southwest 'early bird checkin' worth it?

I’m leaving for vegas on SW air next sunday. Early bird check in is and extra $12.50 ($50 total for two people both ways). I’ve never flown southwest. Is the early bird checkin really worth it?

Southwest doesn’t do assigned seating; you pick your seat when you board the plane. The order in which you board the plane is established by the time at which you check in for the flight. Online check-in for a flight usually “opens up” 24 hours before the scheduled departure time for the flight.

In my recent experience with Southwest, even if you check in online right at that 24 hour point, you might wind up with a check-in number somewhere between #30 to #50, if not even further down the list (out of ~130 seats on a Southwest 737). Why this is important is that, if you’re in the last portion of the boarding line, you’ll almost undoubtedly wind up with a middle seat, and likely won’t be able to sit together (since there are two of you).

Early bird check-in lets you establish your place in the line when you buy the ticket, rather than when you actually check in for the flight.

So, unless you are certain that you’ll be able to check in for your flight right when check-in opens, or if you don’t care where you sit, the early bird fee may be worth it for you.

The one (and only) time I few Southwest, there was no on-line check-in yet. The rule was, your boarding sequence was determined by your actual time of arrival at the gate. I got there super-early and got boarding card #1. Yay, me!!

But then when boarding actually began, a previously unmentioned rule was hauled out: families with small children FIRST, even before boarding card #1. And a family could be any number of adults and one child. Needless to say, I was the LAST person allowed on the plane, and got a horrible seat.

I swore I would never fly them again, and haven’t.

I don’t know what the procedures are today, but my point is: if you pay extra for the privilege, make sure you won’t have your privilege usurped by “families” with “small children” or any other such scam, which people will surely abuse if they can.

I paid for it the last time I flew on Southwest. My wife is a little afraid of flying and would be more panicked if we sat separately. So it was worth it to make sure that we sat together.

If I was flying alone, I wouldn’t pay for it.

In addition, something like the first 15 seats are reserved for people who paid for Business Select. So even with the early bird you won’t be able to get on right away.

Yikes, that sucks. I would be pissed too.

It’s not like that anymore. Now they board “People who need assistance,” i.e. people in wheelchairs first, then the A group, then families with children.

FWIW, I flew Southwest a few weeks ago, and checked in exactly at the right time, and wound up in the B boarding group both times. But there were still plenty of seats (I even scored a Exit row aisle seat on one leg).

The first time I used this was when I wasn’t going to be able to check in exactly 24 hours in advance. It was well worth it. More and more people are doing it though - the last time my wife got early bird check-in she was still in the A30 - 60 range. Which is fine.

If you check in exactly 24 hour before, and you don’t mind taking the AB, BC DE or EF seats, you are fine not doing it, since the B seats go last. SW is better than most since there is less incentive for people to bring gigantic bags on board, since luggage is free.

I flew them before the current system where you just got letters, and it was chaos at the gate. The new system is far better. Too bad they’ve gotten expensive.

When I fly Southwest, I check in online 24hrs prior and usually get boarding group A.
But, when I get on the plane, I go all the way to the back and sit in nearly the last row. Since most of the folks who board first sit right up front, I know there’ll be overhead space for my bag, no one else will be wrangling around to get situated at that time and, since I sit on the aisle when I can, the next 200-or-so people boarding won’t be banging my elbow getting past me.

Early bird isn’t worth the additional money in my estimation.

Also the blind. I use a guide cane even though I can see a little, and I (and, usually, my family members, if they’re with me) always get a blue pre-board pass. Haven’t flown more than 4 rows from the front in the last couple of years.

On other airlines, I also get to pre-board, but I have to sit in the assigned cheap seats in the back. I like Southwest better. :slight_smile:

More directly to the OP, I have rarely gotten boarding numbers better than B15 with online check-in recently. I think most of the A group is now going to people who pay for the priority seating or a more expensive class of ticket.

Virtually all my flying is with Southwest, since I have a Southwest affinity credit card and get lots of free trips.

Someone mentioned checking in “about” 24 hours before. No, you need to check in EXACTLY 24 hours before. They open check in exactly 24 hours before. Getting a low boarding number gives you the best options on where to sit, and ensures there will be overhead bin space for your roll-on.


