Our Experience: Southwest Airlines’ Upgraded Boarding vs. Early Bird Check-In

by joeheg

We often travel with Southwest Airlines, usually taking at least one trip a year. This is why it makes sense for us to have the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority co-brand credit card, even with its $149 annual fee. The card comes with 4 Upgraded Boarding credits, which would have cost $40 each for our most recent flights. Additionally, we get 7,500 points and a $75 annual Southwest credit.

However, after my most recent flights, I’m wondering how much money Southwest is raking in from Early Bird check-in fees. We don’t pay for Early Bird anymore, mainly because I get Upgraded Boarding. However, I can only apply for the upgrade to the available spots from A1-A15 at 24 hours before check-in. That means I’m waiting by my phone, just like everyone else who didn’t pay for Early Bird. This gives me an idea of what spots people who don’t pay extra get when checking in exactly 24 hours before the flight.

How Many People Pay For Early Bird?

For our flight to Austin, I used the Southwest app to check in. Even though I tried to check in exactly 24 hours before the flight, I had to refresh the app. This led to a 30-second delay, resulting in our seat assignments of B-53 and B-54.

This means that everyone with a spot in front of us either checked in during those 30 seconds, or paid for Early Bird. That’s about 2/3 of the passengers, which is a decent amount of revenue for Southwest.

I instantly clicked to apply for Upgraded Boarding and received seats A-11 and A-12, which means we could have missed out if I waited a few more minutes. Note that this was at 11:31 AM, only 1 minute after check-in for the flight opened up.

a screenshot of a flight

I took advantage of boarding the plane first to snag the best seat on a Southwest plane.

a person's legs in a seat on an airplane

Could I do worse for the next flight?

For our flight home, it was more difficult to arrange to be available exactly 24 hours before our flight. In fact, I was standing in line to enter Schlitterbahn when check in opened. I had the same problem with the app and did even worse than our incoming flight, getting us positions C-08 and C-09.

With Upgraded Boarding, we were able to get boarding spots A-7 and A-8.

a screenshot of a phone

Final Thought

Unless you’re traveling alone, don’t care about not having overhead space, and don’t mind a middle seat, it seems like you need to pay for Early Bird to not board at the back of the B section or even with the C group. Waiting to get Upgraded Boarding is a risk because it might be sold out. However, since only Business Select tickets can get those spots before check-in, you can usually get an early boarding spot when checking in 24 hours before the flight.

It doesn’t matter how much the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority co-brand card charges as long as it keeps reimbursing the fee. So, for semi-regular Southwest flyers, it’s still the best value for getting an early boarding space.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

1 comment

Rufuss C. Kingston June 18, 2024 - 3:19 pm

Since the app has some sort of time limit, stop using it to check in, use the phone web browser instead, it shouldn’t care about how long it was on the page, though I suggest you refresh 30-15 sec before go time!!


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