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. A-List preferred customer here. Let me tell you nobody likes their boarding process. I have written to SW several times and they respond our customers prefer this boarding process. That is just a bunch of baloney! And the disabled line continues to increase. So if the disabled need more time to board then they need more time to get off. First on and should be last off. Guess what…. they Board first and get off first slowing down the deboarding process. They should be last off giving them the time that they need.

    Southwest is NOT going to make more money eliminating EB….no way. There are only 15 seats available for purchase upgrades, or less if purchased by a higher paying customer. SW’s Board of Directors needs to look at this, as management is seeing something different! Go to assign seats charge a few extra bucks, this is how the money will be made.

  2. Blaine,
    I agree with you about people using wheelchairs to board first and then they walk off when they deplane. They should deplane last after everyone else gets off the plane.
    Maybe if the people using wheelchairs just to board first had to deplane last, maybe that would deter them to not use wheelchairs in the 1st place. As much as I would like to board first, the last thing I would ever do is use a wheelchair that should be used for someone that needs it.

  3. I agree with others have said about people getting on plane prior to all others. There are those that do need thar option. I also see people bringing on way too large carry on pieced if south west doesn’t follow rules for all and if they do away with early bird tickets I will be flying on another carrier.

  4. I’m don’t know for sure but I suspect the reason the wheelchairs get off first is because the wheelchair attendants are waiting for them and it is more efficient for them to wait less time instead of more. Then, they can go get another customer.

  5. As I understood Southwest would not sell earlybird check in on some flights. I have five flights booked and as of August 16, 2023 at 2:20 pm central time they are still offering to sell early bird check in for all of my upcoming flights. I wonder which flights they are not offering to sell it on?

  6. I just called Southwest regarding a pending flight in October.
    I kept trying to find out if they are still offering early bird service.
    I could not get a straight answer. If they are not offering it until you check in, then I will go with Delta.

  7. Roger, I can still buy earlybird check in online for all of my 5 upcoming Southwest flights booked from September through February, 2024. Just go online under details of your flight and it should be available.

  8. @Roger G Stewart,
    The way this was worded, it sounds like they will stop offering it on all flights. That does not mean that it will not be offered on your flight. If you already purchased your flight, you should have been able to purchase EB with your flight or whenever you are ready to do so. If they sell it to you, then I can’t imagine that they would take it away or cancel it.

  9. I just flew from CLE to PHX 19 Aug 2023 with EB check in and was assigned A-56.. 22 wheelchairs!! The gate agent smartly sped up the boarding process by asking those that could walk down the ramp to the plane to do so. Only three wheelchairs were ultimately truly needed.
    After A-list, Business Class, and those that use a wheelchair unnecessarily just to board early, I ended up in the middle seat, but fortunately, I was able to find space for my carry-on. Sayonara SWA . I won’t be party to your upselling ticket game nor stand in your cattle guard, space constrained, body squashing crummy gate areas.

  10. I am a regular flyer on SW and I just got my B26 boarding position. I was not able to get early bird either as it said it was not available. I have A-List status with SW but now it seems that it is not worth it to fly SW any longer. I travel weekly and I enjoyed the convenience of getting checked in on the A-List without playing the wait until the 24-hour window and roll the dice game to see if I got a good position. This is a bad move and will cost SW a lot of customers. They are a budget airline with average seating and they are taking away the perks that made them special.

  11. We fly SWA frequently. I would agree with all the other comments previously made. My husband and I want to sit together and that is why we paid for EB. I would highly suggest having assigned seats and eliminate EB. Those that pay the higher fare could have a front section of plane reserved for them.
    There are 2 airports in Chicago area so it is an easy option for us to fly another airline.

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