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If you enjoy flying Southwest, you may have considered the possibility of upgrading your seat. Many people assume that upgrades are not possible, since Southwest does not allow you to select a seat in advance.
However, this open seat policy can work in your favor when you board early. If you’re one of the first passengers to board, you can choose exactly where you want to sit for the prime location.
So, here we’ll explore all you need to know about getting upgraded on Southwest Airlines.
The Southwest Boarding Process
If you’ve never flown Southwest before, the boarding process can feel very different compared to other U.S airlines. The boarding process actually begins at check in. Once you have checked in and received your boarding pass, you need to check your boarding group, which is indicated on the pass.
There are three groups; A, B and C and you’ll also see a numerical value. Unlike on other airlines, this is not a seat assignment, instead it refers to when you will be able to board the aircraft.
These groups are assigned on a first come, first served basis. So, the earlier that you check in, the better the boarding position assigned to you. However, Southwest does allow check in up to 24 hours in advance of your scheduled departure time.
Southwest Borading Priority
When you arrive at the gate, there is a specific order to line up for boarding:
- Preboarding: This is for passengers with a specific seating need, such as to accommodate a disability. This boarding call is also for those who need some assistance to board the aircraft or stow their assistive device.
- Group A: Group A will be lined up in numerical order from one to 60.
- Preferred Boarding: This is available for families with at least one child aged six and under, active duty military personnel, A-List and A-List Preferred members.
- Group B: This group will be boarded in numerical order from one to 60.
- Group C: Again, this group is boarded in numerical order.
How to Upgrade Your Seat on Southwest Flights
Fortunately, it isn’t all luck of the draw for getting to the check in desk first, as there are a few ways that you can bag a better boarding position. This can eliminate the uncertainty and stress of trying to get to the airport and the check in desk before everyone else.
Whether you have Southwest status, hold the right credit card or pay, you can score a prime boarding position, which can help you to get seated in the perfect position for your flight.
Upgraded Boarding is a paid for feature which allows travelers to upgrade their boarding position to 1 to 15 in the A Group. Depending on availability, this is offered 24 hours before the flight departure time. Essentially, by paying a fee, you can jump the queue and get a great spot for boarding the aircraft early to choose your preferred seat and gain access to the overhead bin space.
Depending on the popularity and length of the flight segment, the cost of Upgraded Boarding can be $30, $40 or $50 per customer, per segment. There are no guarantees for the availability of Upgraded Boarding, but the A1 to A15 boarding positions are not assigned to the regular ticket customers after the 24 hour check in window begins.
This means that if there are few Business Select or elite flyer passengers on your flight, you’ve got a better chance of being able to purchase Upgraded Boarding. You can purchase Upgraded Boarding online, using the Southwest app or when you get to the airport. However, as we just mentioned, there can be varying demand for Upgraded Boarding.
So, if you’re traveling on a fully booked flight with lots of Business Select passengers, there may only be a few spots available for Upgraded Boarding. This means that you won’t want to wait until you get to the airport. A better idea is to pay for Upgraded Boarding as soon as you can using the app or website.
Pros & Cons Of Upgraded Boarding
Here are the advantages and disadvantages when it comes to the upgraded boarding feature:
Secure Boarding Up To 24 Hours Before
Need A Credit Card
Price Per Person Basis
No Eligibility Criteria Applies
You can secure a prime boarding position up to 24 hours before your flight and not rely on luck of the draw at the airport check in.
The price is graded according to the itinerary and popularity. This means that if you’re flying at low season on a low popularity itinerary, you’ll pay the lowest fee.
Anyone can purchase Upgraded Boarding regardless of Southwest status or flying habits.
You need to use a credit card to purchase Upgraded Boarding and some people have reported issues with zip code discrepancies, which have made it difficult to make a purchase.
This means that if you’re traveling with companions, you would need to pay the Upgraded Boarding fee for each person in your group, which could quickly add up.
EarlyBird Check In allows you to purchase an early check in slot when you reserve your flight or up to 36 hours before the scheduled departure. This costs $15 to $25 per passenger, but the pricing varies according to the specific flight itinerary.
However, if you’re already booked an Anytime fare, EarlyBird Check in is included as a perk of this fare class.
With EarlyBird Check In, Southwest will check you in for your flight automatically before the traditional 24 hour check in window begins. Generally, this will provide you with a better boarding position, but there is no guarantee that you’ll get an A group slot.
