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How To Improve Your Boarding Position on Southwest [2024]

James Larounis's image
James Larounis
James Larounis's image

James Larounis

Senior Content Contributor

Countries Visited: 30U.S. States Visited: 35

James (Jamie) started The Forward Cabin blog to educate readers about points, miles, and loyalty programs. He’s spoken at Princeton University and The New York Times Travel Show and has been quoted in...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

Countries Visited: 44U.S. States Visited: 28

With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now Editor-in-Chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

We may be compensated when you click on product links, such as credit cards, from one or more of our advertising partners. Terms apply to the offers below. See our Advertising Policy for more about our partners, how we make money, and our rating methodology. Opinions and recommendations are ours alone.

As a low-cost carrier, Southwest does everything possible to minimize costs and create a lower-fare experience. One of the ways it does this is to put a single economy class of service on its planes. It doesn’t have to worry about premium cabin catering, lounges, or other amenities that traditionally come with cabins up front.

Even with an all-economy class plane, there are ways to make your ride significantly more comfortable and create your own first class experience.

Open Seating Policy

Southwest has an open-seating policy on all of its planes. This means you are not assigned a specific seat on the plane, but all seats are first come, first served. Because of this, it’s imperative to board the aircraft first.

Southwest has 3 boarding groups: A, B, and C. Each group has 60 customers, and the A group boards first, followed by B, and then C. The order you receive is based on your check-in time, at least 24 hours prior to departure. So, if your flight is at 6:01 p.m., you can check in at 6:01 p.m. the day before. You’ll need to be quick in doing so, as many customers are trying to do the same thing simultaneously.

Upgraded Boarding (A1-15)

Southwest Upgraded Boarding
Image Credit: Southwest

You can purchase the A1-15 boarding slots, known as Upgraded Boarding, at check-in for anywhere between $30 and $80, depending on the flight length. So, no matter which boarding group you receive by check-in, you can “upgrade” to a higher boarding position for no more than $80. For flights of a longer length, this can be a significant advantage. However, there’s 1 catch: upgrading to an A1-15 boarding position is entirely based on availability.

Credit Cards That Have Upgraded Boarding Credits as a Benefit

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card each come with 4 Upgraded Boardings per year. You’ll be reimbursed the cost to upgrade to the highest available boarding slot within the A1-15 group, when it’s available. While it’s only available on 4 flights, this can still add up to significant savings. You’ll likely want to save the use of these 4 reimbursements for your longest flights of the year, since those will cost the most to upgrade to A1-15.

LIMITED-TIME OFFER
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

U.P. Rating
The rating for this card has been determined by our own industry experts who know the in's and out's of credit card products. Bonuses, rewards as well as rates and fees are all taken into account. Compensation from the issuer does not affect our rating. We only recommend products we either use ourselves or endorse.

This card focuses on the Southwest traveler with anniversary points, travel credit, upgrades, and money back on inflight purchases.

Learn More(at Chase's secure site)

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

This card focuses on the Southwest traveler with anniversary points, travel credit, upgrades, and money back on inflight purchases.
Limited-time offer: earn Companion Pass® good through 2/28/25 plus 30,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Earn Companion Pass® plus 30,000 points
$390
$149
Upgraded Points credit ranges are a variation of FICO®Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit cardapplication.
Good to Excellent (670-850)

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card is the most premium personal Southwest card offering from Chase. When you peel back the curtain, it is easy to see why.

Not only does the card offer multiple bonus categories to help you earn more Southwest Rapid Rewards points, but it is also loaded with benefits that are sure to offer quite a bit of value to Southwest flyers.

Here is a full overview of the card to help you decide if it is a good fit for your wallet.

Pros

  • 3x points per $1 on Southwest purchases
  • 2x points per $1 on local transit and commuting, including rideshare purchases
  • 2x points per $1 on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming purchases
  • 1x point per $1 on all other purchases
  • 7,500 points each year on your cardmember anniversary
  • $75 annual Southwest travel credit
  • 4 Upgraded Boardings per year
  • 25% back on inflight purchases
  • 1,500 tier qualifying points towards elite status for every $10,000 spent
  • Travel and purchase protection

Cons

  • $149 annual fee
  • Does not earn transferable points
  • Limited-time offer: earn Companion Pass® good through 2/28/25 plus 30,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • 7,500 anniversary points each year.
  • Earn 3X points on Southwest® purchases.
  • Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.
  • Earn 2X points on internet, cable, and phone services; select streaming.
  • $75 Southwest® travel credit each year.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Member FDIC

Financial Snapshot

  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None

Card Categories

Rewards Center

Southwest Rapid Rewards Frequent Flyer Program

Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card

Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card

U.P. Rating
The rating for this card has been determined by our own industry experts who know the in's and out's of credit card products. Bonuses, rewards as well as rates and fees are all taken into account. Compensation from the issuer does not affect our rating. We only recommend products we either use ourselves or endorse.

