Why Southwest Business Select is a Ripoff

Southwest’s Business Select tickets are a huge ripoff.  Don’t buy them.

UPDATE: New analysis on whether Business Select is worth it here!

On this sample flight from Oakland to Seattle, Business Select tickets are $242, compared with $72 for the “Wanna Get Away” tickets.  That’s 236% more, or $340 more than the cheap ‘web-only” roundtrip fare.  And let’s keep in mind that there is no such thing as First Class on Southwest.

Here are the supposed Business Select benefits Southwest gives in return for their price gouging (and what they’re really worth):

  1. Fully Refundable — True, the “Wanna Get Away” fare is not refundable, but if your plans change you can apply the cost of the ticket to a future Southwest flight within 12 months, with zero change fee.  This is only an issue if you will only fly somewhere Southwest flies one time within 12 months.
  2. Priority Boarding — There is no First Class, but Southwest will let Business Select customers board first.  Typically the first 15 boarding positions are reserved for Business Select.  If you’re OK with row 5 instead of row 1, I might suggest Southwest’s EarlyBird seating service, where for just $10 each way you can get priority seating.  It won’t move you into the top 15 but it should be a safeguard against the dreaded C-Pass.
  3. Fly By Priority Security Lane — I don’t think I’ve waited longer than 15 minutes for security… ever.
  4. An Extra .5 Rapid Rewards Credit (per roundtrip) — It takes 16 credits (in theory) to earn a free flight.  On Craigslist, the roundtrip vouchers go for about $300.  If 16 credits is worth $300, it reasons that half a credit would be worth approximately $9.38.
  5. Free Premium Drink — What does an airplane cocktail cost, $7?  Alternatively, if you’re a really thirsty yet frugal traveler you can buy books of Southwest drink coupons on eBay for $2-3 per drink.

In total, Business Select costs a premium of $340 (in this example), yet only provides about $45 in tangible benefits.  I think Business Select is an attempt to generate extra cash flow from un-savvy travelers who otherwise might not fly Southwest or who might be fooled into thinking they’ve added Business Class service.  Don’t be one of them.

UPDATE: New analysis on whether Business Select is worth it here!

15 thoughts on “Why Southwest Business Select is a Ripoff

  1. Nick,

    Consider yourself un-savvy and not so economically inclined. What you completely fail to mention in your blast of this rewards structure, is the fact that when you buy Business Select, you earn 12 points per dollar spent, rather than just 6 points per dollar spent on your Wanna Get Away ticket. I’ll assume you are not a rewards member.

    Thus, economically, it becomes a question of cash flow and return on investment. If you do the math, the NPV (net present value) of the Business Select option is actually greater than that of the Wanna Get Away ticket.

    In more consumer laymen’s terms: When you spend 299$ on a Business Select ticket, you earn 3456 points, versus ONLY 642 points gained from your 118$ purchase of a Wanna Get Away ticket. Effectively, purchasing a 299$ ticket is the equivalent of spending $3,456 on your Premier Rewards card. In contrasting the two options, you spend roughly $180 more, and receive a $2,814 in what would have been purchases to match the points you gain at that level.

    Economically speaking, Business Select offers you great benefits, particularly if you have the extra cash flow on hand to front the cost increase.

    • Excellent analysis — this post was written before Southwest switched over to the new points system. I think you’re right, it’s a better deal now. You earn points at 12x per dollar on Business Select and can redeem them at 6(0)x for flights. In one example I ran, you could earn a reward flight for half the cost buying exclusively Business Select tickets vs buying only Wanna Get Away.

  2. I think you also miss the point that not everyone is buying in advance or during a sale. So if you are purchasing a ticket only 3 days before the flight and it is a full Y fare for $227 – it is only $15 more. Which is a good deal for the early boarding, and the drink, let alone the bonus points. Thanks!

  3. Maybe I am not seeing something, but I cannot for the life of me see how the difference between $242 and $72 is $340… I too agree that if you can afford it, the free flights come much more frequently that way and you don’t have to spend the extra on the perks you get free.