There are no limits to how many passengers on a flight may receive or purchase EarlyBird Check In. So, you’ll need to add it to your reservation as early as you can. The boarding positions will be allocated according to when EarlyBird Check In is purchased, with priority given to Anytime fare customers.
The EarlyBird Check In fee is unfortunately non refundable, but if you change your flight rather than canceling and rebooking, it can follow you to the new flight. However, your new flight must have a scheduled departure or over 25 hours from when you made the change. You must also contact Southwest Airlines to transfer the EarlyBird Check In if the new itinerary has a new arrival or departure city.
Pros & Cons Of EarlyBird Check In
Here are the advantages and disadvantages when it comes to the EarlyBird Check In feature:
Cheaper than Upgraded Boarding
Anytime Fare Benefit
Auto Check In
If you’re traveling in a group, the collective cost for you and your travel companions is likely to be significantly less than if you purchased Upgraded Boarding.
It is available as a perk when you purchase an Anytime fare, which has the potential to save you money compared to buying a Wanna Get Away or Wanna Get Away+ fare along with EarlyBird Check In.
You’ll get automatically checked in by Southwest, once the 24 hour check in window opens.
There is no guarantee that you’ll get an A group boarding position. So, you could have paid $25 and still end up in group B or group C.
The EarlyBird check in fee is non refundable, so if you need to cancel and rebook, you’ll lose this benefit and you won’t get any money back.
What Credit Cards Include Southwest Upgrades?
There are several Southwest co-branded credit cards that include Southwest upgrades as part of their benefits package. These include:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority: This card has a modest annual fee, but it offers up to four Upgraded Boardings per year on your card anniversary. This should more than offset the annual fee, but you’ll also get 25% back on your inflight purchases, up to $75 in travel credit and a tiered reward structure weighted towards Southwest purchases, hotel and car partners and local transit. There is also a points boost to help you achieve a companion pass.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier: This card has a slightly lower annual fee, but you’ll receive reimbursement for up to two EarlyBird Check Ins per year, awarded at card anniversary. The other card perks include an anniversary points bonus, in flight purchase credit and the same companion pass points boost.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus: This card has the lowest annual fee of the co-branded credit cards, but still offers an annual points bonus, inflight purchase credit, companion pass points boost and two EarlyBird Check Ins. It also has lower requirements than other Southwest cards.
- Southwest Business Cards: There are two business cards, which mirror the benefits of the personal Premier and Plus cards, including offering four Upgraded Boardings and two EarlyBird Check Ins respectively.
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
1x – 2x 2X points on Southwest purchases, Southwesthotel and car rental partners, local transit and commuting (including ride-shares),internet, cable, phone and select streaming services, and 1X points on all other purchases
75,000 points 75,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases during the first three months
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
1X – 3X 3X points on Southwest® purchases,2X on Rapid Rewards® hotel and car partners, local transit and commuting, including rideshare, internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming and 1X points on all other purchases.
75,000 Points 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
1X – 3X 3X points on Southwest purchases, 2X points on Southwest’s Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners, local transit and commuting (including rideshares) and internet, cable phone and select streaming services; 1X points on all other purchases
75,000 points 75,000 points when you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months
SouthWest A-List or A-List Prefered Status
One of the benefits of earning Southwest Rapid Rewards A List or A-List Preferred status is that you’ll receive priority boarding as a perk. This means that Southwest will assign you and any other passengers on your reservation a boarding position automatically 36 hours before the scheduled departure.
This feature works in a similar way to EarlyBird Check In, but you will need to check in manually for your flight, as Southwest won’t do this automatically. However, just like with EarlyBird Check In, while you’re on the upgrade list for priority boarding, there are no guarantees that you will receive an A group boarding position.
Just bear in mind that this feature is only valid if you’ve made your reservation over 36 hours before the scheduled departure time. If you are traveling on standby or you book a last minute flight, you won’t receive this priority boarding benefit.
Is Southwest Upgrade Worth It?
Whether an upgrade is worth it for you when you fly Southwest will depend on your priorities and preferences. If you like the idea of quicker boarding so you can choose your preferred seat, you’re likely to appreciate Upgraded Boarding or EarlyBird Check In.
However, it is worth considering whether it is more worthwhile to purchase an Anytime or Business Select ticket, which will offer boarding benefits or whether you should purchase Upgraded Boarding or EarlyBird Check In.
It is also worth bearing in mind that you can get some of these boarding perks with Southwest co-branded credit cards. So, if you’re considering a new credit card and fly Southwest regularly, it may be a good idea to consider one of the credit card options we’ve covered in this article.