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Southwest EarlyBird Check-in: What You Need to Know

Does finding a seat on a Southwest Airlines flight stress you out? You’re not alone!

Because the airline does not offer seat assignments, seating is first-come first serve, which all depends on your Southwest Check-in time.

But the airline does offer Southwest EarlyBird Check-in, a service that gives you priority seating based on when you purchase it (either at the time you purchase your ticket–the best chance for good seats OR sometime later before actual check in) and which can save you a lot of unnecessary stress :).

With a family of four, we have developed an art to the check-in process to ensure at least one parent and one child can sit together on every flight.

While you can pretty much make sure that happens with a little planning, it’s not possible to ensure you have your choice of seats (say front-of-plane or an aisle seat) without some sort of priority boarding.

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Southwest EarlyBird Check-in

Southwest Early Bird Check in
Credit: Southwest Airlines


We eventually decided to purchase Southwest EarlyBird Check-in every time for my husband. He is tall and requires a roomier seat in order to be a happy camper.

Because we have continued to forget to check in — or gotten the time zones wrong — multiple times upon our return flight from a destination, giving us last-in-order seating on Southwest, we’ve decided $15-$25 per flight is worth it to know he can pick a window or aisle seat — and save a few disagreements ;-).

As we’ve begun navigating this road, we’ve come upon a couple questions about EarlyBird that we’re guessing some of you have also!


Southwest EarlyBird Check-in FAQs

Southwest Early Bird Check-in


1. How Much Does EarlyBird Check-in Cost?

Early Bird costs either $15, $20 or $25 per person, per way. Southwest set tiered pricing based on the popularity of the route and EarlyBird purchases on that route.

You won’t know the price until you check.


2. Does Southwest EarlyBird Check-in guarantee you Zone A boarding?

Those assigned Zone A (listed on your boarding pass) are the first group of passengers to board the plane, but EarlyBird DOES NOT guarantee you Zone A boarding.

It simply guarantees you get checked in 12 hours ahead of everyone who does not purchase EarlyBird, increasing your chances of boarding earlier.


3. Do you have to check in if you purchase EarlyBird? 

No. Southwest automatically checks you in 36 hours ahead of your flight departure time.

Everyone else has to manually check-in starting no earlier than 24 hours ahead of flight time.


4. When can I see my boarding pass? 

We wrongly assumed that we would be able to see my husband’s boarding pass at the 36 hours ahead point when we purchased Southwest EarlyBird Check-in. That is incorrect.

You will be able to see your boarding pass after the 24 hour point, just like everyone else.

This is nerve racking, however, as it leaves you wondering if Southwest definitely DID check you in 36 hours ahead. They have checked him in so far.

To see it, you will go to Southwest Check in on the website or app, type in your confirmation number and name and then click enter or continue. Your boarding pass should populate.


5. How do I know my EarlyBird payment worked and that it is definitely associated with my ticket? 

You will see the little EarlyBird symbol next to your name on your flight reservation on the Southwest app or on Southwest.com.

It looks like a sunrise :).


6. If I cancel my flight, is EarlyBird refunded?

No. So it may be best to wait closer to the date of your flight to make sure you will not cancel before purchasing EarlyBird. 

Additionally, you should NOT purchase EarlyBird if you are “holding” a seat on a flight for a future Companion for those of you who hold the Southwest Companion Pass.

Why? Because you won’t get this money back when you cancel the flight and add them as your Companion. The funds also don’t transfer to the new ticket.

[Here’s what you should do instead if you need to “hold” a seat for your Companion]

Southwest EarlyBird Check-in does transfer, though, if you change your flight, but only if the change is made 25 hours ahead of the original flight time.


7. How long are EarlyBird funds valid if you need to change a flight?

Although we could not find this in writing on Southwest.com, we did confirm with a Southwest Customer Service Agent that EarlyBird funds are good for one year from the date of purchase.

If you change your flight, your EarlyBird funds will transfer to the new flight, but if you exceed the one year period, you will lose the funds.

If Southwest makes changes to your flight, you will still have EarlyBird on the new flight, regardless of the time frame. 


8. In what order are EarlyBird check-ins processed?

For a recent flight, my husband got A-29. Usually, he does better than that with EarlyBird.

