SCOOP: Southwest Airlines Will No Longer Sell ‘Early Bird’ Check-In For All Trips

Southwest doesn’t offer advance seat assignments, and that works well for them. Passengers line up in order to get their preferred seat before the best seats are gone, and this helps get everyone on quickly.

Since the order you board the plane determines what seat is available for you to choose, they sell getting the on the plane sooner.

  • They offer ‘Early Bird Check-in’ – pay extra to get a boarding order number in advance of those checking in 24 hours prior to flight.

  • The first 15 boarding spots are given to people paying for the most expensive ‘Business Select’ fares, which are more expensive than refundable tickets. When there are fewer than 15 people on a flight buying Business Select, they will sell the remaining spots.

It used to be that you had to buy these last remaining A-15 (“upgraded boarding”) spots at the gate, but last summer they began selling them during online check-in. And May 15 they began dynamic pricing for these spots from $30 to $80. The old fixed $50 sometimes meant not selling out, and sometimes meant running out of spots. This helps them maximize revenue.

Early Bird check-in, where you get a boarding number assigned prior to the 24 hour check-in window opening (so ahead of people that do not pay for it), has gone up in price in recent years, too.

According to an internal memo reviewed by View From The Wing, starting August 15 they will no longer offer Early Bird Check-In for all flights, routes, or dates.

At first blush this seems like an odd choice. Southwest generates hundreds of millions of dollars in fee revenue selling Early Bird Check-In. However,

  • Southwest Airlines has more fare types, and they want customers buying up to those.

    If you cannot purchase Early Bird check-in, you might purchase a Business Select fare that guarantees early boarding. Or you might purchase one of the leftover early boarding slots for $85, instead of spending $25 for Early Bird.

  • At the same time, one flights where everyone buys Early Bird, the airline can avoid disappointing customers when they’ve spend extra money for early boarding and still wind up among the last half of passengers that are boarding.

For me what it will mean is that if Early Bird check-in isn’t available and the price gap between the cheapest fare and Business Select is large, I… won’t fly Southwest since I don’t want to be among the last to board (and I didn’t renew my Southwest Airlines status last year, so no longer get status-based boarding). I don’t want to risk that middle seat, so I’m the perfect candidate to sell Early Bird to, and it’s important enough to me that I’d switch to a carrier that lets me confirm an assigned aisle.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary — Southwest allows one status match to A List and early boarding per year, year after year after year. Do with that information what you will.

  2. Buy a cane for $50 and fake a limp. Then use pre-boarding for the disabled. That is what thirty plus other people do, thereby eliminating the usefulness of purchasing ‘Early Bird’.

  3. I was one of those customers who was disappointed that other travellers without Early Boarding were standing in line right next to me but I didn’t stop buying it until they doubled the price from $12.50 to $25 each way. As a single traveller who checks in online as soon as it opens, I’ve always been able to get my coveted “aisle seat” without paying extra. If they stopped offering it to everyone, it would definitely reduce the number of people who have it – and maybe make those customers happier with their boarding positions. It might also make it easier for people like me to continue getting my aisle seat without paying extra. If they offered early boarding with Wanna Get Away Plus, it might make that offering more attractive for some people.

  4. Ha ha. Few years back there were 15 wheelchairs (I counted them) lined up for a LAS departure. I called them the walker brigade (SNL). Upon arrival only 4 needed a wheelchair. Must have been a miracle in the air.

  5. @JohnnieD, Looks like you responded to a different post but I saw the one you wanted to respond to. I order wheelchairs for my elderly parents, just to get them through Security and to the gates. They are both able to walk (slowly) but they cannot walk very far and stand in long lines to get through security without wheelchair assistance. Even though I order the assistance on both ends, they do sometimes refuse it at the other end. Arrival is a lot simpler for most people because they don’t have to wait in long lines to go through Security and then find their way to gate. If they are arriving at home and haven’t checked bags, they just have to find their car/ride and go home. And, yes, when my parents are able to do that on the return trip, it is a miracle – for sure!

  6. I fly Southwest maybe 2-3 times a year max, and while the service is always pleasant their boarding process and lack of assigned seats is why I tend to stay away from them.

