Southwest Hikes Fee for Early Boarding, Better Seats

Airlines don’t normally publicize fee hikes so we failed to notice Southwest’s EarlyBird fee jumped from $12.50 to $15 last month; luckily one of our alert readers did spot it. So is the higher-priced fee still worth it?

LISTEN: It sure can be worth it, says travel expert Rick Seaney.

Southwest Hikes EarlyBird Fee to $15

The EarlyBird fee was raised March 14 but according to a Southwest spokesperson, it was the first time in several years the price went up (the last hike we saw was in 2012 when the fee rose from a flat ten bucks back). 

Why the hike? “The product is in high demand,” said the spokesperson, “and our goal is to continue providing valuable products to our customers.” She added that no other fees have been raised, and it’s worth pointing out that Southwest doesn’t have many to raise; it still offers free checked-bags and there is no change fee when tickets need to be cancelled or itineraries moved.

Higher-Priced Fee is Still a Bargain

Although EarlyBird is marketed as an early boarding fee, it’s actually for better seat selection which is important on Southwest since the airline has open cabins with no reserved seats. Paying the EarlyBird fee allows travelers to move up in line so they have a better chance of grabbing an aisle or window or simply an overhead bin not yet overflowing with carry-on bags.

Bottom line: A few years ago, FareCompare called EarlyBird one of Five Fees Worth Paying and even at the new price of $15 it’s among the cheaper airline fees. We believe it can still be well worth the money.


Updated: April 13, 2016