Southwest Will Now Let You Upgrade Your Boarding Position When You Check In Online

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Southwest Airlines has made two improvements to its mobile process: selling upgraded boarding positions when you check-in rather than forcing you to show up early at the airport in hopes you can buy this at the gate, and letting you check-in online as late as 20 minutes prior to departure.

Southwest doesn’t offer advance seat assignments, and that works well for them. It helps get passengers on the plane quickly, since people show up at the gate on time and queue up in order to get better preferred seats. That’s a huge efficiency gain.

And lack of assigned seats in advance is great for business travelers because elites and full fare passengers still have priority access to the best seats even when booking or changing flights at the last minute (while on other airlines these seats are usually already taken).

Southwest also earns money selling earlier boarding, the way some airlines earn money selling seat assignments. They offer ‘Early Bird Check-in’ – pay extra to get a boarding order in advance of those checking in 24 hours prior to flight. They have also offered ‘leftover’ spots in the first 15 positions to board the plane as an upcharge at the airport. Normally only ‘business select’ customers get these coveted places, but ask at the gate and you may be able to buy them.

Now Southwest, which has been looking for new services it can charge for and has introduced a new fare type they want customers to buy up for, will sell these leftover A1-15 boarding positions during the check-in process rather than just at the gate.

  • This is great for those who want to buy, but don’t want to get to the airport super early to do it (before any remaining spots are gone). This provides greater certainty and convenience.

  • It’s also great for Southwest because presenting the offer online to each customer checking in is likely to sell more spots than requiring customers to actually ask about the option. Sometimes there are signs at the gate offering it, but a proactive sales pitch rather than requiring customers to inquire, should leave fewer spots unsold.

This should be good news for holders of the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, both of which offer statement credits when you spend for upgraded boardings.

  • Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card has an offer to earn 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

    Cardmembers receive 9000 bonus points each year after cardmember anniversary; a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fees every four years; reimbursement for four upgraded boardings per year (A1 – A15 boarding purchased at the airport) when available; plus inflight wifi credits.

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card provides a $75 Southwest® travel credit each year; WiFi; and 4 upgraded boardings per year when available; and 7,500 anniversary points each year.

To be clear, the details on both cards still suggest that upgraded boardings are only offered at the gate. Hopefully they code the same when purchased online, or will be updated to do so quickly. For instance here is the language from the business card,

Each anniversary year you will be reimbursed for the purchase of up to 4 Upgraded Boardings which are positions A1-A15. Upgraded Boardings may be purchased at the departure gate or ticket counter on the day of travel only, when available. Price of Upgraded Boardings is based on your itinerary. Anniversary year means the year beginning with your account open date through the first statement date after your account open date anniversary, and the 12 monthly billing cycles after that each year.

Meanwhile in another positive change, Southwest has changed their mobile check-in cut off time to a mere 20 minutes, down from 60 minutes:

Side notes – we also recently changed the digital check in cutoff time to 20 minutes, vs 60 minutes – likely reducing 200 thousand errors a year due to last minute boarding pass requests.

We also improved our check-in error messages to provide better context if attempting to check in too early, or if there was a name typo…Soon we hope to launch lap child self-service booking as well split reservations.

All to the good with these changes.

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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Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of advertisers Citibank, Chase, American Express, Barclays, Capital One or any other advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.


  1. […] 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 at the gate, but last summer they began selling them during online check-in. […]


  1. Southwest . . . the Greyhound Bus company of the 21st century.

    I avoid them whenever I can.

  2. @1kbrad southwest has its niche. If you live near St. Louis, it can’t be beat for affordable nonstop flights throughout the US and no hassle booking/canceling without any extra charges ( other than optional early bird checkin which you don’t need with status anyway). Plus flights from there are rarely longer than 4 hours. Get a companion pass and it can save you thousands a year. At one point I was paying for one ticket and getting two free seats. Companion and lap infant who would usually have his own seat when the plane wasn’t full (since no assigned seats).

    For the article: I do hope this makes the upgraded boarding on the credit card more useful!

  3. I fly them whenever I can. Can’t beat 2 for 1 flying with the CP and free bags… though I would get free bags a s a PLT with AA.

    and how is AA / Delta / United really any different? Yeah you get assigned seats which is a plus but besides that?

  4. I currently purchase upgraded boarding at the gate for passengers not on my PNR. will I be able to use my SWA priority card to pay for upgraded boardings for other people when they checkin online? And get reimbursed?

  5. And why is a seat assignment on AA/Delta/United good if the seat assigned stinks (or you have to pay extra for a fungible aisle/window)? At least with SWA, if you check-in 24 hours in advance (or have A List) you are virtually guaranteed an aisle or window and place to store your bag (and you don’t pay for checked bags). Plus, getting on an SWA plane does not involve the unruly stampede of the legacy carriers. I hope the SWA Priority/Performance Biz cards give you the credit if you buy A1-15 online when checking in and don’t limit to just purchased at the airport as the fine print currently says.

  6. I consolidated all my travel away from Southwest post-pandemic due to their gestapo like tactics during the pandemic and general rude behavior. They have a good product and after flying them for 10 years, pre-pandemic, I was always impressed with their customer service attitude. Too bad they lost their way as they do offer a good alternative for domestic travel via air.

  7. @MMT – you can use your “free” upgrade purchases for anyone. People flying with you or strangers. If it shows up on your card you’ll get a credit for it.

  8. I was able to upgrade to boarding positions A2 thru A5 the day before our Grand Cayman departure for ZERO points via the mobile app. Just the day prior it showed costing over 46k points. Original booking was an Anytime fare which may have something to do with it. I was surprised to see the day over day drop to zero cost.

  9. Nickel and dime selling by airlines may help the bottom line but it feels tacky and creates an environment where loyalty isn’t honored.

    AA boarding is kind of a joke in some places where people in zone 5-8 bum rush the gate (especially in Miami) and gate attendants simply let people on rather than trying to explain and risk discord

  10. Hopefully the upgrades code the same otherwise this is a pretty sizeable loss to the value of these credit cards. Paid upgrades were hard enough to secure in the first place, if they’re now sold online an in person upgrade will be non-existent

  11. @Amit:

    21st century Greyhound Bus. That’s all WN is.

    They promise you nothing and give you what they promise.

    No lounges, no upgrades, no assigned seats, and no airline partners on which to use the points earned.

    An earlier boarding position is not an “upgrade.”

    I fly them when they are the only airline flying a route non-stop, and even then not always. I also didn’t ride Greyhound buses when they were doing the same thing.

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