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 Early Bird Check-in, a service that gives you priority seating based in when you purchase it (usually at the time you book your ticket) 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 Early Bird Check-in
We eventually decided to purchase Southwest Early Bird 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 Early Bird that we’re guessing some of you have to!
Southwest Early Bird Check-in FAQs
1. How Much Does Early Bird Check-in Cost?
Early Bird costs either $15, $20 or $25 per person, per way. In August 2018, Southwest set tiered pricing based on the popularity of the route and Early Bird purchases on that route.
You won’t know the price until you check.
2. Does Southwest Early Bird 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 Early Bird DOES NOT guarantee you Zone A boarding.
It simply guarantees you get checked in 12 hours ahead of everyone who does not purchase Early Bird, increasing your chances of boarding earlier.
3. Do you have to check in if you purchase Early Bird?
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 Early Bird Check-in. That is incorrect.
You will be able to see your boarding pass after the 24 hours-ahead 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 Early Bird payment worked and that it is definitely associated with my ticket?
You will see the little Early Bird 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 Early Bird 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 Early Bird.
Additionally, you should NOT purchase Early Bird 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.
Southwest Early Bird 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.
Please see No. 7, as well, below.
7. How long are Early Bird 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 Early Bird funds are good for one year from the date of purchase. If you change your flight, your Early Bird 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 Early Bird on the new flight, regardless of the time frame.
8. In what order are Early Bird check-ins processed?
For a recent flight, my husband got A-29. Usually, he does better than that with Early Bird.
According to Southwest, if you purchase Early Bird with a more expensive fare type, you get first priority. Then it is ordered according to when you purchase Early Bird, so that could be a reason to go ahead and purchase it rather than delay, as mentioned above.
With the tiered pricing changes, that may reduce the number of people buying Early Bird 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 Early Birds available for each flight?
No. Another reason to purchase early.
10. How late can I purchase Early Bird Check-in?
You can purchase Early Bird up to 36 hours ahead of your flight time.
What other questions do you have about Early Bird check in on Southwest?
- Tips for Checking in Online for Your Next Southwest Flight
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