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How to get priority boarding with Southwest Airlines

Take your preferred seat by boarding early.

Southwest Airlines has an open seat boarding policy — you choose any available seat upon boarding. If you have a preferred seating spot, getting on the plane early with priority boarding could be worth it. But most of the time you’ll have to pay for this perk.

How does the boarding process work?

Southwest Airlines boarding is organized in three groups:

  • A1–A60
  • B1–B60
  • C1–C60

Each passenger gets assigned a unique combination printed on their boarding pass, for example A25, B34 or C50. The lower your letter and number combination, the sooner you board.

How to get Southwest Airlines priority boarding

Southwest Airlines uses the term upgraded boarding, which covers positions from A1 to A15. Often, upgrading your boarding is subject to availability. If available, you can be among the first to board if you:

  • Purchase Business Select fare.
    In addition to having a guaranteed spot in the upgraded boarding group, you get a free premium drink during your flight.
  • Earn elite status.
    Southwest Airlines lets you earn A-List and A-List Preferred status by flying with the airline. You need to earn either 25 qualifying one-way flights or 35,000 tier qualifying points in one year for A-List or double that for A-List Preferred. Elite status members get upgraded boarding after Business Select.
  • Purchase upgraded boarding.
    Be ready to pay $30, $40 or $50 to board your plane sooner.
  • Get a Southwest Airlines credit card.
    The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card can reimburse you for up to four upgraded boardings each year on your card anniversary.
  • Purchase EarlyBird Check-In.
    For $15 to $25 per passenger on a one-way trip, you can purchase EarlyBird Check-In. However, this doesn’t guarantee a spot in A1 to A15 group. It only improves your boarding position.

How to get Southwest Airlines priority boarding with your credit card

  1. Get the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card.
  2. Purchase upgraded boarding at the departure gate or ticket counter on the day of travel.
  3. Request reimbursement up to four times each calendar year.

Who gets priority boarding?

Upgraded boarding is reserved for Business Select customers. Next up are A-List and A-List Preferred. If there are A1 to A15 spots left, you can purchase an upgraded boarding.

Families with children 6 years old or younger are allowed to board between A and B groups.

Passengers with specific seating needs and one travel companion are permitted to board between A and B groups before the family boarding.

Groups with different boarding positions can board at the same time. But the earlier boarding position would have to board with the later position. For example, a passenger with A20 and a passenger with A50 who want to board together would have to board at the A50 passenger group.

Bottom line

Priority boarding has a high value on Southwest Airlines due to the open seat policy. If you don’t mind paying extra, you can board your plane sooner and choose your preferred spot. Alternatively, consider getting the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, which offers up to four upgraded boardings per year.

However, if you frequently fly with other airlines, check out other airline cards that offer priority boarding and compare your options.

Frequently asked questions

Pictures: GettyImages

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Kliment Dukovski was a personal finance writer at Finder, specializing in investments and cryptocurrency. He's written more than 700 articles to help readers compare the best trading platforms, understand complex investment terms and find the best credit cards for their needs. His expert commentary has been featured in such digital publications as Fox Business, MSN Money and MediaFeed. He’s also well-versed in money transfers, home loans and more — breaking down these topics into simple concepts anyone can understand. In another life, Kliment ghostwrote guides and articles on foreign exchange, stock market trading and cryptocurrencies. See full bio

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