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Is Southwest EarlyBird Check-In worth it?

Nov. 13, 2021
9 min read
Southwest seats
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Editor's Note

This post has been updated with new information.

Southwest Airlines doesn't have fancy onboard offerings. But it does have a unique boarding process where you are assigned a specific boarding number that determines when you can board the plane. How quickly 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.

Your Southwest boarding assignment will fall in group A, B or C, and you will be assigned a number ranging from 1-60 within that group. While it feels a bit like you are lining up like cattle to board the plane, once you get the hang of it, it isn't that terrible – at least if you have a good boarding group number.

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Checking in at 24 hours won't get you the best boarding group

Southwest boarding in St. Louis. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

At the heart of the Southwest boarding system is the concept that you want to check in for your flight exactly 24 hours before departure. After all, Southwest assigns boarding assignments in the order you check in for the flight. However, as with almost everything in the airline industry, it isn't quite that simple.

The coveted first A 1-15 spots go to those who purchase pricier Business Select fares. You can also sometimes upgrade to an A 1-15 boarding spot on the day of travel – but only if Business Select customers don't fill the A 1–15 slots.

However, if you have the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card or Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card, know that each of those cards comes with four upgraded boardings to A 1-15 slots per year. This perk is part of why these cards are some of our favorite Southwest cards for families.

Southwest boarding in New York. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Next in order come those with Southwest A-List or A-List Preferred elite status, as 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 nonstop flight. Unless you are on the first flight of the day, there is a reasonable chance some seats on the plane are spoken for by through-passengers before A1 even gets a chance to board. After all, Southwest regularly sells tickets that require stops without plane changes.

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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. EarlyBird Check-In service allows you to automatically reserve your boarding spot starting 36 hours before your flight.

EarlyBird Check-In serves two obvious purposes. First, it takes out the human element of being too busy or forgetting to check in exactly 24 hours before your first flight. Second, it scores you a boarding assignment that should be better than those still 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.

(Photo by 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 to use 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. And EarlyBird Check-In 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 and change 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. For example, the exact boarding position isn't all that important to some travelers and some passengers may not be able to afford the extra cost. Meanwhile, some family travelers may be OK with family boarding. After all, Southwest allows "two adults traveling with a child six years old or younger" to board during family boarding.

Family boarding takes place between the A and B groups. So, if your family meets the family boarding criteria, you are helped by having an A boarding pass but not hurt by having a B or C boarding pass.

Southwest family boarding occurs after Group A. (Photo by 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 you are taking is especially long, making seat selection more valuable, such as on a Southwest flight to Hawaii.

Second, if your family or group must sit all together, and either you don't qualify for family boarding or you are worried there won't be seats that allow all of you to sit together by that time, it could be worth it. It also may be worth it if you know you will be too busy at the 24-hour mark to check yourself in on time. Last but not least, if having EarlyBird Check-In reduces your stress or anxiety about the flight, then that by itself can be worth the cost.

My family occasionally purchases EarlyBird Check-In to make the process of flying Southwest easier, especially on longer segments. However, we don't always buy it because family boarding is often sufficient for getting seats together.

(Photo by 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

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.

If you decide to purchase Southwest EarlyBird Check-In, you can earn bonus points from using the right credit card for the purchase. Or, consider picking up a Southwest credit card if your family enjoys traveling the country (and beyond) on Southwest. Here are the links:

Each card currently offers a limited time offer where new cardholders can earn Companion Pass® good through 2/28/24 (excludes taxes and fees from $5.60 one-way) plus 30,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months. Some of these cards offer a few EarlyBird Check-Ins on each card anniversary.

Otherwise, consider putting your EarlyBird Check-In purchase on a card that reimburses miscellaneous airline fees, such as:

The information for the Hilton Aspire Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Note that you'll need to enroll before using the airline fee credits on some of these cards.

Featured image by (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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    Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

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    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees