Southwest EarlyBird Check-In When Changing and Canceling a Flight

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A few days ago I wrote a post saying that you should never “change” a Southwest flight and instead just cancel and re-book. The main reason is because Southwest recently changed their reservation platform, and when you change a flight, any fully refundable fares automatically become non-refundable. If you then need to cancel a flight, any amount that you would have originally gotten back to your credit card will instead go towards a travel voucher. To get around this, you can instead cancel your flight and then re-book. But there is one major disadvantage – if you already paid for EarlyBird Check-In, you’ll lose it.

Let me first start off with saying that this only impacts those that book a fully refundable fare. Those fares include:

  • Flights booked with points
  • Business Select fares –> this fare includes an A1-A15 boarding pass, so you are not impacted by canceling and rebookingyour flight as you’d never add on EarlyBird check-in anyways
  • Anytime fares

**If you paid for a “Wanna Get Away” fare (and did not use points) you are NOT impacted. That is because these fares are non-refundable anyways, so if you cancel the amount paid goes back to a travel voucher regardless.

So What Happens if you Change your Flight, then Cancel

Let’s assume you book a flight that costs 10,000 points and $5.60 in fees. After it is booked you pay $15 to add on the EarlyBird check-in option. A few weeks later you notice that your flight decreased to only 6,000 point. If you change your flight, meaning you just re-book and keep the same confirmation number, you’ll receive 4,000 points back into your account and keep your EarlyBird check-in.

Now, if you need to cancel your flight, you’ll receive the 6,000 points back into your account and $5.60 back in a travel voucher. The travel voucher is valid for 12 months from when the flight was originally booked and is non-transferable. You also do not get the $15 back you paid for EarlyBird check-in.

Now, if there is close to a zero chance you’ll cancel your flight, this is probably the best option for you to ensure you keep your EarlyBird check-in attached to your reservation.

So What Happens if you Cancel your Flight, Rebook, then Cancel

Let’s assume you book a flight that costs 10,000 points and $5.60 in fees. After it is booked you pay $15 to add on the EarlyBird check-in option. A few weeks later you notice that your flight decreased to only 6,000 point. To keep the flight fully refundable, you decide to cancel the flight (you get 10,000 points back to your account and $5.60 back to your credit card), and then re-book the flight at the lower amount of points required (you pay 6,000 points and $5.60). While your flight is still kept as fully refundable, you lost the $15 paid for EarlyBird check-in. Since EarlyBird check-in follows the reservation number and is non-refundable, once the reservation is canceled it is no longer tied to your account/flight.

However, if you need to cancel your flight, you’ll receive the 6,000 points back to your account and the $5.60 back to your credit card. You will not be out any taxes/fees paid and will not have to worry about receiving a travel voucher that is tied to your name and an expiration date.

While this is the best way to ensure you do not receive a travel voucher, it can impact EarlyBird check-in. If there is any chance you might have to cancel your flight, I highly suggest doing the canceling and re-booking option instead of the changing option. I also then recommend not adding on EarlyBird check-in until you are close to 100% sure you will not be canceling your flight.

Adding EarlyBird Check-In to your Flight

EarlyBird Check-In costs $15 and you have up until 36 hours prior to your flights departure time to purchase this added option, so you absolutely do not have to purchase it when initially booking your flight. But, the boarding numbers are given out based on when you purchased the EarlyBird Check-In. So someone that purchased it 6 months out will get a better number then someone who purchased it 4 days in advance. So for the scenarios above, 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.

Is EarlyBird Check-In Worth It?

I personally have never paid for EarlyBird Check-In and do not think it is worth it. But that is me. I am an easy flier and can curl up into a ball if need be. I am not picky. I personally care more about my experience at the destination where I am traveling to vs. the actual flight experience. Also, when I am flying with my family we are allowed to board during Family Boarding which is in-between the A and B boarding group. I am also extremely on top of checking in for my flight and will make sure to do so exactly 24 hours in advance.

Also, keep in mind that while the scenario above shows an example of a domestic flight where the taxes/fees are only $5.60, many international flights can cost you over $50. So getting a travel voucher for that amount is not ideal. Especially since when you use a travel voucher, the flight automatically is equivalent to a non-refundable fare. This is because if you need to cancel your flight, the remaining amount paid on your credit card is given back to you in a travel voucher and carries the same expiration date as the original travel voucher used.

My recommendation would be to wait a little bit to pay the $15 until you are confident that your flight price will not go down in price or that you will not be canceling your reservation. Even with a B boarding ticket, you’ll definitely not be stuck in a middle seat.

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Comments

  1. This issue with the refundable fare becoming “non-refundable”…
    Has SWA addressed this? How can something that is advertised as fully refundable turn into a non-refundable?

    • @Patrick – When you go to change a flight, Southwest does give a big warning that changing a flight will make your reservation non-refundable. However, not sure they give this same warning when you book it or add on EarlyBird check-in.

  2. “boarding numbers are given out based on when you purchased the EarlyBird Check-In.”. This is not true.

    I have experienced this many times and stopped purchasing EarlyBird Check-In.

    I usually purchase tickets 4 people(family of 4). Have many times brought EarlyBird Check-In for 2 tickets alone, so as to secure the seats for the kids. However I have come up with better numbers(Check-In exactly 24 hours before the flight) for the tickets for which I did not buy EarlyBird. This did not happen once or twice but happened on multiple occasions.

    I have complained many times and no one ever gave me a proper answer.

    I no longer buy EarlyBird.

    • @BlackHill – Very interesting. Technically it is supposed to be that EarlyBird check-in gets boarding passes prior to those that check-in manually. I’ve never purchased EarlyBird check-in so cannot speak from personal experience though.

    • The difference is how many A list and A list preferred are on the flight. It does go by when you paid for early bird, as far as getting in the early bird “line” but if for instance there are not many A Listers on the plane, then more people who paid for early bird will get in the A group, or if not many people paid for early bird, you will get a better position. I forgot to add early bird to my ticket once (Companion Pass) but had added to my husbands. I didn’t add mine until a couple of weeks before we left and he was like.. A 17 and I was B 2. I don’t purchase it if there is a decent chance that we will cancel the reservation but I also don’t purchase it close in. It isn’t worth it to have B boarding.

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