Are Southwest Business Select Fares Worth the Extra Cost?
TPG reader Jason sent me a message on Facebook to ask about booking Southwest awards:
“I fly Southwest twice a month to and from work. Is it worth paying extra for Business Select fares?"
There's a lot to like about Southwest and the Rapid Rewards program. The flexible change and cancellation policies make it easy to get a good deal, and the cost-based award pricing is great for scoring cheap domestic fares. However, the airline isn't ideal if you're looking for a premium experience. Southwest doesn't offer business or first-class seats, and while the more expensive fares do come with a few extra perks, they aren't worth the added cost.
The main advantages of Business Select fares are that they're fully refundable and they earn more points. If you cancel a trip, the value of your Business Select ticket can be refunded to your original form of payment, whereas Wanna Get Away fares are only credited as travel funds valid for 12 months. You can also get same-day changes without paying the fare difference, but that's not likely to be a huge asset unless you tend to change plans at the last minute. Even then, a Wanna Get Away fare may still be cheaper.
You'll earn twice as many Rapid Rewards points per dollar — 12x your fare instead of 6x (assuming you don't have A-List status, which comes with higher earning rates). In addition, you'll get access to the priority security lane, priority boarding in the A1-15 group and a premium drink. Those are all nice benefits, but they don't make up for the sometimes staggering price difference between the two fare classes.
For example, I priced out a nonstop Wanna Get Away fare from Denver to New Orleans over the weekend before Valentine's Day at under $180 round-trip. Those exact same flights in Business Select were going for a whopping $960! That's an extreme example, but not an uncommon one. I found a similar markup on fares between various destinations departing less than one week out.
In most cases, you'll be better off buying a Wanna Get Away fare and paying for Business Select benefits as needed. For the sake of comparison, enrolling in an expedited security program (or two) shouldn't cost you more than $200 annually — let's call it $5 per flight if you're taking two round-trips per month. EarlyBird Check-In and a premium beverage cost $20 per flight combined. Even the extra 10,000 points you'd earn from Business Select in the example above would cost less than $300 if you bought them outright.
Business Select is a dubious value for paid fares, but it's especially terrible when you're booking an award, since some of the added benefits don't apply. You don't earn points on award tickets anyway, so the higher earning rate won't help you. Similarly, Southwest awards are already easily refundable, so the option to get a refund to your original form of payment is redundant.
The only cases where paying for Business Select makes sense are if the price difference is minimal (which does happen occasionally), or if Wanna Get Away fares are entirely unavailable. Otherwise, save your money.