Does finding a seat on a Southwest Airlines flight stress you out? You’re not alone! Southwest EarlyBird Check-in to the rescue!

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 ;-).

Plus, it saves me the stress of having to remember to check-in. Even checking in 30 seconds late can net you at the back of the boarding order on the plane!

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!

As a member, you now get better savings when you book direct.

 

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 a group 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 still need to check in with EarlyBird check-in? 

Does Southwest EarlyBird automatically check you in? Yes, Southwest automatically checks you in 36 hours ahead of your flight departure time, giving you an automatic early boarding order, BUT, you do still need to physically “check in” online or in the app.

This check-in is not to give you your boarding order – EarlyBird will already have done that – but it DOES give you your Southwest boarding pass.

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 and how do I get my boarding pass with Southwest EarlyBird check-in? 

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. And you have to click check in, per question 3 above, first to see it.

This is nerve racking, however, as it leaves you wondering if Southwest definitely DID check you in 36 hours ahead. They do!

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. See the image below.

 

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 need to 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.

So, my suggestion is that if you DO need to cancel, instead “change” your flight to any future date and any destinations. You can do so with no change fee. Keep changing your flight until you DO need to book a specific flight and go ahead and move it to those dates.

This will keep your EarlyBird attached so you don’t lose it. You just have to remember to keep moving those flights forward until you have an actual flight you’ll need to move it to. Per below, you can only do this for 1 year.

 

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.

Additionally, now many of the Southwest cards offer 2 FREE EarlyBirds, so that is giving MORE people EarlyBird, which means MORE people are using them, which could put you further back than you would prefer when purchasing this add-on.

 

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

Yes, Southwest has set some internal limits on the number of EarlyBird check-ins available for each flight, which they do not publicly share.

So that’s another reason to buy your EarlyBird early if you think you want it, but just remember if you end up having to cancel, you will lose the perk unless you “change” your flight instead.

 

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?


11. How to get FREE EarlyBird Check-in on Southwest?

There are ways to get FREE Earlybird check-in on Southwest. That is ONLY by holding a Southwest card, including card_name , card_name or card_name.

Want More Points for Free Flights on Southwest?

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Check out the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa cards, which let you earn tens of thousands of points that you can use to book free flights on Southwest!

These points also qualify for the 135,000 you need to earn the Southwest Companion Pass, so one person can fly free with you for up to 2 years.

These include...

    • card_name  (Personal: bonus_miles after a $3,000 minimum spend in 3 months)
    • card_name  (Personal: bonus_miles after a $3,000 minimum spend in 3 months)
    • card_name  (Personal: bonus_miles after a $3,000 minimum spend in 3 months)
    • card_name  (Small business: bonus_miles after a $5,000 minimum spend in 3 months; annual_fees annual fee)
    • card_name  (Small business: bonus_miles after a $3,000 minimum spend in 3 months; annual_fees annual fee)

Keep in mind you can only hold ONE personal Southwest card at a time, though you can hold 2 Southwest business cards.

To ensure you time these cards in the best way possible to easily ALWAYS have a Southwest Companion Pass, join hundreds of others inside our Families Fly Free membership, the simplest, most organized, most supportive system for flying your whole family for free.

Thanks for using our affiliate links within this post to help support our ad-free content if you decide to apply for any travel cards.

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Author

  • Lyn Mettler

    Lyn Mettler is a longtime travel writer for US News & World Report, USA Today 10Best and The TODAY Show who created Families Fly Free, a program which teaches families her simple system to use travel rewards to fly for free.

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