Is Southwest Early Bird Check in worth it

Is Southwest Early Bird Check in worth it?

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Southwest Airlines offers a unique feature for travelers looking to improve their boarding position. Southwest Early Bird Check-in is a fee-based option travelers can use to increase their chances of getting a decent boarding position on a Southwest flight. Is Southwest Early Bird Check in worth it, though? We examine.

Specifically we address:

  • What is Southwest Early Bird Check in?
  • Is Southwest Early Bird Check in worth it?
  • What is the advantage of early bird check in on Southwest Airlines?
  • How much does Southwest Early Bird check in cost?
  • How do I use Southwest Early Bird Check in?
  • How do I add Early Bird Check in to an existing reservation?

In this short guide to Southwest’s Early Bird Check in feature we cover a multitude of key questions and aspects to using the option.

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What is Southwest Early Bird Check in?

Southwest Early Bird Check is an affordable addition to your Southwest itinerary that automatically checks passengers in on Southwest flights 36 hours in advance of their flight time. It improves a passenger’s boarding position and increases their chances of getting preferred available seating, access to overhead storage bins and a less stressful boarding experience.

Southwest Early Bird Check in does not officially guarantee an A Boarding Pass, but because you are checking in 12 hours ahead of general boarding check in times you are extremely likely to get an A Boarding Pass.

Occasionally, but rarely, passengers using Early Bird Check in will receive a high B Boarding Pass (like B1-B15) which isn’t horrible, but disappointing when you’ve paid an additional fee for the Early Bird Check in. When this happens its usually for some combination of the following factors:

  • There are a lot of A-Listers on the flight (travelers with Southwest status guaranteed an A Boarding Pass)
  • The flight has a large amount of “through passengers” on it (meaning that several passengers did not deplane and are already boarded for your flight). This is a unique feature that Southwest does to improve route access
  • A large quantity of people purchased Early Bird Check in (note that the timestamp of when you purchased Early Bird Check in compared to others determines the check in order
  • A large quantity of passengers are traveling who’ve purchased with “Anytime Fares

Even still, if boarding position is important to you on Southwest the Early Bird Check in may be worth the money.

It’s important to note that the Early Bird Check in option applies to EACH traveler on the itinerary and applies per one-way flight. So, if you want to purchase it for 3 passengers round trip you’d be looking at transactions of $15 per passenger both ways or a total of $90.

Overview of the Southwest Boarding Process

Overview of Southwest Airlines Boarding Process
Ref: Image from Southwest.com

Perhaps it would be helpful to explain the Southwest Boarding Process which is a little unique compared to most other airlines. There are a few key aspects to boarding a Southwest flight which help to inform why a product like Early Bird Check in even exists:

  • There are No Assigned Seats
  • Travelers are assigned a Boarding Group (A, B or C) and a number based that is based on several factors. Your boarding pass might read something like this: B21 or A37.
  • Your boarding group letter is based on several factors including if you have status (e.g. A-List) or how fast you checked in online within the 24 hour window from your flight departure
  • When it’s time to board, Southwest boards by group…in alphabetical order. A first, then B group, then C group.
  • Note that they actually board pre-boards first, then Business Select, then A15-A60, then A-List’rs who don’t actually have an A-List boarding pass but have status, then Family/Military Boarding, then B1-B60 and finally C1-C60
  • Near your gate there will be stanchions spaced a few feet apart from each other with range of numbers (in groups of 5): 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, etc.
  • When your boarding group is called, do your best to line up in numerical order with the other passengers. It doesn’t have to be perfect…just close.
  • When you get on the plane…pick any open seat you want. Yep…literally any seat without a butt in it is yours.
  • Note: Here’s a link to their full boarding policy.

Is Southwest Early Bird Check in worth it?

Maybe. Purchasing Southwest Early Bird Check-in can be worth it but it depends on your travel situation and frequent flyer status with Southwest Airlines. If you are a frequent traveler on Southwest you likely have A-List status already which negates the need to purchase Early Bird Check-in for yourself.

If you don’t travel Southwest very often (and thus don’t have any sort of status) and you’ve purchased a Wanna Get Away fare (their lowest), you have two large carry-ons and your flight is long (3+ hours) it could be a good move to help improve your boarding position, ensure you don’t get stuck with a middle seat, and find a spot for your luggage in the overhead bin.

When should I NOT purchase Southwest Early Bird Check-in?

There are several situations when purchasing Early Bird Check-in simply doesn’t make sense. Some of these include?

  • You are have A-List or A-List Preferred Status
  • You purchased a Business Class fare
  • Your flight is short (<2 hours)
  • You don’t have any luggage to carry on
  • You love middle seats (what is wrong with you…lol)
  • For unaccompanied minors (they will pre-board the plane)
  • For an infant in arms (obviously…)
What is the advantage of Early Bird Check in on Southwest Airlines_

What is the advantage of Early Bird Check in on Southwest Airlines?

The primary advantage of Early Bird Check in is increasing your chances of getting better seating, earlier access to overhead bins and avoiding a middle seat.

