Many people fly Southwest Airlines for the low fares, free checked bags and no change fees, but its boarding process is one that passengers either love or hate.
In this post, I’ll provide three ways to ALWAYS get a “good” seat when flying on Southwest.
How Southwest’s boarding process works
If you’re not familiar, Southwest has an open seating policy. You’re assigned a boarding group (A, B or C) and position (1-60) that you can find on your boarding pass.
Passengers will line up at the gate based on their boarding group and position.
Family boarding is permitted. An adult with a child six or younger can board after the A group and before the B group.
Preboarding is allowed for unaccompanied minors and passengers with disabilities.
Don’t want a middle seat? How to get a window or aisle seat on Southwest
I fly Southwest several times a year and prefer a window seat near the front of the plane. I’ll also take a window or aisle seat near the back of the aircraft to avoid a middle seat.
Based on my experience, it’s not difficult to get a window or aisle seat on a fully-booked flight if you’re part of the A or B boarding groups.
Those seats begin to become more scarce when the B 31-60 passengers are called.
For passengers in the C group, a middle seat may be all that’s left. At this stage, there may also be no more overhead bin space available for carry-on bags.
The bottom line: You’re going to have a more pleasant boarding experience on Southwest if you’re in the A or B boarding groups.
Read on for my three tips to always get your favorite seat on Southwest Airlines…
1. Check in exactly 24 hours before your flight
Southwest lets you check in for your flight 24 hours before it departs, so set an alarm on your smartphone and have your confirmation number handy.
Either go to Southwest.com or click “Check in” from the itinerary the airline emailed you.
To get a seat in the A group, you must act quickly. For a recent trip, I checked in only five minutes after the window opened and was assigned B12.
For that reason, you want to be ready exactly 24 hours before your flight departs to check in.
2. Pay for EarlyBird Check-In
If you won’t be near a computer or phone to check in exactly 24 hours before your departure, you can guarantee an excellent seat on Southwest for a fee.
EarlyBird Check-In costs between $15 and $25 each way per passenger.
With EarlyBird Check-In, you’ll automatically be checked in for your flight and will receive your boarding position 36 hours before departure.
Although you’re not guaranteed an A boarding position, that’s been my experience.
In addition to a better seat selection, boarding the plane earlier will give you access to overhead bin space before those get filled up.
Here are some other things to know about EarlyBird Check-In:
- You can purchase EarlyBird Check-In up to 36 hours prior to a flight’s scheduled local departure time
- EarlyBird Check-In Customers will receive boarding positions after Business Select and A-List Customers
- A credit card must be used for the purchase of EarlyBird Check-In
- If you cancel your flight, you won’t be refunded for the EarlyBird Check-In purchase
- Southwest will only refund the EarlyBird Check-In purchase if the airline has to cancel your flight
- EarlyBird Check-In can be purchased as part of the original flight purchase or added to a flight later on
To add EarlyBird Check-In, have your confirmation number ready and follow this link.
3. See if Upgraded Boarding is available
If you checked in for your flight within 24 hours of the departure and aren’t happy with your boarding group, it’s too late to pay for EarlyBird Check-In and get a better seat.
However, Upgraded Boarding may be available the day of your flight at the departure gate or ticket counter.
As you would imagine, Upgraded Boarding is more expensive than EarlyBird Check-In.
If Upgraded Boarding is available for your flight, you’ll pay between $30 and $50 to be among the first to board the plane — in the A1 to A15 boarding group.
Again, just ask at the departure gate or ticket counter to see if they can help you out.
Bonus tip: Free Upgraded Boardings with Southwest’s credit card
For frequent Southwest Airlines travelers, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card may be worth looking into.
Southwest has several personal credit cards from Chase, but only the Priority card has an Upgraded Boarding benefit.
With this card, you can get four Upgraded Boardings per year when available.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card has a $149 annual fee, but its benefits offset that cost for people who fly Southwest a lot:
- 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest and Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases
- 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
- 7,500 points every year on your Cardmember anniversary
- $75 Southwest® annual travel credit
- Four Upgraded Boardings per year when available
- 20% back on inflight drinks and WiFi
- No foreign transaction fees
I don’t currently have this credit card, but I previously used Southwest’s credit card with a $69 annual fee when I flew with them more often — it’s a great card.
I just wanted to share the details of the Priority card because of the boarding benefit.
These three strategies help me have a more enjoyable flying experience on Southwest Airlines.
For most trips, I follow the first tip and stand by at my computer exactly 24 hours before departure to get a good boarding position at no extra cost.
However, I have paid $15 for EarlyBird Check-In on long flights across the country.
The Upgraded Boarding option is my least favorite, but I used it once when I forgot to check in and ended up in the C boarding group.
In that case, the $30 I spent for the A2 position was money well spent.
Do you have any tips and tricks to always get a good seat when you fly on Southwest Airlines? Let me know in the comments below!
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