, you’ll be earning 12 Rapid Rewards per dollar spent. For sake of comparison, here are the earn rates for the three different Southwest fares:
• Business Select: 12
• Anytime: 10
• Wanna Get Away: 6
The extra value received in the form of Rapid Rewards is a major consideration that should be factored in when deciding between Business Select and Anytime fares (discussed more below).
The price difference between Business Select and Wanna Get Away fares is usually so drastic that this perk usually isn’t relevant when choosing between those.
The higher price of Business Select is often a turn off to many people looking for budget flights but business travelers are big on these fares. Since their companies are typically covering their travel, they’re able to quickly accumulate Rapid Rewards by booking these fares.
If you have status with Southwest (A-List or A-List Preferred) you can earn additional bonus Rapid Rewards. For example, if you’re A-List Preferred you’ll earn a 100% bonus on each flight meaning you’d be earning 24 Rapid Rewards per dollar spent with Business Select!
These earning rates are significant because they could help you earn the Southwest Companion Pass much quicker.
Business Select fares are refundable and changeable and may be applied toward future travel on Southwest Airlines for the originally ticketed passenger only.
This is the biggest reason you’d want to pay extra for Business Select — because you need a refundable ticket. The other benefits can make Business Select a better pick than Anytime fares but Wanna Get Away fares are going to make sense most of the time if you don’t need a refundable ticket.
Note that if you modify a Business Select booking you’ll lose the ability to get a refund.
As the terms state:
“Modifying a fully refundable fare will result in the fare becoming NON-refundable. Non-refundable fares may be applied toward future travel on Southwest Airlines for the originally ticketed passenger only.”
Standby travel between the same city pairs and on the original date of travel is permitted with no change in fare.
You may lose the privilege of boarding in the first portion of the “A” group if you choose to standby on a different flight.
No free luggage?
Southwest gives everybody two free bags so that’s why free checked bags are not a Business Select perk. To read more about Southwest luggage policies click here.
Is there a Southwest first class?
There is no Southwest first class. Southwest Business Select is essentially Southwest “first class” but I wouldn’t refer to Business Select as first class because that is even more misleading than the term Business Select. If you are interested in true first class experiences you’ll need to go with other legacy carriers like United, American, Delta, etc. which have a separate cabin and larger seats for first class.
Are Southwest Business Select seats bigger?
Southwest Business Select is not a traditional business class ticket that’s going to get you spacious first class or business class seating. Unlike other domestic carriers like United, American, Delta, etc., there is not a separate Southwest business class cabin.
On Southwest, you’re all in it together and the entire plane is economy. With that said, you can still get extra comfort with Business Select tickets by finding seats with extra leg room.
Seats with extra leg room
Southwest primarily operates 737-700s and 737-800s. It’s a good idea to get familiar with the seat maps of these two planes. That’s because several seats have extra leg-room and others come in rows of only two seats, which can be great for couples. You can find out more information about the different types of seats in my Tips for Flying Southwest.
If you purchase Business Select tickets you’ll be able to be among the first to board the plane. So you can head straight to the emergency exit rows and snag the seats with the most leg room. Some Business Select passengers like to board up front and pre-boarding can’t take the emergency exit rows, so it’s often pretty easy to get a seat in those rows (though not guaranteed).
How much does it cost upgrade to Southwest Business Select?
The cost to upgrade to Business Select varies from $30 to $50 per segment, depending on the route.
Keep in mind that upgrade availability is limited. So if you’re flying on a heavy business route you might not be able to upgrade. But if you’re flying on a leisure route to somewhere like the Caribbean you can almost always count on an upgrade being possible.
On a couple of occasions, I’ve been told there are no upgrades available only to find out at boarding that there’s nobody (or just one or two people) in Business Select! I still don’t know why this happens but it’s something to be on the lookout for.
How to upgrade to Business Select
To upgrade, simply approach the ticket counter or desk at the departure gate and inquire about the upgrade. Sometimes they make you upgrade at the gate reserved for your flight but other times you can do it at check-in or at another Southwest gate. Southwest should be able to tell you exactly what boarding number you’d receive before you upgrade so you can see if it’s worth it.
If you upgrade, you will not receive the additional Rapid Rewards or a free drink coupon.
Upgrades with the new Southwest Priority Credit Card
The new Southwest Priority Credit Card now offers up to four upgrades to priority boarding (A1 to A15) based on availability per year.
Among other benefits, it also offers a $75 annual credit, 20% back on in-flight drinks, WiFi, messaging, and movies, and 20% back on in-flight drinks, WiFi, messaging, and movies. It’s not a bad way to cover those upgrades to Business Select if you only need to cover a few of those a year.
Southwest Business Select vs Anytime
Southwest Anytime fares are the mid-tier fares which just like Business Select, are fully refundable.
The difference between these fares is that Business Select comes with extra perks. With Business Select you get the priority boarding, the free premium drink, and get to earn 12 Rapid Rewards per dollar spent versus the 10 Rapid Rewards per dollar spent that you get with Anytime fares.
So if you’re debating between Business Select and Anytime fares you need to think about how much you value priority boarding, a free drink, and those extra points.
Often the price difference between Business Select and Anytime fares is quite small. In the example below, the price difference is only $22.
So in that case you’d break your Rapid Rewards earnings down as follows:
- Business Select: $615 X 12 = 7,380
- Anytime: $593 X 10 = 5,930
You could then subtract the cash value of those point earnings from the original price to see what your cost would be with point earnings considered.
It would look like this:
- Business Select: $615 – $111= $504
- Anytime: $593 – $89 = $504
The effective prices are equal but with Business Select you’d also get the priority boarding and the free drink. So in some cases, you’ll get more value by paying for Business Select over Anytime awards but you always should do the math to see which is a better bargain.
Southwest Business Select vs Wanna Get Away
When it comes to Wanna Get Away fares, the two major differences are 1) the refund policy and 2) price.
The refund policy
Wanna Get Away fares are not refundable.
However, you can credit that amount spent to a flight taking place in the next 12 months. This means that if you had any plans on flying Southwest in the following 12 months, your ticket is “effectively” refundable.
Meanwhile, as already stated, Business Select fares are truly refundable since you can get your cash back in your pocket.
Unlike Anytime fares, Wanna Get Away fares are usually much cheaper than Business Select fares.
So while Business Select fares will earn you more points, it’s often not worth chasing those points because you’re simply not going to net enough extra value to justify the higher cost.
I’ll use the above flight from HOU to LAX to illustrate. Here’s how many Rapid Rewards you would earn.
- Business Select: $615 X 12 = 7,380
- Wanna Get Away: $150 X 6 = 900
So you’d spending $465 more for an extra 6,480 Rapid Rewards worth about $97. That would not even be close to worth it.
If you’re interested in locking down a better seat, you could always go with EarlyBird or even upgrade to Business Select for a fraction of the cost. And if you wanted a premium drink, remember those only cost around $6 to $7 so you’d be much better off paying for the drink out of pocket.
Companion Pass considerations
If you do a lot of flying on Southwest and come close to earning the Companion Pass, you might want to factor in how your earnings will help you obtain the Companion Pass. In some situations, it could make sense to go for a Business Select fare just to earn the extra points for the Companion Pass.
Final word on Southwest Business Select
Ultimately, I think Business Select is only needed if you need to buy a truly refundable ticket, your company is footing the bill, or if pursuing the extra points makes economic sense. Otherwise, I’d rather save the money and go with a Wanna Get Away and maybe upgrade to Business Select if I really wanted to board first or consider EarlyBird to guarantee better seating.
UponArriving has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. UponArriving and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.