Southwest frequent flyers will love the upgraded boarding positions, inflight Wi-Fi credits, and bonus points on each cardmember anniversary.

Learn More(at Chase's secure site)

Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card

Southwest frequent flyers will love the upgraded boarding positions, inflight Wi-Fi credits, and bonus points on each cardmember anniversary.
Earn 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
80,000 points
$1,040
$199
Upgraded Points credit ranges are a variation of FICO®Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit cardapplication.
Good to Excellent (670-850)

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card is a phenomenal option for business owners who are Southwest frequent flyers. It helps you earn more points on all of your business expenses, offers upgraded boarding certificates and Wi-Fi credits, and helps you reach higher levels of Southwest elite status. 

Pros

  • 4x points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases
  • 3x points per $1 spent on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partner purchases
  • 2x points per $1 spent on social media and search engine advertising, internet, cable, and phone services
  • 2x points per $1 spent on local transit and commuting, including rideshare services
  • 9,000 bonus points each year after your cardmember anniversary
  • Up to 365 inflight Wi-Fi credits per year
  • 4 Upgraded Boarding certificates per year
  • Earn 1,500 tier qualifying points towards Southwest status for every $10,000 spent on the card
  • Up to a $500 fee credit for points transfers when you use your card to transfer points to another Southwest Rapid Rewards member
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • Global Entry/TSA PreCheck/NEXUS credit
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Lost luggage reimbursement
  • Baggage delay insurance
  • Extended warranty protection
  • Purchase protection

Cons

  • $199 annual fee
  • Doesn’t earn transferable rewards
  • Earn 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • 9,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.
  • Earn 4X pts on Southwest® purchases.
  • Earn 3X points on Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partners.
  • Earn 2X points on rideshare.
  • Earn 2X points on social media and search engine advertising, internet, cable, and phone services and 1X points on all other purchases.
  • 4 Upgraded Boardings per year when available.
  • Member FDIC

Financial Snapshot

  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None

Card Categories

To help ease the sting of being in coach, you’ll also get 25% back on inflight purchases, great for grabbing an alcoholic drink onboard. The cards also come with a 1,500 tier qualifying points towards A-List status for every $10,000 you spend annually, making it even easier to earn A-List status, which comes with additional perks.

If you don’t have one of these 2 Southwest co-branded credit cards, you might consider using a Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card or a Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, both of which earn 2x Capital One miles on every purchase. You can then use these miles to cover travel charges from your statement (within 90 days) at a rate of 1 cent per mile.

You can also utilize the up to $200 airline credit you receive on The Platinum Card® from American Express. You’ll need to select Southwest Airlines as your preferred airline at the start of the year, but when you do, you’ll have up to $200 to use on any miscellaneous fees associated with Southwest travel. Both EarlyBird Check-In (which we’ll review later) and Upgraded Boarding count for this purpose.

Who Should Purchase Upgraded Boarding?

If you’re purchasing Upgraded Boarding during the check-in process, there’s a risk it may not be available if other customers have purchased all of these slots via Business Select fares (more on these fares shortly). If it’s available, you’ll need to decide whether the upgrade cost is worth it based on the length of the flight. And remember, the longer the flight, the higher the upgrade cost.

Our Take

While it’s risky to wait and see if the A1-15 slots will be available for purchase, the cost to upgrade will almost certainly be worth it to guarantee extra comfort on the plane by having priority access to better seats.

Bottom Line:

The key to getting a good seat on Southwest Airlines is being among the first people to board the plane. Being in the A1-15 boarding group almost guarantees one of the best seats on the plane.

Business Select

Southwest’s closest offering to first class is its Business Select product, its most expensive fare.

Take, for example, this Washington, D.C. (DCA) to Dallas (DAL) flight. You’ll see that Business Select is more than $100 over the cheapest fare, but it has some benefits.

