Since I frequently fly Southwest Airlines, I rely on my time-tested strategies to make sure I get a good seat on every flight. One way to ensure a good seat on Southwest Airlines is to pay for Early Bird Check In. The cost of Early Bird CheckIn increased to $15 this year and nobody likes to spend any more money than they need to, so read below to find out when I think Southwest Early Bird Check In is worth it and when it isn’t.

What is Early Bird Check In and How it Works

Southwest EarlyBird Check-In is an option available for purchase.  When you purchase EarlyBird Check-In, Southwest automatically checks you in and assigns your boarding position within 36 hours of your flight’s departure. Since check in opens 24 hours before a flight’s departure time, passengers who purchased EarlyBird Check-In receive a better boarding position than passengers without EarlyBird Check-In.  Southwest Early Bird Check-In doesn’t guarantee an A boarding position, but you most likely will be in the A or early B group. (See this post for how the Southwest boarding process works).

There is an order among those who have Early Bird Check-In: “Customers who have purchased Anytime Fares will receive priority over Customer’s who purchase Early Bird with other fare types. Boarding positions are assigned based on the time stamp of the EarlyBird Check-In purchase relative to passengers within the same fare class.”

EarlyBird Check-In passengers board after Business Select and A-List passengers. If not in the A group, even with EarlyBird Check-In, you board after Family Boarding.

Cost of EarlyBird Check-In

Effective March 14, 2016, the cost of Southwest Early Bird Check-In increased from $12.50 to $15.00 one-way.  The fee for EarlyBird Check-In is NOT refundable if you cancel your flight; it is only refundable if your flight is cancelled by Southwest.

You can buy EarlyBird Check-In either when making your flight reservation OR add it later up to 36 hours prior to a flight’s scheduled local departure time.

The time you purchase EarlyBird determines whether all passengers part of the same reservation must also purchase Early Bird. If you purchase EarlyBird Check-In at the same time you purchase the flight, everyone on the reservation must purchase EarlyBird Check-In. If you purchase EarlyBird Check-In later and add it to an existing itinerary, you can purchase EarlyBird Check-In even if others booked on the same reservation do not.

When Early Bird Check In Is NOT Worth It

If you fall into one of the descriptions below, you should NOT purchase EarlyBird Check-In:

You Purchased a Business Select Fare

Priority boarding privileges are already included with the purchase of Business Select fares.  Passengers with Business Select fares receive a boarding position before passengers who purchase Early Bird Check-In. The only way to guarantee an A1-A15 boarding position on Southwest is to purchase a Business Select fare.

You Are on the Rapid Rewards A-List

Priority boarding privileges are a benefit of being on the Rapid Rewards A-List. Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards members with A-List and A-List Preferred status are automatically assigned boarding positions ahead of general boarding.

Unaccompanied Minors

There is no need to purchase Southwest EarlyBird Check-In for unaccompanied minors since they preboard the flight.

When Early Bird Check In Is PROBABLY NOT Worth It

You are Eligible for Family Boarding.

An adult traveling with a child six years or younger is eligible to board during Family Boarding.  Family Boarding on Southwest occurs after the A group but before the B group.  Since you are not guaranteed an A group by purchasing Early Bird Check-In you might want to just wait for family boarding. Even if you purchase Early Bird quite early and receive an A position, it is not substantially better than just boarding at the end of the A group.

You Will Probably Cancel Your Flight

One of the draws of flying Southwest is the ability to cancel your flight without paying a fee. When I think my travel plans might change but still need to book a flight, I choose Southwest. If you think you might cancel your flight, you probably do not want to purchase Early Bird when you book your flight as Early Bird is not refundable.  You can always add Early Bird Check-In to a flight later up to 36 hours prior to a flight’s scheduled local departure time.

Your Companion Has A Good Boarding Position

If your companion has a great boarding position (either because they have purchased a Business Select fare, have A-List, or paid for EarlyBird Check-In) you might pass on EarlyBird Check-In if they are saving a seat for you.

You Think Your Flight Will Be Empty

If you fly a certain route frequently and it is usually fairly empty, then you might want to avoid the $15 fee for early check in.

You Don’t Mind the Middle Seat or Gate Checking Your Luggage

If your flight is short and/or you don’t mind getting a middle seat and/or gate checking luggage, then you might not want to pay $15 for EarlyBird Check-In.

You are Confident You Can Check-in Exactly 24 Hours Prior to Your Flight

If you are fairly confident you will remember and be able to check in exactly 24 hours before boarding, you might want to skip purchasing EarlyBird Check-In and avoid paying $15.  Even though your boarding position will not be as good as those with Southwest Early Bird Check In, you will likely receive an A or early B boarding position – still good enough to get a decent seat.

When Early Bird Check In MIGHT BE Worth It

Since general check-in opens 24 hours before your flight departure time, if you are booking a flight that you know will already have passengers from another city, then you might consider Early Bird checkin. Those passengers will be able to check in earlier so even if you check in at exactly the 24 hour mark, you might not get that good of a boarding position.

When Early Bird Check In IS Worth It

If you do not fall into one of the descriptions above and are unsure whether you will be able to check-in exactly 24 hours prior to your flight, I recommend purchasing EarlyBird Check-In.  I prefer not to spend any more money than necessary but I do spring for EarlyBird Check-In when I know I will not be able to manually check in exactly 24 hour before my flight.  For example, if I have a 6am Sunday morning flight, I usually purchase EarlyBird Check-In since I know I will not be awake at 6:00 am on Saturday morning.

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide whether paying $15 for Early Bird Check In is worth it for your particular situation.  Here is a bit more information about Early Bird Check In from Southwest.com.

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