PSA: Southwest Airlines EarlyBird Check-In is **NOT THE SAME** as Upgraded Boarding to Trigger Priority Credit Card Benefit

Good afternoon everyone, I hope your week is going well.  If you have the Chase Southwest Airlines Priority Credit Card, please read this post so you do not make the same mistake as me.  Aside from the sign up bonus, this credit card has some pretty cool benefits: $75 Southwest Airlines travel credit (can be used with Southwest Airlines egift cards), 4 Upgraded Boardings, and 7,500 Southwest Airlines points every year you pay the $149 annual fee.  Because the $75 Southwest Airlines travel credit and 7,500 Southwest Airlines points is worth at least $150 to me, I keep the credit card open each year, even though I only flew Southwest Airlines twice this year.  In this post, I will show you everything you need to know about the Upgraded Boardings and share my mistake in purchasing EarlyBird Check-In.

Here are the complete terms and conditions about the Upgraded Boardings:

Southwest® Upgraded Boardings: Each anniversary year you will be reimbursed for the purchase of up to four Upgraded Boardings which are positions A1-A15. Upgraded Boarding may be purchased via the Southwest app or opens beginning 24 hours before departure and ending 30 minutes prior to departure or at the departure gate or ticket counter on the day of travel only, when available. Price of Upgraded Boarding is based on your itinerary. Anniversary year means the year beginning with your account open date through the first statement date after your account open date anniversary, and the 12 monthly billing cycles after that each year. For accounts that switch to this product, account open date is the date the switch is official in the Chase system. After you make your purchase with your Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Card, you will receive a statement credit for the price of the Upgraded Boarding. Statement credit and purchase of Upgraded Boarding may not post on the same statement; please allow up to eight weeks for the statement credit(s) to post to your account. You may purchase all four Upgraded Boardings at one time or on separate flights; you will only be reimbursed via statement credit for the first four Upgraded Boardings you purchase during your anniversary year. Account must be open and not in default at the time the statement credit is posted to your account.

Long story short, I was flying back from Honolulu (HNL) to Oakland (OAK) with my brother last weekend and I wanted to get a good boarding position so I could get my favorite seat on Southwest Airlines (the middle seat of the exit row that does not have a window seat in the row).  I purchased EarlyBird Check-In for $20 and paid with my Chase Southwest Airlines Priority Credit Card.  EarlyBird Check-In will automatically check you in for your flight 36 hours before departure – so I assumed that I would get a good A boarding position and get reimbursed.  I was wrong on both assumptions.

After waiting 2 weeks for the reimbursement, I contacted Chase to see what was going on.  The Chase rep was much more knowledgeable about this credit card than I was and the rep informed me that EarlyBird Check-In was not the same as Upgraded Boarding and that my EarlyBird Check-In was not eligible for reimbursement.  I pleaded for forgiveness of my ignorance, but that didn’t work.  The rep told me that I still had time to use the 4 Upgraded Boardings before my cardmember year ended in February 2023.

While I was on the call with the Chase rep, I found the Southwest Airlines Upgraded Boarding Information page that addressed all my questions.  There were a few helpful FAQs about the difference between EarlyBird Check-In and Upgraded Boarding.

At the 36 hour mark before my HNL-OAK flight, I received an email that my boarding position was ready and I had received A47.  A47, what happened?! I was expecting a single digit A boarding group.  My brother has Southwest Airlines A-List status, didn’t check in at all, and still received A27.  What?!

I did some digging on the Southwest Airlines Tiers & More page that talked about A-List and A-List Preferred statuses.  The main benefit is “Priority Boarding” so I clicked the Learn More button to see how that worked.

The terms and conditions page for the Rapid Rewards program says the following about A-List and A-List Preferred priority boarding:

Once a Member qualifies for A-List or A-List Preferred status, Southwest will automatically reserve a boarding position for such Member and all Passengers included on a reservation with such Member 36 hours prior to each of the Member’s confirmed Southwest flights (“priority boarding”).

Long story short, if you have A-List or A-List Preferred status, Southwest Airlines will automatically check you in 36 hours before departure.  It seems like A-List and A-List Preferred members are automatically checked in and then non-elites that purchase EarlyBird Check-In are automatically checked in, which explains why my brother received A27 (A-List) and I received A47 (EarlyBird Check-In).

