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Passengers to pay for priority boarding on Southwest

Southwest Airlines, long famous for its egalitarian one-class-fits-all seating philosophy, has made a complete right angle turn away from its previous ideals with the introduction of its new “Business Select” fare class. Now, for a much higher price than Southwest’s usual discounted fares, passengers can book tickets that entitle them to be at the front of the boarding line and earn more Rapid Rewards frequent flyer credits. Southwest is also changing how fares are displayed on its website. In addition to the new Business Select fares, Southwest’s usual full-fare unrestricted tickets are now called “Business” fares and all other discounted fare classes fall under the “Wanna Get Away” category.

Previously, Southwest passengers were assigned a boarding group (A, B, C) based on how early they checked in for a flight, but a Business Select ticket guarantees a spot at the beginning of the A boarding group. This fare class permits same-day flight changes and is 100 percent refundable should you cancel. Also, while other passengers earn one Rapid Rewards credit per flight, Business Select passengers get one-and-a-quarter to two credits per flight, varying by flight distance. There’s a booze bonus too: Each Business Select passenger gets one free alcoholic drink onboard.

I checked the price differences of the fare classes online and found a big difference in costs. On one short-haul route (Providence to Philadelphia one-way), Wanna Get Away fares cost $38 while Business Select fares cost $122. On a long-haul flight (Providence to San Diego one-way), Wanna Get Away fares started at $99 while Business Select cost $364.

Let’s be clear now, Business Select fares do not mean comfy business-class seating and service or even an assigned seat. I don’t know about other travelers, but I’m not paying an extra $265 for a free Heineken and the chance to be in first heat of the seat grab scramble.

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