Southwest Fare DCA DAL
Image Credit: Southwest Airlines

A Business Select fare includes:

  • The option to fully refund the ticket back to your original form of payment
  • Priority boarding from A1-15, based on check-in time; you’re guaranteed to receive any of those 15 slots
  • Free inflight entertainment, including Wi-Fi
  • Complimentary premium drink on flights over 176 miles
  • 12 Rapid Rewards points earned per dollar spent on the airfare

Business Select won’t earn you a specific seat on the plane, but because you’re guaranteed to board during the first 15 people, you have a very high likelihood of getting the preferred seat you want, which may include seats in the bulkhead or exit row.

Who Should Purchase Business Select?

If the cost difference isn’t that much from lower fares, it can be worth purchasing as it guarantees you A1-15 boarding. Remember, however, that because it guarantees A1-15, only 15 of these fares are available for sale on the plane.

Our Take

Business Select can be pricey depending on the journey, but if having a guaranteed boarding slot within the A1-15 group is essential, you’ll want to purchase Business Select.

Hot Tip:

Even though you purchase a Business Select fare, passengers with disabilities are allowed to board first, though they aren’t allowed to sit in an exit row. Consider this if you have a specific seat in mind that you want to sit in.

EarlyBird Check-In

If you don’t have time to check in on your own 24 hours prior to your flight or want to secure an earlier boarding position, EarlyBird Check-In is for you. You can purchase this service for $15 to $25 per direction of travel, and Southwest will automatically check you in for your flight in the order you purchase the service.

The excellent advantage of this service is that if you check in with EarlyBird, you’ll always receive a higher boarding group than those without EarlyBird Check-In. Remember that many passengers may purchase EarlyBird, so you may still receive a lower boarding position. We don’t recommend using EarlyBird if you’re trying to secure a chance at a specific seat. You likely will only be guaranteed a window or aisle seat, which is almost always preferable to a middle seat.

Credit Cards That Have EarlyBird Check-In as a Benefit

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card each offer 2 EarlyBird Check-In reimbursements per year. This will save you from purchasing EarlyBird Check-In at $15 to $25 for 2 flights (the reimbursement is for a single person, not a group or multiple flights). Remember, EarlyBird Check-In doesn’t guarantee you a specific boarding spot, but only puts you ahead of those who did not utilize the service.

LIMITED-TIME OFFER
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

U.P. Rating
The rating for this card has been determined by our own industry experts who know the in's and out's of credit card products. Bonuses, rewards as well as rates and fees are all taken into account. Compensation from the issuer does not affect our rating. We only recommend products we either use ourselves or endorse.

Earn Southwest points on every purchase, plus anniversary points, Tier Qualifying Points, and points toward the Companion Pass!

Learn More(at Chase's secure site)

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Earn Southwest points on every purchase, plus anniversary points, Tier Qualifying Points, and points toward the Companion Pass!
Limited-time offer: earn Companion Pass® good through 2/28/25 plus 30,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
Earn Companion Pass® plus 30,000 points
$390
$99
Upgraded Points credit ranges are a variation of FICO®Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit cardapplication.
Good to Excellent (670-850)

Another week, another flight. Flying weekly can get tiring, but you know that every flight gets you closer to taking some great vacations with your significant other or your favorite travel buddy.

To save money on the flights, you like to use Southwest Airlines.

So why not get the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card to help you earn extra Rapid Rewards points?

Pros

  • 3x points per $1 on Southwest purchases
  • 2x points per $1 on Rapid Rewards hotel and car rental partners
  • 2x points per $1 on local transit and commuting, including rideshares
  • 2x points per $1 on Internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming services
  • 6,000 anniversary points each year on your card renewal
  • 2 EarlyBird Check-In certificates per year
  • Earn Tier Qualifying Points for your spend
  • 25% back on inflight purchases

Cons

  • $99 annual fee
  • Does not earn transferable rewards
  • Limited-time offer: earn Companion Pass® good through 2/28/25 plus 30,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • 6,000 anniversary points each year.
  • Earn 3X points on Southwest® purchases.
  • Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.
  • Earn 2X points on internet, cable, and phone services; select streaming.
  • 2 EarlyBird Check-In® each year.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Member FDIC

Financial Snapshot

  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None

Card Categories

Rewards Center

Southwest Rapid Rewards Frequent Flyer Program

LIMITED-TIME OFFER
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

U.P. Rating
The rating for this card has been determined by our own industry experts who know the in's and out's of credit card products. Bonuses, rewards as well as rates and fees are all taken into account. Compensation from the issuer does not affect our rating. We only recommend products we either use ourselves or endorse.

This card makes it easy to earn unlimited points and qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass.