Since I still had 4 Upgraded Boardings to use before February 2023, I went to the Southwest Airlines Upgraded Boarding page and purchased Upgraded Boarding to guarantee an A1-A15 boarding position.

The prices of Upgraded Boarding depend on the route and range from $30-$50.  My HNL-OAK Upgraded Boarding cost me $50, but I received A6 boarding position.  Now we are talking!

In case you are wondering, I was able to get my preferred seat in the exit row on the HNL-OAK flight and Southwest Airlines gave all passengers a snack pack on board which had 4-5 snacks.  When I went to the restroom mid-flight, the flight attendants were working at the back of the plane.  I told them I really liked the snack packs and asked if they only gave these out on flights to/from Hawaii.  They said yes and asked if I wanted a second snack pack.  Yes please!

Here is the confirmation email showing the $50 Upgraded Boarding purchase.  Both EarlyBird Check-In and Upgraded Boarding purchases are non-refundable and I think you lose the benefit if you cancel your reservation.  I was able to rebook my reservation that had EarlyBird Check-In to the exact same flight at a lower price and keep the EarlyBird Check-In since the record locator stayed the same.

After my $50 Upgraded Boarding purchase posted to my credit card, I automatically received a $50 Upgraded Boarding statement credit.

Clicking on the Upgraded Boarding transaction, I also earned 3x on the purchase (3 x $50 = 150 points).  If you have Upgraded Boardings that you don’t really need but are expiring soon, try to use them before they expire so you can earn some free Southwest Airlines points.

I then went to the Southwest Airlines Priority Credit Card Rewards Portal and saw that I already used the $75 Southwest Airlines travel credit and 1 of 4 Upgraded Boardings.

Long story short, don’t accidentally purchase EarlyBird Check-In thinking it is the same as Upgraded Boarding.  You will not get the best possible boarding position and you will not get reimbursed either.  If you have any questions about Upgraded Boarding or the Chase Southwest Airlines Priority Credit Card, please leave a comment below.  Have a great day everyone!

15 thoughts on “PSA: Southwest Airlines EarlyBird Check-In is **NOT THE SAME** as Upgraded Boarding to Trigger Priority Credit Card Benefit

    1. Grant Post author

      Hi Dwight, I believe so. Since you each have your own Southwest Airlines record locator, you should be able to purchase Upgraded Boarding for both you and your wife once you are within 24 hours of departure.

  1. HoKo

    This is a useful PSA. To make things even more confusing, the version of the southwest credit card that I have (Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card) does indeed offer the earlybird check-in refund… so I guess it depends which tier of credit card you have.

    Can you provide more information on the $75 credit. Would it also be possible to purchase a $75 ticket, cancel that ticket and take the refund in the form of Southwest travel bank credit (since that no longer expires it’s quite useful).

    1. Grant Post author

      Hi HoKo, wow, I did not know that the Chase Southwest Airlines Plus Credit Card offers 2 EarlyBird Check-Ins each year. I always buy a $75 Southwest Airlines eGift Card to trigger the $75 travel credit, but purchasing a flight and then cancelling to get the travel bank credit should work too.

      1. Liz

        That’s interesting about the gift card trick! I didn’t know it worked with gift cards. Thanks for this informative post, I used all four of my upgraded travel credits when I flew to Santa Barbara last month for work and I was always in the top tier of the A group which was nice.

    2. Liz

      Well that’s interesting – I have the Premier card because of the 4 upgraded boarding per year. I know Early Bird is probably lower A Group like Grant experienced here but still not bad…

    1. Grant Post author

      No, I think as long as you purchase Upgraded Boarding within 24 hours of your flight, you will be assigned an A1-A15 boarding position. The earlier you do this, the better boarding position you will get. If you wait too long, your flight might sell out of the Upgraded Boarding positions.

  2. Kim

    Is there an easy way to check to see how many upgraded boardings you have used? My husband has this card and cannot remember if he used 3 or 4.

    1. Grant Post author

      Hi Kim, yes, you can check on the Chase website. Read the last section of the post for the steps. Let me know if you have any questions. Thank you.

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