Southwest Airlines Has Made One Change, And I Don’t Want To Fly Them Anymore

I used to be a semi-frequent flyer with Southwest Airlines. They have the only non-stop flight from Austin to Washington, D.C.’s close-in National airport (by law) and that’s my most frequent destination. I had A-List status for awhile, but I’ve lost that status.

Frequent flyer status with Southwest meant that I could board earlier, and that meant I could choose the seat that I wanted since Southwest Airlines doesn’t pre-assign seats. Sometimes I’d get their exit row window seat with unlimited legroom. Other times I’d have an aisle seat close to the front, and that gave me enough space – Southwest Airlines offers an inch or two more legroom than any other U.S. airline’s regular coach besides JetBlue.

Without that status, if I want a better ‘boarding position’ which means a license to hunt for seats earlier when there are still decent seats left, I now have (3) options.

  1. Buying a Business Select fare which is more expensive, even, than a refundable ticket but comes with one of the first 15 boarding spots (and a free cocktail).

  2. Checking in exactly 24 hours prior to flight You’re in a Hunger Games quest to check in as soon as you’re able to, because boarding positions are assigned in order once the check-in window open. It’s you against everyone else. There used to be services that would automate the process for you, but Southwest’s lawyers largely put those out of business. You need to set a calendar reminder and sit at your computer and then the moment check-in opens you’re ready to pounce.

  3. Early Bird check-in often priced around $25, you are given a boarding position prior to anyone checking in on their own 24 hours out. This usually means a high A boarding number or low B boarding number (so somewhere around the first 60 or 65 to board and probably getting an aisle seat).

Sometimes Business Select isn’t that much more but it depends on the route and whether there’s low fare competition. Truth is that I’m just not able to set aside time to check in 24 hours out exactly for every flight. I get stuck in a meeting that goes over, where I can’t just say “sorry, I have to take a break to check in for my Southwest flight” or maybe I’m on another flight and the wifi doesn’t work – a decent chance flying United or… Southwest.

So I’d invest the $25 for Early Bird check-in. The problem is that, as I was first to break the news two months ago, Southwest no longer sells Early Bird check-in on every flight. They seem to think it means more people will buy up to higher fares, like Business Select?

On a recent flight search I’d decided to fly Southwest Airlines from Austin to Chicago Midway airport. They had the best flight time for me. But they weren’t offering Early Bird check-in. So instead of paying $25 more for a decent boarding position I’d need to pay around $150 more. Not going to happen. In order to fly Southwest it was going to mean risking a “C” boarding position and probably a middle seat.

Since Southwest is no longer selling Early Bird check-in on every flight, and not selling it on the flight I wanted to buy, I simply… didn’t buy the Southwest Airlines flight. And I won’t buy Southwest flights without it most of the time, and certainly not for a two and a half hour flight.

Southwest’s decision not to take extra money for Early Bird check-in is a bet on earning more money. It puts at risk not just the roughly $400 million per year in fees it generated. In my case it meant selling fewer tickets, too.

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. Another sob story from someone who likes being treated like royalty because he has money. Southwest isn’t for you; it’s for us peasants and we love it. (I’m exaggerating here for effect;l. I’m sure you’re a fine person, and I hope you don’t take this personally.)

  2. The reason certain flights. Don’t offer Earlier Bird is that those flights already have a goodly number of thru passengers on the airplane, pretty much guaranteeing a middle seat only for Early Birders.

  3. I very much doubt that Southwest are really bothered that you didn’t buy a ticket. The last flights I’ve been on from Dallas to Midway, Midway to Buffalo and back, Dallas to Charlotte, Dallas to Ontario, CA have all been full flights. in fact 2 of them had been overbooked.

    Even with a mid B30’s position, we were able to get 2 seats together. Suck it up, buttercup and stop being a drama queen.

  4. OMG. To completely disregard and not fly an airline because you MIGHT not be able to sign up for early boarding? What airline will you replace Southwest with and how are they any better?

