ENGLEWOOD, Fla. - It seems like airlines are charging extra for everything these days. Want to check a bag? Want an aisle seat? That's all going to cost you. But what about paying extra to get on the plane earlier? A viewer wrote to us about the EarlyBird check-in at Southwest Airlines which asks you to pay ten dollars for a chance at a better seat. She wanted to know, was it worth the money?
Frequent fliers know all about Southwest's seat assignments. There are none! Instead, you're assigned a boarding group: A, B, or C. You line up according to your boarding letter and then, wait to board. But for an extra ten dollars, you can get a better spot in line, theoretically.
Southwest airlines is the nation's largest low-cost carrier with more than 3300 flights a day. The fares can be the least expensive and your first checked bag flies free. But Kristy Fuss of Englewood warns, don't spend the extra 10 bucks on the EarlyBird check-in.
"To me, there's no advantage to it at all," she told us.
In June, Fuss's daughter was flying Southwest by herself to Nashville. Hoping to get her a better seat, Fuss opted for the EarlyBird and her daughter ended up with 'A-57,' at the end of the "A" boarding group. In other words, 57th in line to board the plane.
That's when she called us and asked, did the person behind her also pay ten dollars?
"As soon as you pay that ten dollars are they reserving you a spot," asked Fuss?
Here's how the EarlyBird check-in works. When you buy your ticket you have an option of spending an extra 10 dollars and the airline will automatically reserve the next boarding position available. But there's no guarantee that you'll get one of the first seats.
A spokeswoman with Southwest says the company doesn't limit the number of ten dollar priority spots it sells saying it, "Didn't want to make an assignment without knowing what the demand will be."
Theoretically, if half the passengers pay the 10 dollars, then you could spend the extra money and have half the plane board in front of you. Or, you could get the very next spot in line free, if you check in 24 hours before the flight.
But Southwest says if the number of EarlyBirds gets so high that's it's not providing a benefit, then they will review the policy.
"I like Southwest, I'll continue to fly with them but I don't know if I'll spend the 10 dollars again," said Fuss.
This story doesn't apply to everyone who flies. Sometimes it's a good idea to spend the extra money. For instance, Southwest assigns boarding groups when you check-in, but since so many people check-in right when it's available, if you're a little late you could end up with a bad seat. So if you won't be near a computer exactly 24-hours before your flight, then the EarlyBird might be worth it for you.