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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 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 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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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
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  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
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Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
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  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

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  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    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.

    740-850
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Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more