Boarding on Southwest:

People needing extra assistance who have checked in and have a blue boarding sleeve
A group 1-15, paid for the privilege
A group 16-30, A-List and A-List preferred. We are automatically booked into our spot in line based on our history with Southwest. I fly them every week, my boarding pass ranges from 16-25
A group 31-60 - fast with the fingers or paid for auto check in.
Anyone else who is A list but for some reason have a bad boarding pass (like switched tickets at the last minute)
Families with little kids
B Group
C Group

The last time I flew SWA there was a guy who was pissed because he paid for the Early Bird and still got something in the mid-Bs. The gate agent carefully explained that everyone ahead of him had also paid for the Early Bird check-in.

So if that was any indication, not buying it will put you in the latter half of the people checking in. That means you can’t really guarantee that you’ll be able to sit together or that one or both of you won’t be stuck in a middle seat. So it depends on how much that guarantee is worth to you.

(As a fairly big dude who is also somewhat claustrophobic, knowing that I’ll be able to get an aisle seat is easily worth the $12.50 for anything but the shortest hop.)

Once I was standing in line by a guy who said he had about three clocks synchronized so that he would click at exactly 24 hours before.
Or I should say I was standing in front of him in the line. :smiley:
I don’t have a roll on, so anything up to the middle Bs works for me. But I like the challenge of hitting 24 hours exactly.

How could you have been the last person? Was every single other passenger truly in the above categories???

That said: I don’t know if they challenge anyone on the “person requiring extra assistance” rule. A few years back, we flew outbound on Christmas Day, but the return trip was on New Year’s and we got to the gate as they were announcing boarding (due to crazy-long lines at baggage check and security). We’d have been up a creek without a paddle - and we had two youngish (7 and 10 years old) kids with us who wouldn’t have been able to sit near a parent w/o intervention from a flight attendant.

Fortunately I had the foresight to fall and break my arm while on vacation, so we got in under the “anyone needing assistance or extra time” rule and got to sit together. I don’t personally recommend this approach - the bills for the ER and later followup were surely more than 40-50 dollars.

Usually, I have two browser windows open. One is open to the Southwest page with my cursor sitting over the “checkin” button. The second window is open to the page so that I can get as close to exactly 24 hours in advance as possible.

Edited to add, usually I’m too cheap to actually pay for the early bird check-in.

Regular SW flyer concurs:

[li] Early bird is not worth the money. It’s a shuck. As the whole preselling of the A group is Southwest’s only bend so far towards the nickel-and-diming other carriers now do, it’s a pretty small inconvenience.[/li][li] Check in the minute you’re allowed to (24 hours before flight time) and you will very likely get an A-group.[/li][li]The preboarding of families etc. is not new and goes back at least 20 years. I’ve never seen it seriously abused in all that time.[/li][li]Put your overhead bag in the first open bin you come to. Don’t schelp it all the way to your seat and then look around helplessly. If it’s in a forward compartment, you can get to your seat, and then back out of most of the plane, without lugging it. There is no rule about putting it over your seat, and it’s long since past as a courtesy issue. Late boarders have to find places; you aren’t changing that.[/li][li]Couples should never have a problem sitting together; if you board late, ask a stewardess and she will find singles to move. More than two can be a problem.[/li][/ul]

I wonder if there’s a PC or smartphone app that could automate checking in precisely 24 hours in advance. (Although I’m slightly annoyed that this was mentioned in the thread, as I’ve made a point of not mentioning the advantage of doing so to anyone.)

Would be easy to create.

But once it’s in common use, it would have little net value: PCs and phones are now fighting to check in at exactly the same time, and the same number of people wind up with what they consider the short end of the stick. Frustration is transferred to the app & its designers.

As someone who doesn’t have many claustrophobic concerns, and a victim of full flights just about every flight I’ve been on, I don’t see the allure of priority seating. I either have my pick of seats, sit on the tarmac for an extra 15-20 mins, be packed anyway, and the noise factor is negligible with headphones.

I don’t even board when they call my row anymore. I just wait until the line dies all the way down and get in line when they’re about to close up shop. An extra 15 mins where I don’t have to breathe recycled air. I guess with SW with no assigned seating you’d be stuck at the back with the bathrooms but if you sit in the back you also get to chat with the flight attendants in their jumpseats.

Never mind.