  7. I’ve been flying SW a lot these days living in Denver, and honestly I’m tired of them. Boarding is a hot mess and being in the B group likely means you’re in the pack of the plane given that A1-60 is now full plus all the extra boarders and “miracle walkers”. SW was great prepandemic when they actually had low fares, were the only airline with no change / cancel fees, and you could actually get a good seat in the B group. We’ve been finding a lot of their flight attendants are burnt out and rude as well. 85% of all airlines are exactly the same but the 15% of southwest that makes it different has been extremely disappointing post pandemic.

  8. My last SW flight from MSP had 21 people pre-boarding with disabilities (!) and another 37 as kids traveling (it was a camp group) with family boarding and A-list so by the time the B 1-30 (my group) was lining up we had maybe 5 people in line and well over 100 people had already boarded. Early bird doesn’t mean what it used to. What a joke.

  9. I dont mind the middle seat if I’m up front on a Max8 with wider seats. SWA is one airline where I can usually get a front or near-front row without paying extra.

  10. I am very disappointed at this move by SWA. I have depended on EB purchases to keep me from having to “watch the clock” for the 24 hour window for check-in and boarding group assignment. I’ve always managed to get an “A” Boarding Group seat (except for once). My response will be to see if EB is offered for my chosen flight, and if not, I will search another airline to book. I am well into my Senior years, able-bodied (thank goodness), but need to be sure of getting a certain type of seat. Again, I am SO disappointed in this turn of events, and change of policy.

  11. I have like 4 chase cards that offer those early boarding credits so i will start using those.

  12. Early Bird and boarding is a joke just like many have said. I am in the process of using up my points, have changed credit cards and will eventually not even look at their website when traveling. The fare difference is no longer there anyway, and I get free luggage with my new airline of choice using their credit card.

  13. Not a fan of Southwest. Not a fan of the seating process. Just traveled with a group of 12 and there was NO possible way of us just getting 2 rows together. Couldn’t pay more. In CA the gate agent paid zero attention to boarding numbers. I will only choose Southwest IF the only other options are Frontier and Spirit.

  14. I think SWA needs to abandon open seating and actually assign seats. It would make the boarding process quicker and take the guessing out of people lining up too early or having to ask what your number is. My last boarding experience with southwest was a claustrophobic nightmare. I got bumped feet stepped on and personal space violated repeatedly. Then I got on the plane and there were people holding seats for other people who were not on board as yet which is a clear violation of southwest policy but no one cared.

  15. Was on a flight back from Aruba a couple months ago, I had A-14 boarding after upgrading. I was probably 55ish person to board because of all preboards. Making small talk about this with stewardess, she said the the day before there was nearly 80 preboards- no joke. This has really gotten out of hand on SW.

  16. EB is worthless. I bought EB and my wife didn’t on the same flight and she got a better boarding position than I did. I asked the CSR about it and she that happens all the time and not to waste your money on it.
    The week prior I was able to buy a 1st class ticket on United for the same price as Southwest. That was a no brainer. MCO-IAH/HOU
    I’m not a fan.

  17. If Southwest will not sell you Early Bird Check In when you purchase the ticket, you can decide not to purchase or you can refund your purchase within the first 24 hours.

  18. @BobbyB, it may be rude and unethical but I don’t think SWA has any policy against seat holding. I have seen this discussed on their site and they say they will not stop people from doing it.

  19. From the other comments here, I can see that I am not the only one who is disgusted by all of the fake injuries and disabilities that people claim in order to jump the boarding line. I have been shouting from the mountaintop for years about this problem. Worse is SWA’s refusal to acknowledge this problem or do anything about it. They were likely not making as much money from their early bird check in fees as before, now that so many passengers have caught on to the game. So they modified their pricing model, which won’t address the elephant in the room. The problem remains: Until SWA takes an aggressive stance against faked disabilities and invented families in the boarding line, they will continue to alienate customers like me.

  20. Well, Al. Pr boarding is not something Southwest can do a lot about. It is a FEDERAL LAW that specifies that an airline MUST allow ANYONe that claims a need to preboard to in fact preboard. The airline CANNOT ask a passenger why he/she needs to preboard and cannot ask for proof of a need to preboard. Don’t like the law? Ask Congress to change it.

