Southwest Airlines is unique in that it doesn’t offer assigned seating. Its first-come, first-served system is based on how early you check into your flight.
If you’re traveling with your family or friends, or if you want a specific area of the plane, Southwest offers Early Bird check-in. You pay a fee for the right to automatically check into your flight before the general public has a chance to do so.
But is it worth the price?
That’s what a listener of the Clark Howard Podcast recently asked.
Should I Pay for Early Bird Check-In on Southwest Flights?
Should I pay for Southwest Early Bird check-in if I want to sit with my husband?
That’s what a Clark listener wanted to know on the March 23 podcast episode.
Asked Lynn in Georgia: “Is it worth it to add early bird check-in when flying Southwest? This is our first time flying them, and I want to make sure my husband and I can sit together.”
Let’s get into a bit more detail about Southwest Early Bird check-in. According to the airline, the option gives you “the convenience of automatic check-in before our traditional 24-hour check-in. … You’ll have the benefit of an earlier boarding position, a better opportunity to select your preferred available seat, and earlier access to overhead bin storage.”
Southwest Early Bird check-in costs $15 to $25 depending on the popularity and length of your flight. The airline boards in A, B and C groups, with each person receiving a number from 1 to 60. Early Bird check-in doesn’t guarantee you an A group, Southwest says, but it might as well.
“On long-haul Southwest flights, I find that a very high percentage of passengers pay for Early Bird check-in,” Clark says. “On flights of let’s say two hours or less, I find relatively few people pay for Early Bird.
“So if you’re really worried and you’re going on a long-haul flight, then you pay the Early Bird charge where Southwest automatically checks you in ahead of the normal earthlings who are allowed to check in 24 hours in advance exactly.”
Does Clark Purchase Early Bird Check-In from Southwest?
Clark is a notorious traveler and deal-seeker. Of course, he’s taken many a Southwest flight. Does he purchase Early Bird for himself or for his family?
“I have never, ever paid for Early Bird. Because I always set an alarm and check in exactly 24 hours in advance [of my flight],” Clark says.
“We’ve never ended up in a center seat. And as far as being able to sit together, that has not been a problem checking in exactly 24 hours in advance.”
Considering all the airline surcharges these days, paying a $15 fee so that you can avoid getting crammed into a middle seat several rows away from your family members or friends is not the worst possible fee.
But why pay $15 a pop if you don’t need to do so?
Following Clark’s method and checking in exactly 24 hours before your flight, as soon as the check-in process opens, should be all the advantage you need to get a decent seat.
If you do that, you can save your $15 for … a small airport sandwich and a bottled water. But that’s a story for another day.