What’s EarlyBird Check-In and who cares if Southwest Airlines is increasing the price of this service? We do, since it’s a service we often purchase and here’s why. Southwest Airlines boarding process is different from all other US airlines. They employ an open seating system where you can choose any seat when you board. All the seats are considered the same so if you want a window, aisle, exit row, bulkhead or even the back row of the plane, if it’s empty, you can sit there. This, of course, makes the order you board the plane very important – the earlier you board, the better your chances of getting the seat(s) you want. Southwest’s check in process begins at exactly 24 hours before your plane is due to depart and your boarding place is determined by when you check in. Unless you have EarlyBird, which is SouthWest’s “go towards the head of the line” pass. Here’s why Early-Bird is so valuable.
Checking-in for a Southwest Flight
Back in the day, you had to be at a computer to check in. If you sat there and checked in at the exact 24 hour mark, you could still snag a good spot in line, either in the first group of 60 passengers (known as the A boarding group) or at worst the beginning of the B group. Checking in at exactly 24 hours became more and more important once everyone had a mobile phone with internet and the ease to check in with the Southwest app (which even reminded you to check in at the 24 hour mark). I noticed that even when I checked in right at the 24 hour mark, our boarding place in line was progressively getting worse and worse.
The culprit? EarlyBird.
For a fee, Southwest’s EarlyBird Check-In automatically checks you in for your flight before the 24 hour mark. That means you’ll get the best boarding position possible, except for A-List flyers or people who paid for the most expensive Business Select fares. When the service was launched in 2009 the cost was set at $10 per ticket but eventually went up to $15, which where it’s been for several years. There’s still an order to EarlyBird, as your place in the line is determined by when you paid your $15 so the earlier you book your ticket (and pay the EarlyBird fee), the further up in queue you were for boarding position. EarlyBird needs to be purchased for each direction you’re flying so you’d pay $30 for a round trip (but you can pick to get the service on one flight but not the other). If you’re on connecting flights, the $15 will cover both flights.
EarlyBird gets too popular for its own good
We book tickets a few months in advance and our position in line with EarlyBird was usually in the middle of the A group, typically around A-25 to A-35. However, our place in line kept creeping back to higher A numbers or even in the beginning of the B group on some flights. It was apparent that EarlyBird was catching on in a big way and people were more willing to pay $15 to make sure they get good seats (or so the whole family could sit together). Getting a boarding pass in the B group is not good for us because Southwest allows “Family Boarding” for children under six between the A and B groups. Traveling to and from our home airport of Orlando, there of plenty of families with children under six so if we get a B group position, we’d be boarding after all of those families. That’s not why we’re paying extra for a good boarding position.
So what happens when you have a service that people like and more and more people are using it? You raise the price, of course. Southwest is implementing a variable pricing model where EarlyBird will cost either $15, $20 or $25 per ticket.
We’re making this change so we can continue offering a product our Customers love. Of course, an increase in the price of a product is rarely welcome news, but as EarlyBird increases in popularity, we want to protect the value it offers our Customers.
So at the price they were charging, too many people were buying it, making it a less desirable service to pay for. There’s no way to limit the number of people buying it so the only other thing they could do was raise the price. The new pricing model is going to be set on the length of the flight and how popular EarlyBird is on a particular route.
The price Customers will pay for their flight will depend on a combination of two factors: the length of the flight and the popularity of EarlyBird on that particular route. The price will be the same each way on any given route and will not change by day of week or time of day. Therefore, the price of the EarlyBird product on a particular route will be set at one of the three price points. Southwest may update pricing in the future based on route popularity and as the product continues to evolve.
I’m not thrilled about this because we like to purchase EarlyBird. I just put Southwest at number three on my list of best U.S. airlines so I’m not happy that I’ll need to spend more for the same service but I do see the practical need for this to happen. Here’s what I’m hoping will happen:
- Less people will purchase EarlyBird due to the higher price point
- People who do buy it will get good boarding positions again (like before)
- The rest of the passengers can possibly get a better space in line (because of less EarlyBird passengers)
- People who forget to check in at 24 hours will still get the worst seats
It’s the best way for Southwest to maintain their unique boarding system, keep passengers happy and feeling like they’re getting value for money spent on EarlyBird and possibly make a little more money in fees while they’re at it.
These changes don’t take effect until August 29, 2018 so if you have an upcoming Southwest flight and haven’t purchased EarlyBird yet, now’s the time. The price isn’t going to drop and you might have to pay $5 to $10 more after that date.
Sharon and I will keep buying EarlyBird for our flights on Southwest. I hope Southwest posts the EarlyBird price before booking a ticket because I’d want to factor in that cost when choosing which airline to fly. For us, it’s only going to be an extra $20 – $40 charge on a round trip. However if you’re a family of four, paying $200 extra on top of airfare for EarlyBird might be an expense you don’t want to incur.
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This article was originally posted on Your Mileage May Vary.