    • Hi Stacie, thanks for the comment. The $340 is based on the price difference for buying a round trip ticket, where the $242 and $72 values were one-way fares. Yeah I re-read that — it was definitely poorly worded! Sorry!

  4. I have never flown Southwest, just seen the ads for Business Select. How does it compare tp other airline programs? Whats the difference between early bird and Business Select? It sounds like boarding for Southwest is more like a cattle call. Just wondering….thanks!

  5. Honestly, the business select even with earning the extra point is a rip off. Yes you may gain a free one way trip for a wanna get away fare, however you are paying for it.

    So if I spend 600 dollars for business select, I may be getting about 150 back through a wanna get away fare. However, even if you are getting more points, the cost isn’t worth it. You’d get more flights through want to get away fares versus through business select. Especially when you get two free checked bags and a seat on the plane regardless of boarding. Now I may be willing to pay a bit more if the seats were of better quality like the ones on airtran for their business class or if they offered more ‘free’ checked bags.

  6. Lets do the math shall we. For instance lets say I want to fly from Milwaukee to Washington DC over fourth of July weekend.

    So if I fly from the 30th of June (sunday) and return on the 7th of July (friday) A one way segment of business select or a round trip is about 670 dollars. Personally with that I’m earning about 7,512 points. Which a one way Get Away fare is going at about 6,600 points or in cash about 125 dollars.

    So to do the math I pay 670 dollars-125 dollars which is 545 dollars for your round trip flight as business select. So I can spend 670 bucks for a round trip when I could spend 125 and receive about 5 one way trips off of that for the value of 670 dollars. So 125 times 5=625. I would only be receiving half of 7,512 points as the base is by 6 instead of 12. However, I’m receiving much more for my value of the dollar to pay less in cash to get a round trip flight versus getting ‘more’ points by flying business select.

  7. I do realize that I am a bit late when it comes to this article haha, however, I think that the comments are just as valuable to a reader as the article is and since this article still seems to be pretty popular, I’ll leave my thoughts :)

    So I completely agree with the author when he says that some people buy business select without some research and think they might be getting a “business class” ticket when this isn’t so. HOWEVER, if you’re anything like me and take last minute trips fairly often or just are horrible at planning and end up buying tickets the week before or even of your trip, business select is TOTALLY worth it in my mind. Lots of times, the “wanna get away” tickets are sold out and the difference between the regular ticket and business select is usually somewhere around $15. I had always figured, nah, I’m not gonna waste money upgrading, I’m a big girl, I can handle not being first on the plane! Recently though, traveling has become so frequent for me and I fly southwest most of the time. I do love southwest for many reasons, but the fact that I inevitably get stuck with the dreaded C (or low B) loading group is not one of them! Trying to get on the plane, basically carrying all of your belongings directly in front of you or above your head to avoid hitting those poor passengers in the aisle seat that look at you with faces that have undoubtedly been smacked with a diaperbag or two already, is trying. Waiting a half hour to get off the plane because for some reason getting their bag out of the overhead compartment is too complicated for some people is more frustrating than it should be. And if you’re an unfortunate soul stuck in a middle seat(well, okay maybe this is just for us heavier souls stuck in the middle seat), sitting with your shoulders practically dislocated so you dont take up too much of your neighbors space is just not okay. Getting on first is such a luxury and being able to skip the lines at security is wonderful if you have to travel at one of those terrible times.

    Bottom line, if you book early enough, earlybird check in will be a suitable(and very useful) option. If you book late, like me, swallow it and spend the $15 to upgrade. You will be glad you did!

  8. We flew for the first time on Southwest Airlines. We normally fly Delta. We purchased the business class. BOY were we surprised. It was like a cattle call, open seating is what they call it, but never again will we spend money with this airline. I love to fly business or first because we are older and my husband has health issues in addition to being larger. We expected two seats per row, like normal business class. NOPE, this experience was not good.
    Never again.

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