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Southwest raises fees for EarlyBird check-in, Upgraded Boarding

Southwest Airlines has just become the latest carrier to increase its ancillary fees.

The Dallas-based airline recently jacked prices for two popular optional services: EarlyBird check-in and Upgraded Boarding. This news was first reported by Danny Deal Guru and later confirmed to TPG by an airline spokesperson.

Southwest’s updated fee structure for these products now ranges from:

  • EarlyBird check-in: $15 to $99 one-way, per traveler
  • Upgraded Boarding: $30 to $149 per segment, per traveler

While Southwest didn’t change the minimum amount it charges for these services, it stealthily boosted the maximum amounts. Previously, the airline charged up to $25 and $80 for EarlyBird check-in and Upgraded Boarding, respectively.

The roughly 300% increase for EarlyBird check-in and nearly 100% increase for Upgraded Boarding mark a steep price hike. The airline previously upped these fees a year ago, so some loyal Southwest flyers might feel particularly rankled by these changes.

It follows a larger, industry-wide move to increase ancillary fees that began earlier this year, as airlines look to boost revenues from the entire travel experience. Every major U.S. airline raised its checked bag fees (at least once) earlier this year. Southwest famously doesn’t charge for checked bags, and combined with its lackluster first-quarter financial performance, the airline is likely feeling the pressure to boost profits.

“This price range increase is a result of our regular evaluation of pricing for ancillary products based on market trends and customer demand and will generate incremental revenue in support of the company,” airline spokesperson Tiffany Valdez told TPG.

Southwest is also unique among U.S. airlines in that it doesn’t offer assigned seating on its planes. Rather, seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis to travelers based on when they check in for their flight. This incentivizes flyers to check in exactly at the 24-hour window.

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Travelers who don’t want to deal with this can purchase EarlyBird Check-In, which automatically reserves their place in line 36 hours before departure; this way, they won’t need to manually check in when the 24-hour window opens. Southwest doesn’t cap the number of EarlyBird upcharges it sells on each flight, so it’s not uncommon to still get a mediocre seat when using this product.

That’s why Southwest also offers Upgraded Boarding. This is available for purchase anytime during the check-in window and allows travelers to snag one of the first 15 boarding positions. This add-on is even more expensive than EarlyBird check-in and is only available when there are unsold Business Select fares (which guarantee access to this special boarding priority).

These increased fees will particularly sting for groups traveling together. The airline doesn’t offer any volume discounts on these products, and upgrades add up quickly. If you’re looking to avoid paying these fees, it might be time to consider opening a cobranded Southwest credit card.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card offer two complimentary EarlyBird check-ins per year. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card and Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card offer four Upgraded Boarding passes per year.

The information for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier credit card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Alternatively, Southwest Rapid Rewards elite A-List and A-List Preferred members receive priority boarding across all flights.

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