  5. If WN is the only non-stop on a short hop (<2 hrs), I'll take the plunge.
    I'll play the 24 hr game and have been in the back end of group "A" or front of "B".
    If over 2+ hrs, then will even consider a connection on DL, AA, or UA.

    The one item on WN that hacks me off is "reserved" seats.
    This will get out of hand one day and someone will get hurt.
    WN will claim deniability, but they are culpable in this s**t show.
    The news agencies will have a field day with story….I'm just waiting.

  6. I’ve never bought Early Bird as it seems like a bait and switch as you end up in the B group most of the time. I always buy up to A1-15, costs between $30-$70 and can be done in the app. it has been available on all my Southwest flights this year. I have one credit card that gives me 4 upgrades per year and I have one of my Amex set as preferred airline, so that’s $200 more. I just pay the rest. A much better product for just a tad more than Early Bird

  7. @Exit Row Seat – I rarely fly SW but when ai do I have no patience for seat saving. If someone is in a window or aisle and wants to save the middle for their companion fine but if, for example, in a window and say they are saving middle and aisle I just sit down in the aisle and tell them it wasn’t occupied so I’m taking it. Never had a problem

  8. So don’t fly them anymore. What the hell do you want the general public to do besides kiss your a$$? Good god stop whining!

  9. Purchasing upgraded boarding at the 24 hr mark or at the gate will set you back between $30-$80. However, with the SWA Priority or Performance Business cards you’ll get 4 upgraded boarding tickets reimbursed.
    I have had no issues this year of them being gone

  10. What Southwest was it isn’t anymore. Like most airlines, they try and get every penny, nickel and dime from their flying faithful.

  11. I know the serve “Whine” but not cheese so yes you are better off not flying SWA anymore. But you are travel “expert” so we won’t worry about your fragile mental state bc you have to follow an airline rule. Enjoy overpriced economy on American!

  12. I stopped flying southwest about a year ago for this very reason. It’s a race to check in, it’s a race to get in line, it’s a race to pick your seat, it’s a shite show. I switched to American and now I pick my seats. I added an American credit card and note I get free luggage. After running routine purchases through the card I now have status where I can pick Main Cabin Extra (with extra seating and a free drink). No more rat race and I no longer feel like I’m at a city bus stop.

  13. I liked early bird check in for the teenager flying by herself. It made her feel like she had some control over the whole horrible process of flying

  14. You forgot option 4: Buy an A1-15 boarding position, which the Priority card will reimburse 4x per year (and the business one also has a similar benefit, as I recall.) Just use those when you get a bad boarding position. You can now do it as soon as check-in opens. Unless all 15 positions are already sold out (relatively rare in my experience, as the business fares aren’t worthwhile for many people,) this solves the problem. Just use it strategically on flights where it seems likely to matter (i.e. when you get a bad boarding position.)

    Southwest is my #2 airline (based at BNA, where they have far more non-stop destinations than any other airline,) and I rarely have trouble getting decent seats or getting a group for seats together when traveling with family, even with BNA being an airport with a lot of passengers connecting on WN.

  15. It was my understanding that people were frustrated because:
    1) They purchased EBCI but ended up with a late B boarding position. (Not sure if people have gotten C group with EBCI — although it’s technically possible.)
    2) Or… even if they got an “ok” boarding position with EBCI, they still ended up with a crappy seat due to through passengers. I was on a flight that had 60 throughs. That’s 34% of the plane filled before anybody gets on. Then, there might be 30 pre-boards (most of those probably Jetway Jesus) At this point more than 50% of the plane has passengers and A1 has not had their board pass scanned.

    That was my understanding why they discontinued it on some routes — because people were frustrated. It was, “I spent money on EBCI and I still ended up with a crappy seat.” For the reasons I listed above.

  16. I rarely fly Southwest and simply refuse to if it is over an hour flight as the seats have become just too painful for tall people. Not being able to guarantee a seat with adequate legroom.on SWA has made me a fan of the United Economy Plus subscription.

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