Is Southwest’s $12.50 Earlybird Check-in worth it?

Southwest Airlines is a great no-frills airline with service across the United States. Unfortunately, a big part of their “no frills” aspect is that seats are not assigned at all; once you’re onboard the aircraft, you can pick any seat you want that’s available. That also means that to get on the aircraft sooner, you want to check in as close to exactly 24 hours before your flight to get an A, B, or C number, which determines the order in which you board and is assigned sequentially upon check-in. Fortunately, for $12.50, Earlybird Check-in does all the work for you before anyone else has a chance to do the same.

Southwest's boarding pass — which, because of Early Bird Checkin, means I'm in the "A" group for my flight tomorrow.

Southwest’s boarding pass — which, because of Early Bird Checkin, means I’m in the “A” group for my flight tomorrow.

22 hours prior to departure, I checked my traveling companions in (I admit — I forgot) and they ended up in the high B group. Looks like I’m going to have to try to save a row for our flight tomorrow once I’m onboard.

Check in earlier, get a higher number, get onboard earlier, and get a better seat. Check in late, and you’ll end up last onboard and in a middle seat with no room overhead for your bag. Yuck.

That said, you can pay $12.50 for Earlybird Check-in – to have Southwest automatically check you in 36 hours before your flight — likely earning you that coveted “A” group number.

And if you’ve already booked your flight, you can still add it on after the fact.

So, is Earlybird Check-in worth it? That depends on your situation.

Will you be near a phone or computer exactly 24 hours before your flight?
Will you remember to check in 24 hours before your flight?
Are you picky about which seat you’re on, especially on longer flights?
Are you traveling with friends and want to sit together?

$12.50 per person per leg isn’t much, and guarantees you’ll be onboard even before the people who check in exactly 24 hours before their flight.

Earlybird Check-in is more useful to not sit in a middle seat than anything else

If your flight’s not anywhere near full (you can call the kind people at Southwest and ask — they’ll tell you), Earlybird Check-in may not be worth it — there have been occasional times in the past when I would check in to my flight just hours before it was scheduled to depart, but still got an “A” number. But there have been plenty of other times that I’ve checked in almost exactly 24 hours before my flight and been relegated to the “C” crowd. It all depends on flight load, and how many people have “A List,” Southwest’s version of frequent flier status, who get checked in before anyone else – even if you pay.

There are roughly 47 middle seats on Southwest’s 737-700s, and roughly 57 on their 737-800 models. If you don’t want to sit in one of those seats on this low-amenity airline, that $12.50 may be very much worth it.