Southwest's new priority boarding option: A SWAwesome alternative to EarlyBird and Business Select

Not long ago Southwest Airlines started giving folks the option to purchase priority boarding. That is, a *new* early boarding option in addition to the EarlyBird Check-In service they began back in September, 2009. This new service allows passengers to secure a boarding position at the very front of the A line, skipping past the EarlyBirds to mingle with the high rollers in Business Select territory. The price? $40.

This new option, it's GENIUS!
Here's how it works: As you may (should) know, the first 15 A boarding positions are automatically reserved for Business Select, and until this new option came to fruition, if all of those spots weren't taken, they'd simply be skipped. Score the very first EarlyBird Check-In on a flight with zero business select passengers? Congrats, welcome to A16! Still the front if the line, but behind these otherwise unused slots. So, assuming your flight has less than 15 Business Select customers, expect to hear the gate agent make an announcement soliciting takers for this new option.

Why not buy Business Select?
A worthy question-- On my Southwest flight last weekend I flew Business Select for the first time. Being the "line leader" was a cool experience, something I could get used to. However, the perks of the Business Select full fare fall far short of justifying the cost in my opinion. I typically fly out of airports with relatively short TSA lines, so FlyBy priority screening offers little value. In addition, I don't drink, so the free booze/premium drink/adult beverage/Devil's nectar/whatever isn't a selling point for me. What about the extra Rapid Rewards points for Biz Select? While earning points at a level double that of the cheapest fare is a nice perk, it just isn't enough. Triple the points and then we'll talk...

$40 later, I moved up 42 spots. Photo: JL Johnson

$40 later, I moved up 42 spots.
Photo: JL Johnson

I tried it, and I'm in LUV.
So, last Friday morning at exactly T- 24 hours I eagerly checked in for my Saturday trip to San Diego, this on top of paying the additional $10, er, strike that... $12.50 for EarlyBird. To my dismay I was awarded A50. Now, EarlyBird doesn't make any promises, except that you'll be ahead of those who don't pay. And in this case, it seems there were PLENTY willing to shell out the extra cash and bump this guy to the back of the line. So, my bad luck is Southwest's win because I was anxious to try out the new service. $40 later I was promoted from A50 to A8. SCORE!

It's not perfect.
My only gripe, and it's not much of a gripe, really, is that I feel like I sorta double paid. You see, I paid $12.50 for EarlyBird which covers all of your segments, one way, in addition to the $40 upgrade for my MCI-PHX leg. I feel like maybe they should offer to credit you for the portion of early bird you didn't actually use. So, in this case just charge me $33.75: $40 minus $6.25 for the upgraded leg of my two-legged trip which I sort of double paid on.

Who's the winner here?
Southwest, duh! I suspect this will bring a decent bump in ancillary revenue  Just like its brother the EarlyBird service.

Passengers... Maybe? Look, if seat preference is a big deal for you, and you forget to check-in, or if the entire plane buys EarlyBird, this could be a winner.

We'll mark this new option down as AviationGeek.net approved, for limited use,

What's next in Southwest's ancillary revenue future? I'm thinking the ability to pay for Fly By priority screening lane, what say you? De-bundling is the future, right?

Happy travels!