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Southwest Is Raising EarlyBird Check-In Fees

Southwest has announced it will increase its EarlyBird Check-In fees for select flights starting August 29.

The fees, which used to be $15 across the board, will now be $15, $20, or $25 per flight, depending on availability and route.

In a statement to USA Today, the airline said, “We’re making this change so we can continue offering a product our customers love. Of course, an increase in the price of a product is rarely welcome news, but as EarlyBird increases in popularity, we want to protect the value it offers our customers.”

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That’s a strange way of justifying hiking fees, isn’t it? Saying you’re “making a change so we can continue offering it” and to “protect the value it offers to customers” is quite a feat of mental gymnastics. Most customers would likely feel the so-called value of the service diminishes as the price goes up, especially because the benefits of EarlyBird Check-In are both confusing and somewhat unsubstantial.

What’s the Value of Southwest EarlyBird Check-In?

EarlyBird Check-In doesn’t actually guarantee early booking. Southwest says so on its website, stating that “while EarlyBird Check-In doesn’t guarantee an A boarding position, it improves your seat selection options to help you get your favorite seat.”

Instead, EarlyBird Check-In does exactly what it describes, and only that. The service will “automatically check you in and assign your boarding position within 36 hours of your flight’s departure—that’s 12 hours before general boarding positions become available.”

But given Southwest’s unorthodox boarding process, checking in early doesn’t always result in an advantage. USA Today notes that “travelers who buy the airline’s priciest Business Select fares or have status in the frequent-flier program are automatically ahead of [EarlyBird Check-In purchasers] in line. The only way to guarantee an A boarding pass outside those groups is to pay the Upgraded Boarding fee at the gate,” which can be as much as $50.

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EarlyBird Check-In was only $10 when it launched in 2009, a reasonable fee for the convenience and increased chance of a good boarding position. Paying up to $25, however, seems a stretch for a service with no guaranteed benefits. One wonders if too many people are buying the service in an attempt to cheat Southwest’s boarding system, and watering down the value of EarlyBird Check-In the process. Maybe that’s what Southwest means when it says it wants to “protect the value” of the service.

Readers, have you purchased EarlyBird Check-In? Do you feel it’s a valuable service?

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By Carl Unger

Contributing Editor Carl Unger believes that every trip is worth taking. He loves an extended trip to Europe as much as he enjoys exploring the towns and landscape near home. Basically, you'll find him wherever there is good food, fresh air, and plenty of stories to bring home.

Carl has been writing for SmarterTravel since 2005. His travel writing has also appeared on USA Today and the About.com Boston travel guide.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "It's not revolutionary, but a small Moleskine notebook is my one travel must-have. It's great for noting things you want to remember and it takes up hardly any space in your bag."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Japan. I'd love to take a month off and visit the cities, temples, and countryside. I'm fascinated by the country's juxtaposition of ancient traditions and modern ambitions."

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