Southwest Boarding Groups: 7 Tips and Tricks to Board Earlier

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INSIDER SECRET: Southwest is a great airline for business travelers and families. Making use of any of the five Southwest credit cards is a smart way to get free points, money back on inflight purchases and even free upgrades for an opportunity at a top-notch seat.

Southwest is one of our favorite airlines. They’ve got a unique seating system, awesome customer service and low-cost fares.

They also sport some of the best cobranded credit cards and an insanely great way to have someone travel with you for free, the Southwest Companion Pass.

But sometimes the seating system can be overwhelming and you end up with a not-so-great seat.

Southwest Boarding Groups: 7 Tips and Tricks to Board Earlier
Mastering Southwest boarding groups can help you board the plane earlier. (Photo by Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock)

With a little practice and planning, you can master the Southwest boarding groups, and score the best seat possible.

How the Southwest Boarding Groups Work

Link: Southwest Online Check-In FAQ

Link: Southwest EarlyBird Check-In FAQ

Southwest does not assign seats. Instead, you board according to groups and choose your own seats onboard.

The groups are A, B and C and positions 1-60. For example, you could have A1, B22 or C59 listed on your boarding pass.

The boarding order is:

  • Preboarding
  • Group A
  • A-List & A-List Preferred, Family or Active Military in Uniform
  • Group B
  • Group C

You’re assigned a group and position based on the type of ticket you have, whether you paid for EarlyBird Check in, whether you have elite status and when you checked in.

Having the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card is a great way to secure opportunities to board earlier. You’ll get four upgraded boardings (when available to positions A1 to A15) each account anniversary year (worth $30-$50 each, depending on the flight).

Apply Here: Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

Our Southwest Priority Card review

You’ll also score:

  • Up to $75 in statement credits for eligible Southwest purchases each account anniversary year
  • 20% back on Southwest inflight purchases
  • 7,500 Southwest points on your account anniversary (worth ~$113 in Southwest flights)
  • 1,500 tier qualifying points (TQPs) for each $10,000 in purchases up to $100,000 in purchases annually (which equal 15,000 TQPs)

Now let’s dive into some tips and tricks to master Southwest boarding groups and get on the plane earlier.

7 Tips and Tricks to Board Earlier on Southwest

1. Purchase EarlyBird Check-In

If you purchase a Wanna Get Away ticket, you can also pay for EarlyBird Check In, which automatically checks you in 36 hours ahead of your flight’s departure in the order that travelers purchased the service.

EarlyBird costs $15-$25 per person each segment of the trip, so it can add up quickly for families. EarlyBird does not guarantee you the A boarding group, only that Southwest will check you in before those who did not purchase EarlyBird.

But this is a good option if you absolutely must sit in a certain area of the plane, like near a bathroom by the aisle or if you’re in a group and sitting together is important to you.

2. Have Elite Status

Regular Southwest passengers can earn A-List or A-List Preferred elite status after a certain number of flights or qualifying Southwest points.

If you hold an elite status with Southwest, similar to EarlyBird Check-In, the airline will automatically check you in for your flight 36 hours in advance, putting you ahead of other passengers.

Southwest automatically checks in Business Select first, followed by A-List Preferred, A-List and then EarlyBird — all in the order in which they booked.

If you need to switch flights or book a flight within 36 hours of the departure time and end up with a B or C boarding group, as an A-List Preferred or A-List member you can still board between the A and B boarding groups.

3. Set an Alarm for Check In

If you purchased a cheaper fare, such as a Wanna Get Away fare, and you do not have Southwest elite status, the airline assigns you a group based on when you check in.

Southwest Boarding Groups: 7 Tips and Tricks to Board Earlier
Setting an alarm can help you remember to check in as soon as possible. (Photo by Ko Backpacko/Shutterstock)

All guests may check in up to 24 hours ahead of their flight’s departure time. So it’s very important to check in as soon as online check-in opens up to get a good boarding position.

Set an alarm for a few minutes before check-in. You’ll need to check in each person separately. I like to have my companion check herself in at the same time as I do but on a different device.

