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Sunday Savings Series: Is Early Bird Check-In Necessary on Southwest?

The view out the window from our Boarding Group A seats… 

In a day and age when cutting corners and extra charges have become the norm with most airlines, Southwest is a breath of fresh air. You do not have to pay for a carry-on. You do not have to pay to check a bag. In fact, you can check a second bag without paying any extra if you want! You also do not have to pay for your seat assignment. That is because there are no assigned seats. Don’t worry, it is not a free for all. You will be assigned a boarding group and position within that group, and you will board the plane in that order.

If you are scared that you will get stuck in the middle seat of the last row of the plane, and all the overhead bin space will be gone, Southwest does have a solution. They offer an upcharge called Early Bird Check-In. This perk starts at $15 per person, depending on the flight. That might not seem like a lot, but if you’re trying to save money, every dollar can make a difference.

When my husband, daughter, and I flew to New England to spend Christmas with my family, we flew up on Southwest. They had never flown Southwest before. I had, but I was alone. We elected not to add the additional $45 to the tickets, so we did not have Early Bird Check-In. My husband was sure that it was going to be chaos, but I told him we would be fine. If we didn’t all sit together it would not be the end of the world.

The key to getting good boarding group placement with Southwest is to check-in for your flight the moment that you can. That means setting an alarm and being signed into the website or app and ready to go exactly 24 hours before you are scheduled to leave. I did this on our recent trip, and we ended up in Boarding Group A, positions 45, 46, and 47. When we boarded the plane we were in the sixth row. I was glad that we didn’t spend that extra $45!

You might wonder what the advantage of Early Bird Check-In is. Besides getting the best available boarding position, you will be checked in automatically. I’ve had trips where checking in exactly 24 hours in advance just was not possible. It would be nice to not have to worry about it. With Early Bird Check-In, you’ll be checked in 36 hours in advance, instead of 24. You don’t want to be on Space Mountain and realize that your check-in window just opened.

If you are traveling with kids six and under, don’t worry that you will be separated. Each child under the age of six will be allowed to board with two adults before the B and C Boarding Groups. No one wants to break up a family, and no one wants to sit next to a child who knows that Mom is three rows back. I know families who will pay for Early Bird Check-In for this reason, but I honestly don’t think that it’s necessary.

What if you are traveling with children over the age of six? This is when you might want to spring for Early Bird Check-In; if you can’t check in yourself exactly 24 hours in advance. This is the only time that I think it might be worth the cost.

We have a family friend who always will pay the extra for Early Bird Check-In, and he will not fly Southwest without it. That said, I have never ended up in a bad boarding group. I have never been stuck in the middle seat because my placement was too low. When I’ve been in Group B, there were still rows of seats open when I boarded. If you are looking for places to shave a few dollars off of your Walt Disney World vacation, think twice before paying for Early Bird Check-In. Use the money that you save for more souvenirs, and fill that second checked bag.