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 $15 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).
Effective March 14, 2016, the cost of Southwest Early Bird Check-In increased from $12.50 to $15.00 one-way.
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.
An adult traveling with a child six (6) 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 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 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. 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 $15 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 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.
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 for Southwest Early Bird Check In is worth it for your particular situation.