According to Southwest, if you purchase EarlyBird with a more expensive fare type, you get first priority.

Then it is ordered according to when you purchase EarlyBird, so that could be a reason to go ahead and purchase it earlier rather than later, as mentioned above.

With the tiered pricing changes, that may reduce the number of people buying EarlyBird and improve your chances of getting a better boarding order.

However, A-29 is still WAY good for my husband to get his choice of seat.


9. Is there a limit to the number of EarlyBirds available for each flight?

No, which is another reason to purchase early.


10. How late can I purchase EarlyBird Check-in?

You can purchase EarlyBird up to 36 hours ahead of your flight time.

What other questions do you have about EarlyBird check in on Southwest?


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12 thoughts on “Southwest EarlyBird Check-in: What You Need to Know”

  1. On a recent trip Southwest made changes to our itinerary due to weather. We had paid for Early Bird but it was not honored. To be fair, they may have issued some boarding passes for the flights we were changed to prior to shifting us to those flights.

  2. Very helpful post! We just returned from Vegas and I was the only one signed up for Early Bird. I wanted to do a little EB test. I signed up just 5 days before the flight and was assigned B7. I did not sign up my son, but checked him in 24 hours beforehand and he was B12, so not much of a difference. Still sat in mid plane (aisle/window) on a sold out flight.

    • Interesting you got B level on early bird. They don’t guarantee A so that is definitely a possibility. Does show that purchasing earlier should help. We purchased earlier though this trip and my husband got A25 and we checked in 24 hours ahead of time and were around the end of A. So not much of a difference there either. However, I’m always afraid I’ll forget to check us in 24 hours ahead of time and at least he has better seating already lined up 🙂

  3. If you buy early bird, and then rebook the flight because of lower price/points, the time of the new ticket is used for early bird assignment. A friend booked his ticket after my original ticket, I rebooked because of price change, he did not, his boarding number was prior to mine.

    • Thanks Phil. Yes, that makes sense to me since the order is based on the time of booking (or rebooking your case :)), but that’s definitely something to keep in mind when considering if you should rebook or not!

  4. Southwest seating policy has always been a major form of stress for every trip, especially with a family of four. Paying an extra $200 roundtrip for us to buy early bird is really expensive too. I check in right at the exact 24 hour mark, and still have a terrible position every time. We end up in the last or second last row of the plane & sometimes can’t even sit together as there is one person in every row sitting by themselves. Plus checking in for the return trip is always difficult as you may be in a theme park with less than perfect internet speeds. When will Southwest ever consider having assigned seats on at least some flights? When I fly on JB I can get a great seat right up front, with no stress & can just relax.

    • Hi JR,
      Agreed. Southwest seating is the worst part of the whole thing, but I try to look at is as I’m willing to deal with it in order to fly free :). We rarely get early bird any more (sometimes my husband will and he can usually keep the middle seat for one of my sons) and it varies what position we get. But we’ve never not been able to sit one parent and one child together even when we were toward the back of C group. We were in the back of the plane, but we could sit 2 and 2. We, too, have trouble checking in on the return. Recently we were at a state park on the coast of San Diego with NO signal. I had to hike back to the visitor’s center, check us in and then meet my family on the return part of the hike 🙂 You may want to try the automated check in hack that works for some people More about that here or if you know you aren’t going to have WiFi, that’s a good reason to go ahead and get EarlyBird for that flight.

  5. When they raised the Early Bird Check-in fee I stopped using it. $25 is no longer worth it to me to use Early Bird check-in. I check in 24 hours ahead and do just fine. Round trip I save $50 which is a nice steak dinner out at a very nice restaurant. It was a good value at $10 just for the convenience, but as always, companies have to ruin a good thing due to greed. Southwest will continue raising the fee and soon it will cost the same as the ticket itself.

    • I also think it has to do with the fact that so many people were paying for Early Bird that many people still weren’t getting good boarding order with Early Bird. So by raising the price, they’ve reduced the number of people buying it and so those who do buy it have a better chance of getting a good boarding order. Sort of like Disney raising prices. That’s about the only thing they can do to try to control the number of people coming! Plus, they make more money at the same time ;-).


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