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…

Southwest Boarding

Some love it, some hate it – the Southwest Boarding Process!

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!


“A” Group or Bust!

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.

Early bird get sthe worm!

Early bird gets the worm!

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!

The Experiment

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!


$15 per one-way to check-in 12 hours before the rest of the flight!

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 Results

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-45 is a great boarding position!

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.


A-45! Just a few passengers back from my $15 EarlyBird spot!

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.


AYP Editor-in-Chief boarding just a few spots behind me…

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.

Final Thought

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?

Happy Travels!



  • lillys
    Posted at 08:00h, 12 January Reply

    A seat is in the window?

    • DW
      Posted at 08:03h, 12 January Reply

      An A seat is a window seat. If you have an A boarding pass you increase your chances of getting a window or aisle seat

  • TJ Sterba
    Posted at 15:10h, 17 March Reply

    Here is a guide I put together to setup your own automatic check-in at Southwest using a simple browser extension and script someone wrote. I’m not very computer saavy and was able to set it up in a few minutes. It does the job for me when I can’t be at a computer exactly at the 24 hr mark. Let me know if you need any help setting up. Thanks – http://www.theartoftravelhacking.com/automatic-check-southwest-flights/

    • DW
      Posted at 15:13h, 17 March Reply

      I will definitely check it out, thanks! This could end up saving me some serious time and add some much needed convenience!

  • Finley Lyons
    Posted at 14:49h, 14 March Reply

    I will let you know..I am flying this Friday using the E.B. option, booked on with the “anytime” option, which S.W. says give you a level of priority.

    • DW
      Posted at 14:55h, 14 March Reply

      Good luck and safe travels!

  • Stephanie D
    Posted at 00:02h, 22 May Reply

    You and your wife were only 6 spots apart this time, but there’s no guarantee that will always happen. Next time she could get in Boarding Group C — where by then the plane is full. I use Early Bird all the time now and almost always get Group A. The few times I didn’t and still checked in at the 24 hr. mark, I got as far back as Group C. Thanks for sharing the info.

  • Michael
    Posted at 11:52h, 25 June Reply

    Personally, I don’t believe the EB is worth it. I have seen many people get B-30 to 60 passes with them. Not worth it for sure

  • Oksana Bennett
    Posted at 16:42h, 27 December Reply

    Well, beware because if you do not pay the $15 and forget to check in until 10 hours before boarding, you get in last. We were recently on a flight from Tampa to Portland, Maine and we had a very tight connection. Our boarding position was in the very last section. We paid $40.00 per person to board third and got the very front row. As more times than not, Southwest is a bit early or right on time. We met our ride before he had to pick up a young child at school. The $15.00 is probably a great investment especially if the connections are close.

    We love SW!

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