What To Do If You Forget To Buy Early Bird Check-In When You Purchase Southwest Tickets

by joeheg

When you fly on Southwest, the best time to purchase the Early Bird check-in service is when you get your tickets. That’s because your space in the Early Bird line is based on when you buy the service, not when you purchased your ticket.

We usually purchase the Early Bird option when flying Southwest to get an early boarding position. The earlier you get to board a Southwest plane, you’re more likely to get your choice of seats as well as increased access to the overhead bins.

Since I’m an obsessive planner and book flights as soon as possible, we usually can get a boarding spot in the middle to end of the A boarding group. This is crucial when flying from Orlando since Family Boarding takes place between the A and B groups and in Orlando that might as well be an announcement saying “Anyone except Joe and Sharon, please board now.”

But what if you’re booking last minute, or if you forget to purchase it as I did on one of our past trips? Here were my options before our flight.

Purchase Early Bird Check-In Anyway

You’re still able to purchase Early Bird check-in. Sure, you’re in line behind everyone who bought it when they booked their tickets but who knows how many people that will be. Southwest increased the price to either $15, $20 or $25 (our flight would cost $20 per person); families might opt out of paying for it and go with the family boarding instead.

Take Your Chances And Check In At Exactly 24 Hours

This used to be the only way to get a good boarding spot for Southwest. Check in opens up 24 hours before your flight and the sooner you check in, the better your boarding number. There’s a chance people will miss the exact moment to check in. Since it’s just the two of us, there’s a good chance as long as we’re in group B that we can snag two seats together as long as one of us is willing to sit in the middle seat.


Maybe that’s not the best plan and it’s always good to have a backup, just in case.

Purchase Upgraded Boarding At The Gate

Screen Shot 2019-05-28 at 9.18.19 PM

The best way to get a good boarding position on Southwest is to pay for Upgraded Boarding at the gate, if available.

For just $30, $40 or $50, you can pay to upgrade to boarding positions A1-A15 at the gate. These are held for those who purchased a top-dollar Business Select fare. If there are any spots left, Southwest will sell them at the gate.

If you check in at 24 hours and get a terrible boarding number, you can see if there are any upgrades available for purchase. Would you rather pay $40 to board first or pay $20 to be at the end of the line for Early Bird, just in front of the people who checked in at 23:59:59 before the flight?

How To Soften The Blow Of Buying An Upgrade


The Southwest Priority Card is the best personal co-brand card from Southwest.

While the card has a $149 annual fee, it offers a $75 Southwest credit and reimbursement for 4 upgraded boarding charges per anniversary year. For the $149 fee, I could possibly get $160 in upgrade fees, $75 in Southwest ticket charges and 40,000 Rapid Rewards points, which isn’t bad at all.

If I were looking to get the Southwest Companion Pass, I’d need to plan when to get the card. However, I’ve had a Companion Pass and for us, it’s not worth the trouble or effort to try to get it again. Your Mileage May Vary.

Final Thoughts

There are situations where you haven’t purchased Southwest’s Early Bird service from necessity or absentmindedness and it’s almost time for your flight. All is not lost if you consider all of your options.

Want to comment on this post? Great! Read this first to help ensure it gets approved.
Want to sponsor a post, write something for Your Mileage May Vary or put ads on our site? Click here for more info.

Like this post? Please share it! We have plenty more just like it and would love it if you decided to hang around and sign up to get emailed notifications of when we post.

Whether you’ve read our articles before or this is the first time you’re stopping by, we’re really glad you’re here and hope you come back to visit again!

This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Ross Cunningham May 29, 2019 - 3:53 pm

Southwest A-List or A-List Priority levels will not get you a A1 – A15 boarding spot. Only purchasing a Business Select ticket will get you the first 15 spots. A-List and A-List Priority does get you automatic check in 36 hours before the flight.

joeheg May 29, 2019 - 4:00 pm

Thanks. I’ll correct. Website says “best available boarding pass” and I thought that meant the very front.

Dan February 10, 2022 - 12:01 pm

“Since it’s just the two of us, there’s a good chance as long as we’re in group B that we can snag two seats together as long as one of us is willing to sit in the middle seat.” How else sure you going to sit together, even if you have A1 and A2, unless someone sits in the middle? Please don’t tell me you are the type of couple that makes some poor stranger sit between you two while you talk over them. I’ve been that stranger before and it sucks


Leave a Comment