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. 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 Southwest Early Bird Check In?
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. (If you are not familiar with Southwest’s boarding process, see this post for how the Southwest boarding process works and tips on how to get a good seat).
Southwest Early Bird Check In can be purchased at prices ranging from $15 – $25 one-way per passenger (cost was increased from $15.00 one way on August 29, 2018).
You can buy Southwest EarlyBird Check-In either when you first make your flight reservation OR buy it later up to 36 hours prior to a flight’s scheduled local departure time. This also determines whether all passengers part of the same reservation must also purchase Early Bird. If you purchase Southwest 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.
Here is a bit more information about Early Bird Check In from Southwest.com.
Is Southwest Early Bird Check In Worth It?
You DO NOT Need Southwest Early Bird Check-In If:
You are eligible for Southwest Family Boarding.
Two adults traveling with a child six (6) years old or younger may 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 Southwest Early Bird Check In quite early and receive an A position, it is not substantially better than just boarding at the end of the A group.
You purchased a Business Select Fare.
Passengers who purchase 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.
Passenger is an Unaccompanied Minor.
There is no need to purchase Southwest EarlyBird Check-In for unaccompanied minors since they preboard the flight.
Southwest Early Bird Check In Is PROBABLY NOT WORTH IT If:
You might cancel your flight.
One of the benefits of flying Southwest is the ability to cancel your flight without paying a fee. If it is likely that you might cancel your flight, you probably do not want to purchase Early Bird at the same time you book your flight as Southwest Early Bird Check In 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.
You are OK with the middle seat or checking 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 to $25 for Southwest Early Bird Check In.
You can check-in exactly 24 hours prior to your flight.
If you will remember and be able to check in exactly 24 hours before boarding, you might want to skip purchasing Southwest EarlyBird Check-In and avoid paying $15 to $25. 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.
You suspect your flight will be not be close to full.
If you fly a certain route frequently and that flight is usually fairly empty, then you might want to avoid the fee for Southwest Early Check In.
Your travel companion has a good boarding position.
If your travel 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.
Southwest Early Bird Check In Is DEFINITELY WORTH IT:
If you might forget or not be able to check-in exactly 24 hours prior to your flight.
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 6:00 am Sunday morning flight, I usually purchase EarlyBird Check-In since I know I will not be awake at 6:00 am on Saturday morning.
Southwest Early Bird Check In MIGHT BE WORTH IT:
Many passengers on your flight will have already boarded from another city.
Since general check-in opens 24 hours before your flight departure time, if you are booking a direct 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.
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide whether paying $15 to $25 for Southwest Early Bird Check In is worth it for your particular situation.
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Always purchase SW EarlyBird Check-in. My work is schedule relatively rigid and for $15 I don’t have to worry about checking in it (and my employer pays for it!). Enjoyed the post.
If you know you can’t check in when you need to it is worth it but especially if your employer will cover it too!
not worth it. esp when you do purchase it and the few people in front of you have “saved” a gazillion seats that you’d like to sit in!!
Yeah, I wouldn’t be too pleased with overzealous seat savers in that situation either.
That happened to me this week. There was one person in each of the first four rows on both sides and everyone said they were saving seats for others and wouldn’t let me sit down. I paid extra for an A boarding position and was still s.o.l on a good seat because of people saving seats for C boarders. I contacted SW and they said they do not have a policy for or against saving seats. This is BS.
I would have sat right down and said glad to hear you’re saving seats, you can now move somewhere else if you choose but I paid to be ahead of them, fuck off
I have done exactly that. Made for a bit of an awkward flight (they didn’t move) but anyone is free to take any open seat when boarding.
I pity anyone (other than a flight attendant) telling me at 5am that a seat is saved. If I pay and I’m there first I will sit in the best unoccupied seat I find. If they want saved seats fly an airline that lets you choose your seats.
This was helpful to me. My husband and I are traveling with two young teens, including my son. I decided to get early bird check-ins for my husband and our son. He will hopefully save one seat for the other teen and I will sit alone… somewhere nearby hopefully. Still setting an alarm to check-in 24 hours before our flight.
Here is a guide I put together to setup your own automatic check-in at Southwest using a simple browser extension and script someone wrote. I’m not very computer saavy and was able to set it up in a few minutes. It does the job for me when I can’t be at a computer exactly at the 24 hr mark. Let me know if you need any help setting up. Thanks – http://www.theartoftravelhacking.com/automatic-check-southwest-flights/
Please don’t advocate seat saving…..
I paid for e/ck in 10/9/19 @ I have no proof I pd. for it Con. # VZ48ZQ Pgh. to Las Vegas. R. Walters. I hope s/west knows this when I arrive at airport.
Great post. The Early Bird fee is now almost $25 each way, so it pays to think this through. I just bought tickets for my sister to come to Portland from Chicago for Thanksgiving, and we ultimately opted for the upgrade. Why? 1) There’s a good chance flights will be packed on a holiday week. 2) It’s a 4-hour flight … she doesn’t want a window or aisle and I don’t blame her! 3) No way will she get up at 5:20 a.m. the day before her departure flight – ouch – to reserve her boarding spot.
One thing I haven’t seen clarified: If you purchase Early Bird 6 months in advance, are you more likely to get A16 or whatever, and if you purchase it just a few days before the flight, might you end up in the B group (as I have – I’ve been shocked at how many people have bought Early Bird ahead of me). In other words, do they put you in the queue in the order in which you reserved the early boarding?
Btw, it totally sucks that Southwest doesn’t refund this fee for you to use later; I’m surprised I haven’t seen more flack for this. For the airline that prides itself on no extra fees, it’s kinda shady. There’s absolutely no loss to them by you cancelling or deferring this add-on.
this hasn’t been true for me. i purchased a ticket for work and bought the early bird check-in (EBCI). a co-worker bought a ticket for the same flight and no early bird check-in. guess who’s boarding pass allowed them to board first? NOT MINE. my co-worker checked in the regular way and was way ahead of me in line. AND, recently, i checked in my son, exactly 24 hours ahead of time (no EBCI) and he’s boarding pass is A20. i’m not sure i’m sold on EBCI.
If you check in 24 hours ahead of time then you don’t need Early Bird check in. I only buy EarlyBird if I am worried I will forget or for some reason won’t be able to check in 24 hours before the flight.