Southwest Will Now Let You Upgrade Your Boarding Position When You Check In Online

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Southwest Airlines has made two improvements to its mobile process: selling upgraded boarding positions when you check-in rather than forcing you to show up early at the airport in hopes you can buy this at the gate, and letting you check-in online as late as 20 minutes prior to departure.

Southwest doesn’t offer advance seat assignments, and that works well for them. It helps get passengers on the plane quickly, since people show up at the gate on time and queue up in order to get better preferred seats. That’s a huge efficiency gain.

And lack of assigned seats in advance is great for business travelers because elites and full fare passengers still have priority access to the best seats even when booking or changing flights at the last minute (while on other airlines these seats are usually already taken).

Southwest also earns money selling earlier boarding, the way some airlines earn money selling seat assignments. They offer ‘Early Bird Check-in’ – pay extra to get a boarding order in advance of those checking in 24 hours prior to flight. They have also offered ‘leftover’ spots in the first 15 positions to board the plane as an upcharge at the airport. Normally only ‘business select’ customers get these coveted places, but ask at the gate and you may be able to buy them.

Now Southwest, which has been looking for new services it can charge for and has introduced a new fare type they want customers to buy up for, will sell these leftover A1-15 boarding positions during the check-in process rather than just at the gate.

  • This is great for those who want to buy, but don’t want to get to the airport super early to do it (before any remaining spots are gone). This provides greater certainty and convenience.

  • It’s also great for Southwest because presenting the offer online to each customer checking in is likely to sell more spots than requiring customers to actually ask about the option. Sometimes there are signs at the gate offering it, but a proactive sales pitch rather than requiring customers to inquire, should leave fewer spots unsold.

This should be good news for holders of the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, both of which offer statement credits when you spend for upgraded boardings.

  • Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card has an offer to earn 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

    Cardmembers receive 9000 bonus points each year after cardmember anniversary; a statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck fees every four years; reimbursement for four upgraded boardings per year (A1 – A15 boarding purchased at the airport) when available; plus inflight wifi credits.

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card provides a $75 Southwest® travel credit each year; WiFi; and 4 upgraded boardings per year when available; and 7,500 anniversary points each year.

To be clear, the details on both cards still suggest that upgraded boardings are only offered at the gate. Hopefully they code the same when purchased online, or will be updated to do so quickly. For instance here is the language from the business card,

Each anniversary year you will be reimbursed for the purchase of up to 4 Upgraded Boardings which are positions A1-A15. Upgraded Boardings may be purchased at the departure gate or ticket counter on the day of travel only, when available. Price of Upgraded Boardings is based on your itinerary. Anniversary year means the year beginning with your account open date through the first statement date after your account open date anniversary, and the 12 monthly billing cycles after that each year.

Meanwhile in another positive change, Southwest has changed their mobile check-in cut off time to a mere 20 minutes, down from 60 minutes:

Side notes – we also recently changed the digital check in cutoff time to 20 minutes, vs 60 minutes – likely reducing 200 thousand errors a year due to last minute boarding pass requests.

We also improved our check-in error messages to provide better context if attempting to check in too early, or if there was a name typo…Soon we hope to launch lap child self-service booking as well split reservations.

All to the good with these changes.

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