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I am personally a huge Southwest person. I love the free checked bags, the no change/cancellation fees, and above all my Southwest Companion Pass! Yes, I will never be upgraded to a first class seat (there aren’t any) and cannot be guaranteed my beloved window seat. With that being said, I do not care and that does not sway me away from Southwest.
Southwest has an extremely different seating and boarding policy then every other domestic airline. There are no pre-assigned seats and you board based on your boarding number. When you check into your flight (24 hours prior to the flights departure time), you’ll receive your boarding number. The boarding numbers go in order based on check in time, so checking in the minute that 24 hour mark hits is pretty critical.
However, for those that do not want to manually check in and worry about not getting a good boarding number, Southwest will do it for you – for a fee of $15 per passenger. This EarlyBird Check-In will get you a better boarding number then the passengers that manually check in themselves.
While typically this will get you an A boarding pass (boarding passes range from A1 through C60), there is no guarantee. There are a few additional factors that determine your boarding number. Those that pay for the business select seats will be the first passengers to be assigned a boarding pass. Then, those with status will be granted a boarding number. A-List and A-List Preferred members will also get a boarding number before those that pay for EarlyBird Check-In.
The next group to get their boarding numbers are those that paid for the EarlyBird Check-In. This gives you automatic check-in and ideally a good boarding number. Remember though, if you are on a flight with a bunch of business travelers and frequent Southwest fliers that have status, your boarding number might not be as good as you thought it would be. As I mentioned above, there is no guarantee you’ll be in group A, but you have a much better shot then if you didn’t purchase the extra Check-In fee.
While many people love this EarlyBird Check-In option, there is one thing to keep in mind. The EarlyBird Check-In fee of $15 is non-refundable! So if you purchase your flight, add on this extra charge, and have to cancel your flight, you are out the $15. You have up until 36 hours prior to your flights departure time to purchase the EarlyBird Check-In, so you absolutely do not have to purchase it when initially booking your flight. Keep in mind though that the boarding numbers are given out based on when you purchased the EarlyBird Check-In option. So someone that purchased it 6 months out will get a better number then someone who purchased in 4 days in advance. But if there is a slight chance you’ll need to cancel your flight, I suggest holding off for a little bit to actually pay the extra $15.
Now, if you are simply looking to just change your flight (and not fully cancel) the EarlyBird Check-In will stay in tact. The fee paid is tied to your reservation number, so as long as your reservation number doesn’t change you are good. The only restriction is that you must change the flight at least 25 hours prior to the original flights departure time, and the new flight must be more then 25 hours from when the change it made.
I personally have never paid for EarlyBird Check-In and do not think it is worth it. When I am flying with my family we allowed to board during Family Boarding which is between the A and B boarding group. And if I am not traveling with my kids, then I really do not care what seat I get. I am actually extremely on top of checking in for my flight and will make sure to be on my phone or computer exactly 24 hours in advance.