Southwest Airlines is planning a price increase for fliers that want to board early on some flights.
“Early Bird Check-in” was created by Southwest to give travelers an opt-in option for a better boarding position. Their unique process allows passengers to sit wherever they wish, depending on their boarding order. To get an Early Bird pass, the price is increasing from a flat rate of $15 to a range of $15–$25. Prices will differ depending on a particular flight’s length and the popularity of Early Bird for that trip.
The increase will begin on Wednesday, August 29.
Early Bird Check In was first introduced in 2009, when the price was a low $10. It has since increased to $12.50 and then $15. Southwest maintains, however, that the increases are in the interest of their customers, “We’re making this change, so we can continue offering a product our customers love.”
The Early Bird check-in process can be confusing for many passengers, especially those that don’t understand Southwest’s lack of assigned seating. When paying for a pass, travelers are assigned a boarding group: A, B, or C. Those who opt-in to Early bird are assigned a position twelve hours earlier than those who do not.
Early Bird doesn’t promise fliers a spot in the A boarding group, or even the B boarding group. Passengers who buy Business Select or are frequent-fliers are automatically ahead in line. Travelers can guarantee an A boarding group pass by paying to upgrade at the gate.
Southwest famously prides itself on being a “fee-free” airline, but profited $358 million from Early Bird fees in 2017 alone. Earlier this year, the airline also increased the fees for “upgraded boarding,” a last-minute choice that allows passengers to jump to the front of the boarding line. Previously $30–$40, it increased to $50 on some flights.
Southwest CEO, Gary Kelly, assures customers that their overall model, while seeing these minor adjustments, will not change. The airline does not plan on ever charging for bags or assigning seats.