4. Have a Layover That Doesn’t Change Plans or Know the Plane Layout

The easiest way to board early is to never leave the plane…what? Some flights have layovers that don’t require you to deplane because that same plane is taking you to your destination. You can see if you’re scheduled to change planes by checking your flight information. If you’re not changing, you can shift seats during the layover.

A little research on the type of plane Southwest is using for your flight can help you go right to a specific seat when you board. Southwest flies two types of planes so it’s easy to plan for either scenario. Each has its own layout of exit-row seats, non-reclining seats, seats with more legroom and seats that get beverages quicker.

5. Have a Kid or be Military Active-Duty

Families with children ages 6 and younger may board between the A and B groups. Two adults and children ages 6 and under may board together. All other family members must board as designated on their boarding pass, though I’ve never seen a gate agent stop a couple of teenagers who tag along with their parents and younger sibling.

Southwest Boarding Groups: 7 Tips and Tricks to Board Earlier
Kids 6 and under can board during Family Boarding with up to two adults. (Photo by Sharomka/Shutterstock)

Active-duty military personnel in uniform can board between the A and B groups as well. Some agents may be strict about the uniform requirement.

6.  Meet Preboarding Criteria

Folks who need extra time boarding to accommodate a disability or assistive device are eligible for preboarding. One person acting as an attendant may board with them. Other family members or attendants have to board as designated on their boarding pass.

7.   Purchase a Business Select Fare or an Upgrade at the Gate

If you purchase a Business Select ticket (Southwest’s business fare), you are guaranteed an A 1-15 position, which improves your seat selection since you will be boarding early.

Occasionally, there will be unclaimed A1-15 spots available at the gate. The gate agents may or may not advertise this over the loudspeaker, so you may need to ask. The prices for this jump ahead in boarding are higher than EarlyBird and can be $30 to $50, depending on the flight, each way and per person.

If you have the Southwest Priority Card, you’re eligible for up to four upgraded boardings (positions A1 to A15) each account anniversary year.

Bottom Line

Scoring the best seat possible isn’t hard when you’ve done you’re homework.

Things like setting an alarm to check in, having a kid 6 or under traveling with you and purchasing EarlyBird check-in can help you board earlier.

What’s your favorite way to get on the plane sooner for a chance at the best seat?

For more about the five Southwest credit cards and Southwest boarding groups, check out our guides:

For the latest tips and tricks on traveling big without spending a fortune, please subscribe to the Million Mile Secrets daily email newsletter.

Devon O'Rourke is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, he covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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1 year ago

Your picture above is not a Southwest plane. They don’t have 3/2 seating or TVs on board

Shirley Reynolds
1 year ago

No longer helps me since southwest is eliminating the phx to ewr liberty airport non stop flight which is always full to capacity. After being a loyal customer for many years will now be forced to use one of your competitors. What a bummer. And a waste of my reward points.

Todd Jennings
1 year ago

“The groups are A, B and C and positions 1-60”

What does group “C” stand for?

Center row!

Kathryn Moon
1 year ago

Southwest does a great job with the boarding process! I have their Rapid Rewards card and frequently purchase the WGA ticket then at the gate purchase an upgrade boarding position. If I have a direct flight then I check my carry on bag in hopes of a front row seat being available. With only my personal bag, I can be faster getting into my seat even when placing that bag above when sitting in the front row.

Andrew Wan
Reply to  Kathryn Moon
1 year ago

Great to hear! I’m a bit partial to flying Delta, but with so many wonderful things I’ve heard about Southwest, I may start booking more flights with them in the future.

Tamara Bradley
1 year ago

I think you should board all people that are not putting luggage in the overhead after your you pre board to save time on people putting their luggage overhead and having to wait for people to take it down when deplaning. Or I think it should go back to assigned seating and have the people start boarding from back to front. To save people stopping in the aisles or have a flight attendant stand in the row to let each row out one at at a time. Avoids the back of the plane crowding g to the front.

1 year ago

It’s important to note that if your flight is cancelled or delayed and Southwest rebooks you, you lose whatever group you were in on the original flight and moved to dead last on the new flight. I have gone from A – 30 to C – 22 more times than I care to remember.