  21. Gary, how do you renew your status on Southwest when it is all based off of SW credit card spend or flying with them? I use SW travel (multiple flights) and have never heard of this.

    Are you saying you do not fly them anymore hence why you lost your status?

  22. I will start looking at other airlines if they are getting rid of EB. How will SWA determine where we are supposed to sit? This is a bad idea and it will cost them big time in the end. They won’t have customers and they’ll have to drop prices just to make a buck. And those people that use wheelchairs that don’t need them should be told that will depart last when landing.

  23. If you can’t beat them, join them. A slight limp gets you on early and no EB or high priced ticket to buy. When 50% do this and A List are # 100 yo board, SWA will be forced to change.

  24. Not a fan of losing EB as an option. I’m getting older and need a seat that won’t leave me in pain halfway through the flight, my usual travel paths don’t generally have too many pre boards so it’s fine. Rather pay the 25 than need to be awake at stupid o clock the day before the flight instead of just flight day. Southwest needs to do better.

  25. EBCI is a joke. I rarely buy it except when I am unavailable at T-24 or I have a long flight and don’t want to risk a middle seat. Otherwise just roll the dice and if for some reason I lose I can always upgrade boarding and get a credit on my Chase card.

    WN would benefit from better transparency and a promise not to sell EBCI after the first 90 boarding slots are taken.

  26. I have gamed the SW boarding process on a few occasions.
    On one flight, a middle seat on the first row was empty. In an elevated voice, I asked “Is that seat taken?” The two PAX were not happy based on the grimace on their face, but not a word was uttered.
    Latter in the flight, the two were passing food between them. Turns out they were sisters. I did help myself to some of the snacks they brought onboard….better than what SW offered!!

  27. “Scott says:
    August 10, 2023 at 11:12 am
    Gary — Southwest allows one status match to A List and early boarding per year, year after year after year. Do with that information what you will.”

    Stupid questions of the day: What does this mean? What is a status match?

  28. By the time the preboard seat savers and their +1 get on the plane it’s not worth paying for early boarding. I often wonder if these same people also get up early on the cruise ship to put towels on all the good pool chairs.

  29. For me and my GF when we have very early morning flights the early bird check-in is a life saver. Who wants to get up at five or six AM just to check in for a flight the next day?? I sincerely hope they weigh that.

  30. these is not good news for us. we’ve always paid for Early Bird check in and will miss it much

  31. Anymore the only way I get an A group spot is buying Early Bird. 24 hour check-in I’m always B. With fares in line with other carriers it’s making less and less sense to fly WN. Without companion pass I’d be gone already.

    As for the pre boarders it’s a complete joke. There were about 40 people in line, maybe half belonged there, a couple weeks ago leaving Maui. One guy even gave a hug and kiss to the gate agent. Maybe the strangest part of it was an elderly couple boarding early, I absolutely had no problem with them boarding early, but they took the route behind the exit row. My 18 year old son is 6’6″ and loves the exit seat missing the seat in front of him but my 14 year olds wanted to sit the row behind. Of course we made due but it was strange more than anything

  32. I have been on SWA flights recently where the flight attendants say “we won’t take off until someone gives up their seat so a parent and child can sit together.” I don’t get that. First of all, if you are travelling with a child, purchase early bird. It’s only $15. Secondly, they let parents board after the A group.

    So the pleading parent either didn’t purchase early bird or they didn’t get to the airport in time to get the boarding between A and B group. Either way, why should those of us who paid for early bird be forced to accommodate these people who don’t get SWA rules so that we can get to our destination on time?

  33. 1996 was the last time I flew Southwest. Will never fly them again because of the cattle car mentality. Life is too short when other airlines offer assigned seats.

