Don't miss out! Join the thousands of people who subscribe to our once-daily email with all the best travel news
Southwest Airlines has a unique model for seating passengers. Whereas most airlines give you a seat assignment when you book a ticket (though increasingly more and more airlines are starting to charge if you want to pick your own seat), Southwest just assigns you a “boarding position”. They also offer a way called Early Bird to get a better seat so if you’re considering that, you might wonder if Southwest Early Bird check in is worth it
What is Early Bird check in?
What is Early Bird check in? With your purchased Southwest ticket, you get a boarding position, which is either in the A, B or C group and goes from 1-60. A1 is the very first person that gets to board the plane, and C60 would be the last (though typically it doesn’t go quite that high).
Southwest has an “open seating” policy, so as soon as you board the plane, you can just pick any open seat. There is a lot of discussion about whether you can save seats on Southwest – my personal opinion is no.
How does Early Bird check in work?
Southwest Early Bird check in is something that you can buy for each. It costs $15 (up from $12.50 as of March 2016) per ticket per direction. So our family of 8 would need to pay $200 to get Early Bird for a roundtrip ticket.
Normally on Southwest, you can check in 24 hours before your flight starts, and you pretty much HAVE to check in right at the 24 hour mark, or else you’re going to be very low in the boarding process. I’ve checked in 10 minutes after the 24 hour mark and been in the high Bs. The way that Southwest Early Bird check in works is that you are automatically checked in 36 hours before your flight (12 hours before everyone else), so in theory you’ll have a pretty early boarding group and have no problem finding a good seat with plenty of overhead space
Is Southwest Early Bird check in worth it?
So, is Southwest Early Bird check in worth it? In my experience, Southwest Early Bird check in is not worth it, except in rare cases. If you’re traveling by yourself or with just 1 or 2 other people, as long as you can check in right at the 24 hour mark, in my experience you’ll get a decent boarding group (anywhere from the high A to low or middle B group)
In that case, I’d say Southwest Early Bird is NOT worth it – just check in 24 hours before your flight, and you’ll be fine
If you are the type of person that has trouble remembering things like that, Southwest Early Bird check in may be worth it to you, since if you’re in the back of the C group, it will be tough to find seats together with the rest of your traveling party.
Is Southwest Early Bird worth it for families?
If you’re traveling with a family, you might wonder if Southwest Early Bird check in is worth it. A lot of that depends on whether you have a child 6 or under (or one that can PASS as 6 or under!). Southwest has a fairly decent policy for family travel, and families traveling with kids 6 or under get to board between the A and B groups. So that means no more than 60 (ish) people have boarded before you. When we used 170,000 Rapid Rewards points to fly from Chicago to Reno, I wondered if Early Bird check in was worth it. In the end, the cheapskate in me won out, and I was glad that even without Southwest Early Bird checkin, our family of 8 had no trouble finding seats together. Yes, we were in the back of the plane, but that was not a problem. Though then we still have the problem of how to arrange 8 people in seats that only go 3 across!!
So if you’re wondering whether Southwest Early Bird check in is worth it, I would say that the answer is no for 90% of people, especially if you’re traveling with kids 6 or under or can be online exactly 24 hours before your flight departs. In both of those cases, even without Southwest Early Bird check in, you should not have a problem finding decent seats with your whole traveling party.
Readers – what has been your experience? What’s your call on if Southwest Early Bird check in is worth it?