24 Oct Is Southwest EarlyBird Check-in Worth the $15 Fee?
My wife and I have seriously maximized travel on Southwest Airlines over the past 2 years. While our frequent travel on the airline is mostly due to my status as a Companion Pass holder, we have grown to love Southwest Airlines and foresee many more flights in the future.
Yet, with all that Southwest travel, I still cannot seem to form an opinion on a signature Southwest Airlines concept…
The Boarding Process
Southwest has “open seating” – meaning that if a seat is open when you walk down the aisle, it is yours to sit in. Southwest is the only domestic carrier that allows passengers to pick their own seat while boarding (a practice dating back to the founding of the airline), and while passengers do not have a seat assignment, they do receive a boarding position that dictates the order in which the plane is boarded.
This assigned boarding position makes all the difference! Window/Aisle preferred seating, room for your carry-on in the overhead bins, avoidance of the rear lavatory – all enabled by a superior boarding position!
Remember – Boarding Positions are in corrals in the following order: Pre-Board, A1-30, A31-60, Family Boarding, B1-30, B31-60, C1-30, C31-60
Southwest flights are available exactly 24 hours prior to scheduled flight departure time – to the second. So, if you are looking to grab a good boarding position, you should aim to check-in as close to the 24 hour mark as possible. The earlier you check in, the closer your assigned spot will be to the front of the line.
If you would rather not wait by the computer to check-in 24 hours before your flight, there are a few ways to ensure you receive a higher priority boarding position…
One of those options is paying for EarlyBird Check-in!
For a $15 fee (per One-Way), Southwest will automatically check you in and assign your boarding position 36 hours prior to departure. It is called EarlyBird check-in! That means that you will have a 12-hour jump on passengers since Southwest permits normal check-in 24 hours prior to scheduled flight departure time – to the second.
Though EarlyBird Check-In doesn’t guarantee a priority boarding position in the “A” Group (Status holders and Business Select flyers may scoop most of the availability), it definitely increases your chances by cutting the line 12 hours earlier.
But is it worth the $15 each way cost?
We put it to the test on our last trip from TPA-ATL this past Friday!
Since both my wife and I were flying, we decided that I would pay the $15 fee for EarlyBird, and she would follow our normal protocol and check-in at the 24 hour before departure mark. We have a real life experiment on our hands, people!
We were pretty certain that EarlyBird would grant me a better position (at least it should!) but were interested in just how much of a difference the $15 cash outlay would make.
Would I be in the early A Group and she in the Bs? Would we both somehow get stuck in the mid-late Bs?
Only time would tell… And it did!
The EarlyBird Check-in granted me a solid boarding position – A-45! That means I boarded in the second corral of A-31 to A-60 and before a large majority of the passengers.
A win for EarlyBird!
Now how did my wife’s boarding position compare given her check-in at the 24 hour pre-flight mark?
A-51… Just 6 spots back from my A-45 position! Not much of a difference between the two of us, especially given we board in the same corral.
Is EarlyBird Check-in worth the $15 fee?
Hmm you tell me! Is $15 really worth 6 boarding positions? In this case I think not, and I would rather be in her position with an extra $15 in my wallet!
That said, if the difference resulted in the two of us boarding in separate corrals, say the A-31 to A-60 versus the B-1 to B-30, then this could make a larger difference due to Family Boarding that occurs between these two corrals.
Disclaimer – I will note that I did not pay for EarlyBird Check-in when I initially booked the flight, but rather 4 days before travel. It is possible that my boarding position could have been slightly improved since Southwest assigns all EarlyBird Check-in boarding positions based on when it is purchased.
EarlyBird Check-in is a convenient option for Southwest travelers who don’t plan to check-in 24 hours pre-flight. Personally, I think the $15 fee does not provide $15 in value and I would rather take my chances at the 24 hour pre-flight mark!
Have you ever paid for Southwest EarlyBird Check-in? Do you think it is it worth the $15 fee?