The Early Bird Program is a perk offered by Southwest Airlines with several benefits. However, if you have the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority credit card that gives you free boarding upgrades, Early Bird may not be worth the extra fees. With Early Bird, you pay an extra $15- $25 (depending on the flight to check in earlier than everyone else. Unless the passengers are First Tier Members. Should you purchase a Southwest Airline’s Early Bird check-in?
Why Southwest Airlines?
Southwest Airlines is one of the most popular airlines in the USA for domestic flights and the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards program should be considered if you fly frequently with Southwest. The list of domestic destinations Southwest flies is extensive.
Southwest has a fleet of Boeing 737 airplanes, and this is the only plane they fly. This is actually quite sensible as all the pilots and crew are familiar with one aircraft instead of several. Southwest Airlines ha expanded beyond domestic destinations in the USA and now flies to the Caribbean, Mexico and Costa Rica.
Because Southwest Airlines is a discount carrier, they keep their costs down in several ways. This is why you won’t find their flights on popular booking engines such as Expedia.com. All Southwest flights have an open-seating policy and therefore no assigned seats. You board your flight by group numbers. This concept can be frustrating if you are the last group to be called. But even if you purchased the cheapest ticket on Southwest, you can board earlier by paying a small fee with Southwest’s Early Bird Program.
Southwest Airlines Check in Policy
Southwest Airlines allows its passengers to check in to flights up to 24 hours in advance of departure dates and times. This system is a first come, first served. Unless of course you purchased your Early Bird voucher for your flight. The cost is anywhere from $15 – $25 per flight and Early Bird does come with some basic perks.
How Does Southwest Airline’s Seating Work?
Southwest Airlines boards based on numbers and groups and this information can be found on your boarding pass. There are three groups—A, B and C—and sixty numbers in each group.
The first passenger which would be considered a business passenger is assigned A1, and the last passenger is assigned C60. Again, these are not seat numbers but priority boarding assignments.
Like other airlines, the gate agents will pre-board Southwest passengers that require assistance, followed by passenger in the A group and A List members. So if you hold a boarding pass with an Early Bird check in, you would board after the A list members and before group B and group C passengers.
How does Early Bird Check-In on Southwest Airlines work?
Southwest Airlines Early Bird check-in allows you as a passenger to be automatically checked into your flight 36 hours before departure. As mentioned above, you will board before the rest of the passengers in groups B and C for a nominal charge which is currently anywhere between $15 and $25 per passenger per flight.
If you are flying round trip, you would need two Early Bird Passes for both flights. But you are not required to purchase both legs of your journey. You can purchase just for the departure, the return flight, or both.
When you make a ticket purchase with Southwest Airline, keep in mind the flexibility. You are not going to have to commit to an Early Bird check-in purchase when you purchase your flight, you can decide to add Early Bird to your reservation at a later date as long as the purchase is at least 36 hours before your flight’s departure.
Early Bird pricing does vary based upon the length of flight and the demand for Early Bird check-in for your specific flights. So if you want to guarantee you have a better chance of an upgrade, purchase early.
Is the Southwest Early Bird Check-In Fee Refundable?
No, unfortunately not. Once you purchase the Southwest Early Bird check-in, the fee is not refundable, and if you cancel your flight, the Early Bird fee you paid for early check-in will be lost.
Due to this policy from Southwest, a better option is to wait just before your departure date before purchasing. Since the system is based on a first come first served basis, boarding pass assignments are based upon when you bought your ticket and Early Bird check-in. Another flyer who purchased a Southwest Early Bird voucher anytime before you will be placed in the queue ahead of you.
The good news is, you won’t lose your Early Bird voucher, if you need to change your ticket to a different flight. Your Early Bird check-in does follow to your next flight because it is associated with your reservation number.
If Southwest Airlines cancels your flight, they will refund your Early Bird check-in fee.
How Is a Southwest Boarding Number Assigned?
Southwest Airlines Boarding Numbers are assigned based on fare type purchased with Business Select passengers receiving assignments A1 through A15. After Business, A-List members are assigned followed by any passenger who purchased an Early Bird check-in. All other passengers would board after the Early Birds.
For Southwest passengers who purchased Early Bird check-in, fares and assignment will get priority over the less expensive Wanna Get Away Fares. Assignments are based on the time-date-stamp when you purchased your Early Bird check-in.
Keep in mind that there is no limits to the number of passengers that can purchase Early Bird check-in for each flight so in theory, it is possible you could board last, but this theory is rare and to my knowledge has never happened.
How Else Can I Board Early on a Southwest Airlines Flight?
Aside from paying for Early Bird boarding or purchasing a business class seat, there are other ways you can board before everyone else with Southwest Airlines.
1. Check-In 24 Hours in Advance of Your Southwest Flight
The rules state that the earlier you check-in to your flight, the earlier you get to board the plane, but when you check-in exactly 24 hours ahead of your flight, you dramatically increase the odds that you’ll be assigned a more favorable boarding number.
Here is what you can do. Set an alarm for 20 to 30 minutes before my flight plus 24 hours, this reminder will have you fully prepared to check in well ahead of anyone else trying to do the same. You would be surprised how many people forget about this and end up boarding later.
2. Be helpful
If you travel with someone who has a disability or needs assistance, you can board the plane just as early as your travel companion. These passengers will board first, and before business class passengers.
3. Purchase Priority Boarding
Instead of paying for a Business Select ticket, there is an alternative method to board early. Just ask the gate agent if you can purchase priority boarding. The Southwest gate agent can sell you upgraded priority boarding and the maximum you will pay is $50 per flight. This is a bargain compared to buying a Business Class seat even though it’s slightly more expensive that buying an Early Bird Check in.
4. Be an A-List Southwest Member
Southwest Airlines, like other airlines, rewards frequent flyers with A-List and A-List Preferred status. To obtain A-List status, you’ll need to fly at least 25 one-way flight segments or earn at least 35,000 qualifying frequent flyer points in one calendar year.
Not only do Southwest A-List passengers receive priority check-in and priority security lane access, but after passengers who require assistance, and after business class passengers, they are among the first to board. Southwest Airlines gate crew will also announce at the gate that they are looking for any A-List passengers to board before moving on to the next group.
5. Bring the Kids
When you travel with children six years or younger on any Southwest Airlines flight, you and your family can board during family boarding. Southwest Airlines’ Family Boarding begins after group A and before group B.
Sign Up for Southwest Airline’s Rapid Rewards Credit Card
When you have a Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards credit card, you will receive four complimentary A1 to A15 priority boarding passes each year. If you’re at your departure gate, you can ask the gate agent if there are any boarding upgrades available. If you use your Southwest Priority credit card to pay for the upgrade, you’ll receive a statement credit for the upgrade purchase.
Do I Still Need to Check in for Southwest Airlines My Flight?
Even though Southwest’s system checks you in automatically, you must print a copy of your boarding passes either at home or from a kiosk at the airport. You can also use your mobile phone to download the Southwest Airlines app and download your boarding pass. I don’t like paper boarding passes and prefer using my phone as its much more convenient and saves the paper and ink.
Should You Buy Southwest’s Early Bird Check-In?
It really depends on the length of the flight and how much you care about sitting in a middle seat or in the back of the plane. I’m a big guy, so it’s worth it to me to have the option of an aisle seat. Or if I’m tired, a window seat is certainly worth the extra fee. Options are always nice, but if you are on a short haul flight that’s less than two hours, it’s probably not worth the expense.