  34. All these issues can be solved with assigned seats. “Early bird” had to be discontinued because it gave the implied assurance of A boarding when pax ended up with B or C dependent on the number of early birds.
    WN can still sell “preferred seats” like all the other carriers and make $ doing so. This would alleviate all the preboards seeking seats at the front.
    Altea allows assigned seats..,

  35. I am disabled with a heart condition 18 stents and 2 bypasses. I’m still healing from my bypass and my leg they took the artery from was damaged. Now i have a hard time walking without having to stop. People look at me and im sure they think she doesn’t look disabled. Let me tell you i would wait to board last if i could have my health back.It’s upsetting that people abuse the disability part to get on the plane first. It’s the same for handicap parking! Please everyone we all want to get to our destination on the same plane, so let’s ease up and try and have a good trip. A little compassion goes a long ways.

  36. The only way I can see to solve the circus Southwest boarding has become is to move to assigned seating.

    Boarding is getting worse and worse on Southwest. I have great compassion for truly disabled passengers but the Jetway Jesuses are outnumbering them. Additionally they changed their family boarding last holidays to board any family with a child 13 or under (instead of the previous 6 y.o.) between the A and B groups. Even paying for Early Bird boarding we were in mid B group and after all the Jetway Jesuses and Families with older children boarding before us we were relegated to the back of the aircraft. At least we got seat choice in the final rows but come on! It is not good and it makes me prefer other airlines than Southwest.

  37. We have used EB for years. Difn’t need to have 2 or 3 phone lines going at the 24 hour mark.. We no longer had to work around work, movies, etc. Now, imagine the clogged lines with the ex-EBers also trying for a slot. So, we can buy the $$ more airfare for a decent seat?! I think we’ll consider other airlines. We only have carry-ons. Hope there is enough backlash for them too reconsider. Or we might become a “miracle flight” passengers.

  38. Southwest is the awful. I don’t understand why anyone would fly with such a barbaric boarding situation. I’d go in debt to get a seat assigned

  39. I buy my seat 3 to 4 months before my trip, but still have to use early bird to ensure my wife & I sit together. If SW is doing away with early bird, I’ll be looking into another airline that uses assigned seating.

  40. Just spent a whole bunch of time reading all the comments and this one by JohnSF made it all worth it
    “after all the Jetway Jesuses and Families with older children boarding before us we were relegated to the back of the aircraft.”
    Jetway Jesuses needs to become part of the lexicon on the Facebook group Travel Grumps 101, just like “gate lice”. You guys are the best!

  41. I just purchased EarlyBird Check-In for myself and my wife on roundtrip tickets at $50 per. for a total of $200 for two of us round trip just two days after this article. I haven’t seen anyone describe it as more than $25 per person one way. I am starting to regret having purchased them before reading these articles and comments.

  42. @DanRaynor, since SW does not prohibit seat saving, only one of you has to get on early. You can always save a seat for your spouse.

  43. @paulhanna I Believe it is $25 per flight. If you have connections, it could be more. In any case, these charges are non refundable. That’s why I always wait until as late as possible to make sure I will actually take the flight. With SW flexible change policies, there’s always the possibility I might make a last minute change, in which case these EB upgrades are useless and always non refundable.

  44. I have a companion pass on Southwest so my wife flys for almost free. Only the $5.60 fee for each flight. We also have Southwest credit cards that give us 4 upgraded boarding positions each year. We have another business Southwest card that gives us 2 earlybird check ins a year. We also each have AMEX platinum cards that give us each $200 credit to use for incidentals on Southwest. Using our credit card benefits, and with the companion pass we are able to make a s trip every month and always manage to be in the first half of those boarding. I buy earlybird every flight and my wife is also automatically given earlybird and positioned in the next boarding position behind me. This has really worked well for us. I personally hate to see them discontinue selling earlybird. I wish they were more clear on which flights they may continue to offer it on.

    LIving in Dallas Southwest is our preference because of the location of the airport. Going to and from DFW adds at least another hour going and coming to our travels.

  45. I love flyiing SWA. I am not able to walk long distances due to leg problems. I hear what you are saying about people abusing early seating on the plane. I would be more than happy to show proof of my disability , as a matter of fact i think it should be required.. to use a wheelchair.

  46. I am a disabled person who requires the use of a wheelchair at the airport. I would be happy to show a letter or proof that I am not just using a wheelchair for early boarding. Why don’t it get made mandatory to show proof before they get that wheelchair. would really weed out the fakeras

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