Learn More(at Chase's secure site)

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

This card makes it easy to earn unlimited points and qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass.
Limited-time offer: earn Companion Pass® good through 2/28/25 plus 30,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
Earn Companion Pass® plus 30,000 points
$390
$69
Upgraded Points credit ranges are a variation of FICO®Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit cardapplication.
Good to Excellent (670-850)

If you spend a lot of time in the air, it’s important to get a great deal on your plane tickets.

Southwest Airlines can help you get those deals.

One way to save is by using the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card. This card helps you earn points for all your spending, and earning more reward points is always a good thing for a busy traveler!

Pros

  • 2x points per $1 on Southwest purchases
  • 2x points per $1 on local transit and commuting, including rideshares
  • 2x points per $1 on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming
  • 3,000 anniversary points each year on your card renewal
  • 2 EarlyBird Check-In certificates per year
  • 25% back on inflight purchases

Cons

  • $69 annual fee
  • Does not earn transferable rewards
  • Limited-time offer: earn Companion Pass® good through 2/28/25 plus 30,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
  • 3,000 anniversary points each year.
  • Earn 2X points on Southwest® purchases.
  • Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.
  • Earn 2X points on internet, cable, and phone services; select streaming.
  • 2 EarlyBird Check-In® each year.
  • Earn 1 point for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Member FDIC

Financial Snapshot

  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None

Card Categories

Rewards Center

Southwest Rapid Rewards Frequent Flyer Program

In addition to the EarlyBird Check-In certificates, you’ll also receive 10,000 points towards a Companion Pass each year, which helps you earn it even faster. Like other Southwest cards, you’ll also save 25% on inflight purchases. You’ll also receive an anniversary bonus of miles which you can then use towards purchasing Southwest airfare.

Similar to A1-15 boarding, EarlyBird Check-In fees can also be covered using miles from a Capital One miles-earning card or a card that offers a statement credit for airline fees or travel.

Who Should Use EarlyBird Check-In?

You should purchase EarlyBird if you don’t care about a specific seat on the plane but want to sit in any aisle or window seat. It’s perfect for those who don’t want to be occupied checking in for their flight exactly 24 hours prior to departure.

Our Take

EarlyBird Check-In doesn’t actually have any guarantees, so there is a risk in purchasing this. There have been many instances where passengers purchase EarlyBird Check-In but end up in a B-boarding group because so many people have purchased the service. What is likely, however, is receiving an aisle or middle seat since most passengers in the higher groups will not want to choose a middle seat, but this is the only thing that can be assured with EarlyBird Check-In.

Hot Tip:

One big risk in purchasing A1-15 or any product that tries to ensure an earlier boarding group is it relies on you being at the gate on time. If you have a connecting flight and arrive late to your onward gate, for example, the boarding process may have already started, and you’ll need to board with whatever group they are currently on. This might mean that you may not get a preferred seat. When this happens, you can contact Southwest to see if the airline will provide a refund.

Final Thoughts

If you have the opportunity to purchase an Upgraded Boarding group on Southwest Airlines, we advise that you do it. Since the pick of seats onboard is a free-for-all, you’ll want to ensure you have a decent seat. For most, EarlyBird Check-In can ensure this. However, if you have your eye on a specific seat, you’ll want to consider purchasing A1-15.

If you’re a semi-regular Southwest flyer, having a Southwest Airlines co-branded credit card can be an easy way to board the plane earlier thanks to free EarlyBird Check-In or Upgraded Boarding positions.

The information regarding the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.
The information regarding the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Class Y on Southwest Airlines?

Y class on Southwest Airlines (or any airline, for that matter), is an unrestricted, full-fare economy class ticket. Traditionally, these tickets are fully refundable and come with little or no restrictions.

Does Southwest Airlines have first class service?

No, Southwest does not offer any first class service or have any premium cabins. While there are better economy class seats you can sit in onboard (such as exit rows or the bulkhead), the service is the same for all passengers.

Does Southwest have economy class?

Yes; in fact, Southwest only has economy class and does not offer any sort of premium product.

What does business class on Southwest mean?

Southwest does not offer an actual business-class seat, but it does offer a Business Select fare, which includes priority boarding, an onboard free drink, and complimentary Wi-Fi.

James Larounis's image

About James Larounis

James (Jamie) started The Forward Cabin blog to educate readers about points, miles, and loyalty programs. He’s spoken at Princeton University and The New York Times Travel Show and has been quoted in dozens of travel publications.

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