The Guide to Southwest ‘First’ Class: Business Select

Southwest's version of first class isn't like other full-service carriers' premium cabins.

Sally French, Megan LeeOctober 21, 2020
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Business Select might be considered by some as a sort of Southwest first class, but you can hardly call it that. There’s no first-class lounge to wait in before takeoff, and you’re still stuck with the same 17-inch-wide seat as everyone else.

But upgrading to a Business Select fare has its benefits, especially if you like being the first to board, you want more Rapid Rewards points, or you value ease and flexibility when it comes to getting refunds or making same-day changes.

Read on to learn if Southwest’s version of “first” class, Business Select, is the right fare for you.

What to know about Southwest Business Select

While there’s no such thing as Southwest first class in the traditional sense, the airline’s Business Select fares offer some important perks that might be worth the extra cost.

  • You are guaranteed to board in positions A1-A15.

  • If you’re a Rapid Rewards member, you’ll earn 12 points per dollar spent on the Business Select fare, rather than 10x or 6x for mid- and low-level fares.

  • You’re eligible for full cash refunds instead of a travel credit for future Southwest purchases, as is the case with Wanna Get Away fares.

  • You have Fly By priority lane access, which can get you to the front of the ticket counter faster.

  • You also have access to the Fly By security lane, which allows access to designated (and presumably faster) security checkpoints at some airports (see which airports offer Fly By security lane access here).

  • If you often make last-minute changes, you’ll enjoy the fact that Business Select fares are eligible for same-day change and same-day standby tickets, as long as there’s an open seat on a different flight on the same date as your original flight and it’s between the same cities.

  • Business Select tickets receive one complimentary premium drink, which includes beverages like margaritas, gin and tonics, mimosas and seasonal beers.

  • Standard Southwest perks are still applicable with a Business Select fare. This includes two free checked bags (weight and size limits apply), no change fees and the option to use 100% of your ticket as reusable funds that can be applied to future travel after canceling.

How to book a Southwest Business Select fare

Unlike other airlines, Southwest does not allow travel websites like Orbitz and Kayak to publish its fares. You have to book on Southwest.com or by calling a Southwest travel agent.

Search for a flight on Southwest.com

You can book one-way or round-trip flights on Southwest.com for up to eight passengers. Simply visit the air booking page and input your travel preferences. Click “Search” to see your options, which are displayed from earliest to latest in the day. You can filter by “nonstop” flight options and by your preferred travel time, as well as toggle back and forth between different days to cross-check prices. If your dates are flexible, you can check out the “Low Fare Calendar,” too.

When you see all the flights that fit your search, you can sort them to find the perfect flight for you.

Choose the Southwest Business Select fare

Bypass the Anytime and Wanna Get Away fare types if you’re interested in the unique perks that a Business Select ticket offers. Input all of your data, then click that bright yellow “purchase” button.

All major credit cards, unused prior travel funds, Southwest LUV vouchers, Southwest gift cards and PayPal are eligible methods for purchasing your flight online. If you are purchasing your flight at a ticket counter, cash is also accepted.

Is Southwest Business Select a good deal?

Southwest has three fare classes, each with various benefits — and drastically different costs.

The value of Southwest Business Select vs. Wanna Get Away fares:

The two most expensive fare classes — Southwest Business Select and Anytime fares — both have benefits that the folks in Wanna Get Away won’t get: fully refundable tickets (rather than receiving credit for returned tickets as Southwest Travel Funds, which are basically a credit for a future flight), same-day changes and same-day standby.

If you value that level of flexibility, then consider booking either Business Select or Anytime. But it’s going to cost you, as Business Select Fares can often be multiple times more expensive than Wanna Get Away fares.

That said, you will rack up double the Rapid Rewards points for choosing Business Select over Southwest’s lowest fare class. But the point value is far from enough to make up the difference.

Consider the cost of a one-way flight from Nashville to Chicago in April 2021. Here’s how many Rapid Rewards points you would earn per fare class, based on NerdWallet’s valuation of Southwest points at 1.6 cents:

Fare Class

Cash price

Rapid Rewards points earned

Approximate Value of Rapid Rewards points earned

Wanna Get Away

$185

1,110

$18

Anytime

$370

3,700

$59

Business Select

$388

4,656

$74

In this case, you’re paying more than twice as much for Business Select. You’re getting about anywhere from $41 to $56 more in value from Rapid Reward points by avoiding the Wanna Get Away fare, but — accounting for that value — you’re still out more than $100. This math is not unique to this booking example but rather very common across Southwest routes and fares. You’ll have to decide if that upcharge is worth it to you for easy cancellations or last-minute flight changes.

The value of Southwest Business Select vs. Anytime fares:

As far as the difference between Southwest Business Select and Anytime fares, we found Southwest Business Select costs on average about 11.5% more than Anytime fares.

For a relatively small ticket price increase, you’ll get priority boarding, Fly By access and a complimentary premium drink. If you like being the first to choose your seat and not messing with checking into your flight the day before, relish in the glory of speeding through a special lane at check-in and security, and delight having an airborne drink as you travel, then the relatively minor increase in Business Select vs. Anytime fares is likely worth it.

In addition, the increased Rapid Rewards points might justify the price increase alone, as they do in the Nashville to Chicago example above. In that example, the Business Select fare cost $18 more than the Anytime fare, but you also net about $15 in Rapid Rewards value (plus all the increased benefits).

If those Rapid Rewards points are something you’ll use in the future anyway, then upgrading from Anytime to Business Select is practically a no-brainer, as all those extras effectively cost less than $3.

The bottom line

Business Select can offer travelers a more streamlined Southwest experience, including easy flight changes or cancellations, the perk of being among the first to board and a complimentary drink. If you’re wrestling between Southwest Business Select vs. Anytime fares and you don’t mind banking more Southwest Rapid Rewards points, then it’s usually worth it to pay a bit more for the full Southwest Business Select experience and booking the top fare.

But if you’re seeking a true first-class experience with a full airport lounge, a plush seat and a dedicated flight attendant, it might be a good idea to save your money to fly first class elsewhere, and just book a Wanna Get Away fare when traveling on Southwest.

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