The Southwest EarlyBird Check-In program is changing and that could triple the cost of boarding early. This paid upgrade, priced between $15-$25, has allowed us to get on flights early multiple times. It has also been an epic failure on others. See more about that below. Paying more to board early is an “artful” way to get increased revenue without raising ticket prices. It is akin to other airlines charging for seat assignments.
Where you sit on 5+ hour Southwest Hawaii flights is important.
Since Southwest relies on boarding groups and positions within groups to let passengers gain access to their seats of choice, this is of critical importance, especially on 5 to 6 hours flights to Hawaii from their mainland gateways. The EarlyBird option gave travelers the convenience of checking in prior to the 24-hour period and thus have a better boarding position.
Southwest announced that while it hasn’t eliminated EarlyBird entirely at this point, it is “limiting the number of spots available for purchase on certain flights, routes, or days, as we work on product enhancements.” That will result in Hawaii travelers finding EarlyBird “Is unavailable for some customers looking to purchase it.”
New Southwest EarlyBird rules started August 15.
Did you go on a Southwest Hawaii flight in August? If so, you may have noticed EarlyBird being unavailable with the new limitations that started August 15. It isn’t fully clear yet how much of an impact this will have on Southwest Hawaii travelers. And, the airline has chosen not to comment or provide more specifics on how this will work.
What’s the point? Call it a fare increase for many!
EarlyBird was the low-cost option of trying for a better boarding position, to have a better seat selection on Southwest. By limiting the EarlyBird availability on long Southwest Hawaii flights, the hope is that it will help get passengers to choose other higher-priced options. Those include “Upgraded Boarding” all the way up to what Southwest calls “Business Select,” which will offer nothing different in terms of your seat, but does assure you a front-of-the-line boarding position every time.
Jumping the line on Southwest Hawaii flights just got more expensive!
Southwest wouldn’t comment about how extensive this cut will be. But clearly the ability to secure a top notch boarding position has just gotten significantly more expensive. It’s interesting to note that on their earnings call last month, Southwest reported that they had earned $100,000,000 on EarlyBird, in just the second quarter of 2023. But that’s small change to Southwest, inasmuch as that reported a mere 1.4% of Southwest’s revenue during that period.
“EarlyBird had been lagging a little bit through the pandemic recovery, but it performed very well in the second quarter.” He also said that Southwest has been raising prices across its range of upgraded boarding options.Southwest CCO Ryan Green.
Beat of Hawaii’s experience with EarlyBird on Southwest Hawaii flights.
Traveling this summer on Southwest Hawaii flights to and from the mainland, we encountered a mixed bag already using EarlyBird. When we purchased $25 EarlyBird to Las Vegas recently, it did get us an automatic check-in 36 hours in advance. That was 12 hours earlier than general boarding check-in.
The other option we had when purchasing tickets was to either pay the highest price, Business Select fare, which would have guaranteed A1-15 boarding, or buy Upgraded Boarding to that same A1-15 group, at 24 hours before flight, if available.
In any event, we purchased EarlyBird in hopes of sitting together during the more than 6-hour flight. But that did not happen. Instead, we would have needed to pay an extra $80 (rather than $25) for “Upgraded Boarding,” which would have provided the A1-15 group with its great choice of seats, or opt for the much more costly Business Select.
Remember too that the earlier you buy your tickets the better your chances with EarlyBird.
What happened when EarlyBird failed.
We paid for EarlyBird, but following family boarding and the other pre-boards, it turned out we were among the very last ones to board the flight to Las Vegas. Others who had paid extra for EarlyBird noted the same phenomenon.
Thus, by the time we got on the plane, we could no longer sit together. In addition, we also found that the overhead bins were largely full which resulted in more issues.
As we noted before, however, on a connecting flight from Las Vegas to Nashville, “Early Bird got us a position in A group (near the bottom of that line), but that was good enough for two of us to sit together in an exit row and be able to work. However, that flight was not packed like the Hawaii one was.”
And a final thought on Southwest Hawaii flights and early boarding options.
Without a guaranteed seat assignment (which is not happening at Southwest), editor Jeff reported that on a short interisland flight for a half-hour, early boarding to him is simply not an issue, and he’s happy to fly Southwest. But otherwise, he at least finds everything about their boarding sales and airport process to be stressful.
What’s your take on EarlyBoarding and the direction in which this is headed?