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How to Work Southwest Airlines new $10 Early Bird Check-in

By September 15, 2009

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I love Southwest Airlines. But sometimes the systems are not easy to figure out. So this week I was flying from Seattle to Phoenix and was out on the walking trail during the magic check in hour. I decided to pay the $10 Early Bird check-in fee and see if I could get my coveted A boarding pass. So here's what I had to figure out:

When do you check in? Well, you can't pay the $10 and check in any time it seems. I recall seeing a 36 hour mark and easily met that by checking in a half day early. I received no receipt so wasn't sure what to do next.

What will it get you? I then checked in fairly late for my flight and received A-24 for my boarding assignment. Wow! That was surely better than the C group I normally would have received when checking in so late. So my $10 did buy me something.

Here's the dilemma. When talking with a gate agent, I found out that an Early Bird Check-in doesn't guarantee you an A spot. What it does guarantee you is an assigned spot AFTER the Business Select customers and AFTER the A-list customers. For me, this time, it worked well. But there is no guarantee. Consider this. What if there were 15 Business Select customers and 20 A-list customers and the rest of the plane paid the Early Bird Check-in fee? You could, feasibly, receive a C-spot even after paying the $10.

The key to success is to check in as soon as you can no matter if you pay the $10 or not. Timing is key.

It's all a gamble, but well worth it for now!

Besides the cinnamon graham cracker plane-shaped cookies taste great in the front of the plane or the back of the plane!

September 20, 2009 at 10:19 am
(1) JA says:

Early Bird boarding order is automatically assigned 36 hours before departure so if you pay the $10 it doesn’t matter when you check in to print your boarding pass. You still can’t print the boarding pass until 24 hours before flight.

October 1, 2009 at 7:25 am
(2) will says:

Your example is a little flawed. Even if there were 15 business select and 20 A-listers, you’re still way ahead of the dreaded “C”.

Most of Southwest’s planes have 23 rows of seats and 2 aisles. That means there are roughly 46 each of window, aisle, and middle seats.

So, getting in the first 46 means you probably get a nice aisle seat, and you can go 46 more before you get stuck with sitting in the middle.

Of course, many flights have thru passengers that will already be seated when you board.

However, the $10 is still worth something if you want to avoid the middle seat.

October 9, 2009 at 1:17 pm
(3) Magnum says:

I wasn’t paying before to avoid a middle seat, a simple check-in at the 24 hour mark did it. Now I am forced to pay $10 to avoid the middle seat! Wake up, people!

June 14, 2010 at 2:06 pm
(4) Dave Johnson says:

Customer service at this airline is NON EXISTANT. Have tried to use the early bird check in and purchase it for 4 days, the web site never opens up, you can call anyone you want to about it and I guarantee you will not get any help nor an answer. If they maintain their aircraft like their website and customer service facility, you are in deep trouble flying with these jokers.

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