Points Panda has partnered with a variety of financial companies including CreditCards.com for our coverage of credit card products. Points Panda and CreditCards.com may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.
The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. For more information please read our full Advertiser Disclosure.
The Southwest Boarding system is one of the least complicated systems there is in the airline industry. It only has 3 boarding groups – A, B, and C (with A being the first group) – unlike the United and American boarding systems which have about 5 or more groups and subgroups.
However, Southwest doesn’t offer assigned seats which means that passengers can sit anywhere they want once their boarding group gets on the plane. It’s kind of a double-edged sword since the more aggressive passengers can get the best seats while the less aggressive ones get what’s remaining.
Don’t worry, there are some ways how to go up in the boarding groups and we’ll share some of those tips with you below. But before that, let’s get down to the basics and see how the Southwest boarding process actually works.
Southwest Boarding Process
Southwest groups its passengers into boarding groups A, B, and C, with each group having 60 positions/seat assignments. Group A will be the first ones to board and they will form a line on the numbered posts at the gate area, then, Groups B and C will board in the same manner.
But take note that the pre-boarding group and those with special needs will board between Groups A and B. Here are more details:
1. Boarding Group A
Seats are randomly assigned to passengers except for seats A1-A15. These first 15 seats are for Southwest elite flyers, Business Select flyers, and those who paid extra for upgraded boarding.
The rest of the seats from A16-A60 will be randomly assigned to passengers.
The preboarding group is for passengers who require special assistance when boarding such as people with physical disabilities or senior citizens. You would need to talk to a Southwest agent prior to departure so you can be accommodated.
Once the agent approves your request, you and one traveling companion will be given a preboarding pass and you will be allowed to board at the same time. Your other traveling companions will need to board with their assigned groups.
3. Traveling Families and Active-duty Military In Uniform
Most carriers would charge extra for families to board together so the Southwest family boarding policy is a great benefit for frequent flyers. It gives families priority boarding and a workaround to Southwest’s open-seating policy at no additional cost! Additionally, all active military who are traveling in uniform will also board during this time.
4. Groups B and C
Groups B and C will be the last ones to board, and they will board according to their positions. If you have a boarding pass with a B1 position, you’ll be the first one to board the plane but if you have a C60 position, you’ll be the last one to board.
For the most part, having only three boarding groups is advantageous for flyers since you have a 33% chance of getting into boarding group A. However, once you get on the plane, your chances of getting the best seats depend on how quickly you move your feet and pick your seats. You have to be decisive.
To avoid this situation, it’s best to look up the seat configuration of the aircraft you’re going to fly on so you can choose your preferred seats beforehand. You can do this by checking the Southwest website or Seat Guru.
How To Get Better Southwest Boarding Positions
You can get a higher boarding position even if you only have a Wanna Get Away, Wanna Get Away Plus, or Anytime fare. However, bear in mind that these methods will not guarantee you an A position.
Do An Early Check-in
Southwest determines your boarding position based on the order of passenger check-ins. The earlier you check in, the higher your boarding position will be.
The earliest time that passengers can check in is 24 hours prior to departure. Make sure you set a reminder on your calendar so that you’re exactly 24 hours early when you log in on the Southwest website.
Buy EarlyBird Check-In
Passengers can check in 36 hours before their flight, however, it comes with a minimal fee of $15-$25 per one-way fare. This gives you an advantage over those who checked in at the 24-hour window, giving you a better shot at getting a higher boarding position.
EarlyBird passengers typically get a boarding position somewhere between A16 – A60 and the order in which the positions are based on the time when the add-on was purchased.
Have A Southwest Status
Aside from purchasing an EarlyBird Checkin, you can also check in as early as 36 hours prior to departure if you are a Southwest Status A-List Preferred or A-List Member.
Just remember that it doesn’t guarantee you an A position especially if most of the passengers on your flight are also elite members. However, it puts you in a better position than those who checked in during the regular 24-hour window. This is by far, the most effective way to get an A position compared to the two methods mentioned above.
Getting A Guaranteed Boarding Group A Position
If you want to get guaranteed A positions, specifically the A1-A15 slots, then it’s going to cost you more money. But it’s all worth it since you’ll be in the first group of people to board the plane, giving you the freedom to pick any seat you want and lots of compartment space. Here are ways on how to get Group A priority boarding.
Buy A Business Select Fare
Purchasing a Business Select Fare will guarantee you an A1-A15 boarding position. Yes, it is Southwest’s most expensive fare and a round-trip flight can cost thousands of dollars. However, it comes with other premium travel perks such as complimentary drinks, high bonus miles, priority lanes, Early Bird check-in, refundable tickets, and many more.
If you’re planning to purchase an Anytime Fare and then purchase an upgraded boarding, just purchase a Business Select instead. Anytime Fares and Business Select fares don’t have that much of a price difference but the benefits that you’ll get from the latter are way better, especially the bonus points and guaranteed A1-A15 seating).
Buy Upgraded Boarding (Depends On Availability)
Buying upgrade boarding is an option you have if you want a cheaper fare but still want to get A1-A15 position.
You can purchase upgraded boarding 24 hours before departure either online or at the ticket desk. This method can guarantee you an A1-A15 position if these seats are available. What upgraded boarding does is it gives you a chance to purchase any of the remaining A1-A15 slots that haven’t been taken.
Availability is usually dependent on the number of elite and Business Select flyers on your flight so if there are only a few of them, your chances of getting an A1-A15 upgrade are high. Upgrade fees typically cost between $30 – $50 per segment.
Using Credit Cards To Get Complimentary Upgraded Boarding (Depends On Availability)
If you have the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card or the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card, you can purchase upgrade boarding (up to 4x) and have it reimbursed with your card.
Just purchase the upgraded boarding as usual and use your card to pay for it. You’ll get your reimbursement in the form of a statement credit. What’s great about this is you can use all of the 4 upgraded boarding perks at the same time, so you can travel with your friends and family together.
For those who don’t have Southwest cards, you can also offset the cost of your upgraded boarding with The Platinum Card® from American Express, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, and the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card. These cards come with annual airline credits which you can use toward upgrades.
What Are The Best Seats On Southwest?
Just remember, it’s not the end of the world for you if you don’t get a Group A boarding position! People typically take the front seats but just so you know, these seats aren’t always the best.
Choosing the perfect seat would depend on your needs. For example, if you’re flying with kids, then taking the back seats at the very last rows would be better for you since you’re near the bathrooms. If you don’t like turbulence, then pick the seats that are located past the wings of the plane.
If you’re a tall person, the “money seat” would be perfect for you. The money seat is a window seat behind the exit row so it has a lot of legroom for you to stretch your legs out.
Have a look at this image of the seat configuration of the Boeing 737-700. While all of the seats in green are great but green ones near the window are the money seats.
Seats 11B and 11C also give you enough legroom but you won’t have the ability to recline them because it’s located near the exit.
Southwest’s open-seating policy allows you to pick seats without having to pay extra. The best part is that it only has 3 boarding groups which give you a 33% chance of getting into Boarding Group A. Just make sure that you check in as early as possible.
But for passengers who don’t want to deal with competing for seats and want a guaranteed A1-A15 position, then purchasing a Business Select Fare or Upgraded Boarding is required. It comes with additional perks like free drinks, refunds, higher bonus points, and more.
PointsPanda Deal of the Week!
Looking for the best flight deals? Each week we'll send you updates with the best deals on flights and hotels both using points and cash.