Most U.S. airlines have been in an add-on fee frenzy in recent years, but Southwest Airlines has stood apart from the crowd.
We’ve seen airlines add fees for many things that used to be free, such as checked bags, meals and some seat assignments.
On Southwest, you still get two checked bags free, and the airline still doesn’t charge fees for canceling or changing your flight. But the airline has been quietly adding new fees.
The newest fee from Southwest is a $40 charge to be one of the first 15 passengers to board a flight. Southwest doesn’t offer seat assignments, so this fee gives you a shot at the best seats on the plane.
The $40 early boarding pass is offered 45 minutes before the flight is scheduled to depart, and customers will hear an announcement from the gate agent if the option is available. Customers who purchase more expensive Business Select fares are guaranteed to get one of the boarding numbers. If there are fewer than 15 Business Select travelers on the flight, the remaining early boarding passes will be sold for $40.
Southwest also has EarlyBird Check-In that will automatically check you in 36 hours in advance for an additional $12.50. That is 12 hours earlier than online general boarding check-in is available.
This option will get you in the A boarding group if space is available, and the A group makes you one of the first 60 people to board the flight.
Southwest doesn’t charge a change fee or a cancellation fee, but the airline will begin charging a fee if you don’t make your flight and you fail to contact the airline in advance of departure.
This no-show fee will go into effect sometime in 2013, so keep checking for details. If you cancel a flight prior to departure, you won’t have issues on Southwest, but if you cancel after your flight departs, you will have to pay an as yet undetermined fee. On other airlines you could lose the whole value of your ticket if you fail to cancel in advance, making your ticket worthless on those carriers.
Travelers should also note that the fees for extra bags, overweight bags (from 51-100 pounds) and oversize bags (more than 62 linear inches and up to 80 linear inches), have increased from $50 to $75 per bag as of last Wednesday. That’s a 50 percent increase, but the prices are still much better than fees charged by other airlines. For example, some airlines charge up to $200 extra for a bag weighing 70 to 100 pounds and up to $150 for the third checked bag.
The new fee increases that Southwest plans to add this year should generate more than $100 million in extra revenue.
Some of you may be irate over these new fees, but to be fair, when it comes to all of these new and old fees, Southwest doesn’t take you to the cleaners like some other airlines. In many cases, Southwest’s fees are still are much lower than what other airlines charge for the same service, sometimes by 50 percent or more.
If you think you are going to need any of the items we just mentioned, keep the difference in fees in mind the next time you look at fares. It could save you a bundle.