Is Southwest EarlyBird Check-In worth it? – The Points Guy

Southwest Airlines doesn’t have fancy onboard offerings. However, it does have a unique boarding process where you get assigned a specific boarding number that determines when you can board the plane. The order you get on the plane is important since Southwest uses first-come, first-served seating. The earlier you board, the better seat options you’ll have. All of its planes offer a 3-3 seating configuration.

Your Southwest boarding assignment will fall into groups A, B or C, and you will be assigned a number ranging from one to 60 within that group. It feels a bit like you are lining up like cattle to board the plane, but once you get the hang of it, it isn’t that terrible — at least if you have a good boarding group number.

Checking in on time won’t get you the best boarding group

Southwest boarding in St. Louis. KATIE GENTER/THE POINTS GUY

You’ll want to check in for your flight exactly 24 hours before departure because Southwest assigns boarding groups in the order you check in. This means you’ll ideally want to set your alarm to remind yourself. However, as with almost everything in the airline industry, it isn’t quite that simple.

The coveted first A1-15 spots go to those who purchase pricier Business Select fares. You can also sometimes upgrade (for a fee) to an A1-15 boarding spot 30 minutes to 24 hours before the flight’s scheduled departure time. This option is only available if Business Select customers don’t fill the A1-15 slots, and it costs between $30 and $80 (per segment, per customer).

While this can be an incredibly pricey add-on, those with the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card receive four upgraded boardings per year. This perk alone is why these two are some of our favorite Southwest cards for families.

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Next in the boarding process come those with Southwest A-List or A-List Preferred elite status; these travelers are automatically assigned a boarding number before the 24-hour mark. Checking in precisely 24 hours before your flight won’t get you ahead of those travelers, either.

Finally, there is also the issue of passengers who booked a direct but not a nonstop flight. Unless you are on the first flight of the day, there is a reasonable chance some seats on the plane will go to those passengers even before the first person in Group A gets a chance to board. After all, Southwest regularly sells tickets that require stops without plane changes.

Related: How to get seats together as a family on Southwest Airlines

What is Southwest EarlyBird Check-In

Now, let’s talk about Southwest EarlyBird Check-In itself. The airline’s EarlyBird Check-In service allows you to automatically reserve your boarding spot starting 36 hours before your flight.

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EarlyBird Check-In serves two obvious purposes. First, it eliminates the human element of forgetting to check in exactly 24 hours before your first flight.

Second, it scores you a boarding assignment that should be better than those available 24 hours before departure. The closer the boarding pass assignment is to A1, the earlier you board. The earlier you board, the better selection of seats and overhead bins you will have.

Southwest plane interior. KATIE GENTER/THE POINTS GUY

EarlyBird Check-In costs $15 to $25 per person per direction of travel. The price varies by flight and represents a real monetary investment if you have multiple people traveling. For our family of four, we would be out up to $200 by using EarlyBird Check-In on a round-trip Southwest journey.

However, note that several Southwest credit cards offer a few EarlyBird Check-Ins on each card anniversary. For those with the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Card, you’ll receive two EarlyBird Check-Ins per year.

Additionally, the EarlyBird Check-In fee should trigger The Platinum Card® from American Express annual airline fee credit if you have selected Southwest as your airline for the year.

While Southwest has flexible policies for changing your flight, the money you spend on EarlyBird Check-In is not refundable. If you cancel your flight, Southwest doesn’t refund your EarlyBird Check-In purchase.

If you change your flight at least 25 hours before the original flight’s scheduled departure to a flight that doesn’t depart for at least 25 hours, then the EarlyBird Check-In will transfer — as long as the confirmation number remains the same.

Related: Everything you need to know about the best seats on Southwest Airlines

Is Southwest EarlyBird Check-In worth it?

Given all that, is Southwest EarlyBird Check-In worth it?

For some people, this answer will always be no. The exact boarding position isn’t all that important to some travelers, and other passengers may be unable to afford the extra cost. Meanwhile, some family travelers may be okay with family boarding. After all, Southwest offers family boarding where “two adults traveling with a child six years old or younger” can board.

Family boarding takes place between the A and B groups. So, if your family meets the family boarding criteria, a Group A boarding pass will help you, but a Group B boarding pass will hurt you.

In my experience, if you’re eligible for family boarding, there is absolutely no reason to purchase EarlyBird Check-In as your family will have no problem sitting together.

Southwest family boarding occurs after Group A. SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

If you have the budget to consider buying EarlyBird Check-In, it might be worth it in a few cases. First, EarlyBird Check-In might be worth it if the flight is especially long, such as a Southwest flight to Hawaii. The length makes seat selection more valuable.

Second, if your family or group must sit all together — and you either don’t qualify for family boarding or you’re worried there won’t be enough seats left together — it could be worth it.

The early check-in might be worth it if you know you will be too busy at the 24-hour mark to check in. Last but not least, if having EarlyBird Check-In reduces your stress or anxiety about the flight, that alone can be worth the cost.

Now that my family no longer qualifies for family boarding, we might consider purchasing it for select flights — especially when traveling during popular school break periods.

But typically, I am pretty good with checking in right at the 24-hour mark. I also don’t mind sitting in the back of the plane with my family or splitting up into pairs. That might not work for every family, though, making the fee more of a necessity.

KATIE GENTER/THE POINTS GUY

Finally, know that you can purchase EarlyBird Check-In just for one direction of your trip or just for a few travelers. In short, it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing decision. If you only want to purchase EarlyBird Check-In for some travelers, purchase the flights for your entire group and then log in to add EarlyBird Check-In to the existing itinerary for the desired travelers.

Related: How to reprice a Southwest flight when the fare decreases

Southwest credit cards to offset the cost

As mentioned throughout, there are five different credit cards to help offset the cost of EarlyBird Check-In and Upgraded Boarding. So here’s a recap of the card benefits and the current welcome offers:

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card: Earn a Companion Pass (good through Feb. 28, 2025) plus 30,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on your card in the first three months from account opening. The offer ends March 11. With this card, you’ll receive two EarlyBird Check-Ins per cardmember anniversary year.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card: Earn a Companion Pass (good through Feb. 28, 2025) plus 30,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on your card in the first three months from account opening. The offer ends March 11. With this card, you’ll receive two EarlyBird Check-Ins per cardmember anniversary year.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card: Earn a Companion Pass (good through Feb. 28, 2025) plus 30,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on your card in the first three months from account opening. The offer ends March 11. With this card, you’ll receive four Upgraded Boardings per cardmember anniversary year.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card: 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. With this card, you’ll receive two EarlyBird Check-Ins per cardmember anniversary year.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card: 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. With this card, you’ll receive four Upgraded Boardings per cardmember anniversary year.

Bottom line

At $15 to $25 per person each way, Southwest EarlyBird Check-In can be worth the cost. However, it won’t always be a slam-dunk deal — especially if family boarding is an option for your group. It also won’t guarantee a Group A boarding pass.

If you decide to purchase Southwest EarlyBird Check-In, you can earn bonus points by using the right credit card for the purchase. Or, consider picking up a Southwest credit card, since they all offer a set number of Upgraded Boarding or EarlyBird Check-In perks per year. Otherwise, consider putting your EarlyBird Check-In purchase on a card that reimburses miscellaneous airline fees.

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