For $600 One-Way, Southwest Should Offer Business Select Passengers Access to Contract Lounges

I actively avoid Southwest Airlines.  I’m based out of St. Louis so I’m no stranger to Southwest Airlines.  They have a fantastic business model and are the beloved airline of many Midwesterners.  Friends, family, and co-workers ask me all the time, “Why do you fly American and Delta?  You can just fly non-stop with Southwest Airlines!”  That’s true; I have very few non-stop options out of St. Louis on American and Delta compared to Southwest Airlines.  However, I don’t mind a connection or two if it means I’m saving money.  Though Southwest Airlines would have you think they’re one of the least expensive options out there, they’re far from it.

In St. Louis, Southwest is usually hundreds of dollars more expensive than American, Delta, United, and Frontier.  To prove this, I’ve provided some example fares for next week to popular destinations.  I picked Wednesday the 31st of May and used Google Flights and to search for flights.

The first flight I looked for was St. Louis to Phoenix; $140 on Frontier or $259 on Southwest.  The second flight I had a look at was St. Louis to San Francisco: $114 on Delta or $308 on Southwest.  Finally, I had a look at St. Louis to Seattle; $231 on American and $312 on Southwest.  Sure, you get one free checked bag with Southwest, but I don’t check a bag, I only have carry-on luggage.  Bear in mind all of the fares I quoted for Southwest were “Wanna Get Away” fares.  Southwest Airlines offers two additional fare options, one being Business Select.

The few times I’ve been forced to fly Southwest, I’ve always purchased Business Select fares.  Not because I wanted to, but because Wanna Get Away and Anytime fares were unavailable.  Benefits for Business Select passengers are scarce.  Business Select fares earn passengers double the amount of Rapid Rewards Points compared to the Wanna Get Away fare.  That’s fantastic if you’re a Rapid Rewards loyalists.  Business Select passengers also receive Group A boarding,  get a free drink on each flight, and maximum flexibility.  That’s fantastic but just how much more is Business Select?  $50, $75 $100, $150, more?  Try, $300 to $400 more.  That’s where I take issue with Southwest’s Business Select fare.

I’m not going to lie, I try my best to avoid the stress of waiting for an upgrade to clear so when I can afford it, I buy first class tickets.  I know, I should be ashamed of myself.  I do this because the fare difference between economy or main cabin and first class on most domestic flights is less than $300.  That’s not the case once you get to transcontinental flights, but for short or medium haul flights, it’s usually the case.  For the St. Louis to Seattle example I mentioned earlier, it’s just $200 more for first class on American and $170 more on Delta.  The cheapest first class fare is $397 from St. Louis to Seattle on the 31st.  That’s far from the cheapest I’ve seen first class fares on that route.  However, let’s say that you want to fly with Southwest Airlines in Business Select.  The cheapest fare from St. Louis to Seattle on May 31st in Business Select is $613!

Southwest Airlines Business Select Fares are Insane! (Image: Southwest Airlines)

Southwest Airlines Business Select Fares are Insane! (Image: Southwest Airlines)

On American and Delta, you’ll earn more miles, receive priority security and boarding, free bags, a free meal, and free drinks.  Compared to Southwest’s extra legroom, free drink, and double points, American and Delta’s first class fares are much more desirable.

It dawned on me as I was talking with a co-worker about the new common use airport lounge at St. Louis-Lambert Airport in the airport’s Terminal 2, where Southwest Airlines operates that the airline could take one step to increase the attractiveness of the Business Select fare.  Allow passengers flying on Business Select fares to access common use aka contract lounges.  At airport throughout the US, there are contract lounges unaffiliated with any airline that will partner with international carriers to provide a lounge for premium class passengers.  Additionally, some international airline lounges go unused throughout the day due to flight schedules.  Why not grant the few passengers on Southwest who purchased Business Select fares access to those lounges?

The lounges I’m talking about include lounges in the Lounge Club network and often partner with Priority Pass.  These lounges feature basic amenities and allow passengers from any airline to purchase day passes.  Why not make the Business Select fare worth the price and offer passengers access to contract lounges?

I understand.  Southwest is a no-frills carrier.  They don’t feature first class for a reason.  However, I just can’t help but wonder how Southwest Airlines can charge so much for Business Select and offer almost nothing in return?


Maybe I’m missing the point of the Business Select fare and Southwest’s business model altogether.  To me, offering something as small as lounge access really makes the journey more enjoyable.  Offering contract lounge access to Business Select passengers could also be used as a selling point to passengers that would otherwise go with the mid-tier fare option, “Anytime.”  There are certainly issues that come with offering business select passengers lounge access.  However, I think it’s an interesting idea.

What do you think about this idea?  Does charging $613 for Business Select make sense?