Because Early Bird Check in checks travelers into their flights 12 hours before the standard 24 hour check in window passengers increase their chances of getting an A Boarding Pass. Getting an A Boarding Pass means passengers board sooner and will access to more seats that are not filled yet as well better access to overhead storage compartments.

Interested in Additional Southwest Airlines Travel Tips & Advice?

Don’t worry, there’s more FAQs about the Early Bird Check-in program below, but we thought you might be interested in some of our other interesting tips and advice on flying Southwest Airlines. Here’s a few:

Ok, back the underlying question we are tackling here: Is Southwest Early Bird Check in worth it?

How much does Southwest Early Bird Check in cost?

Southwest Early Bird Check in cost range from $15 to $25 per passenger for a one-way flight with most routes costing $15.

How do I use Southwest Early Bird Check in?

After purchasing Early Bird Check-in there’s really nothing for passengers to do. Because you are automatically checked in 36 hours before your flight you don’t have to check in at exactly 24 hours and 1 second before your flight time hoping you get a good boarding pass. You can, however, check in if you want and see what your boarding pass actually is.

How do I use Southwest Early Bird Check in

How to add Early Bird Check in to an existing reservation

Passengers can purchase Early Bird Check in during the original ticket purchase or add it to an itinerary later. To do so, simply login in to your Southwest account and click on the (very obvious) option to add Early Bird Check in.

Travelers can purchase this feature up until 36 hours before their flight time.

Is Early Bird Check-in refundable?

No, Early Bird Check in is a non refundable purchase. Passengers who cancel a flight where Early Bird Check in has been purchased will not be refunded the Early Bird Check-in fee.

The rare exception would be if your flight has been canceled.

What happens if my flight is cancelled and I’ve purchased Early Bird Check-in?

If your flight has been canceled and you purchased Early Bird Check-in Southwest will refund your Early Bird Check-in fee.

Does Early Bird Check in guarantee me an A Boarding Pass?

No, Early Bird Check in does NOT guarantee passengers and A Boarding Pass. However, it significantly increases your chances of receiving one since you are automatically checked into your flight 12 hours earlier than the standard 24 hour check in window.

Have I ever purchased Early Bird Check in?

Is Southwest Early Bird Check in worth it - it can be i f traveling with a family

Yes, although rarely. The times when it has made sense are few and far between because I usually have A List or A List preferred status with Southwest which negates the need to check in early (I am guaranteed an A Boarding Pass). The few times I have purchased it (which can’t be more than 3 or 4 include):

  • The rare year I haven’t traveled Southwest much AND I know it’s a route that will likely mean I get stuck with a B Boarding Pass (because there will likely be lots of A Listers on the flight and/or I know there will be lots of “through” passengers on the incoming flight.
  • Traveling with my family and we booked different itineraries
  • If I am feeling edgy about my chances of getting at least a high B Boarding Pass and the flights long enough (3+ hours) that I simply don’t want to take my chances with a middle seat or overhead storage wars.

Thank you visiting

There you have it! Almost everything you could possibly want to know about Southwest’s Early Bird Check in program including whether it’s worth buying. The consensus on is Southwest Early Bird Check in worth it is a big fat maybe! Happy traveling!

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Author Biography

We. Do. Business Travel. The CBoardingGroup.com is a leading business travel focused travel blog. The principal author has over 18 years of consistent & frequent business travel. Over the years, he has developed various travel habits, travel tips, advice and more that he shares with fellow travelers of all skill levels. From hotel life, to airplane tips, to the weekly grind of frequent travel, plus a little travel humor, this blog is a haven for business travelers. Read his full bio here.

Advertiser Disclosure: CBoardingGroup has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. CBoardingGroup and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.

4 comments on “Is Southwest Early Bird Check in worth it?

  1. Nick Reyes

    Good article! One thing that may be worth considering: in addition to “through” passengers, you’re contending with connecting passengers. Let’s say you’re based in Baltimore and flying out at 12pm Eastern on a Wednesday. If you do not purchase early bird, you can check in 12pm on Tuesday (24 hours in advance). However, customers in the multitude of East Coast cities that connect in Baltimore likely start their journeys at 10am or even 9am with their flight to Baltimore and can therefore check in 2 or 3 hours before you can since they begin check in 24 hours before their first flight (at 9am or 10am on Tuesday). If you buy Early Bird, you get checked in 36 hours in advance, which beats out the connectors who check in 24hrs ahead of time (though you’re still going to be behind those connectors who paid for Early Bird).

    If you are based in a hub city like Baltimore where there are many people connecting to your flight, Early Bird is a questionable value as I think your chances of getting an “A” or low “B” boarding position are relatively low since there are many people on those earlier connecting flights who will be ahead of you (having themselves paid for Early Bird). I think my play in that situation would be to check in exactly 24hrs in advance and hope that I could buy up to A1-A15 at the airport if I’m unhappy with my boarding position.

    Reply
    1. The C Boarding Group Post author

      That’s a fair point! I’ve run into this before in BWI specifically as well as Love (although it was once so I don’t know if that’s often the case)

      Reply

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