How to Hack Southwest’s Boarding Groups

You can choose your own seat on Southwest. Here's how to put yourself in the best position possible.
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Written by Sally French
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southwest boarding groups

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The Southwest Airlines boarding process is perhaps more polarizing than whether pineapple belongs on pizza. But one thing’s for sure: The Southwest boarding process is certainly unique.

So how does Southwest boarding work? For starters, there are no assigned seats. There’s no guarantee you’ll get that coveted window seat behind the exit row (which means no seat directly in front of you). There’s no guarantee you’ll end up seated next to your travel buddy.

Yet it also means you get to pick your seat from whatever is available once you board the plane. If the guy in Row 3 has already whipped out his tuna sandwich, maybe you opt for a seat at least a few rows back.

The Southwest boarding process is also theoretically more efficient (at least according to MythBusters) than most boarding systems with assigned seats.

For some, Southwest's open seating and boarding process creates a thrilling race for the best seats. For others, it can feel chaotic. So with that, let's unpack Southwest’s boarding method to help you get the best seat on your flight.


SOUTHWEST CREDIT CARDS WITH BOARDING BENEFITS

Unlike some credit cards offered by other major airlines, Southwest cards don't automatically get you priority boarding. But they do cover some of your costs when you pay to get a better boarding position:

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Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
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Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card
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Annual fee
$149
$99
$69
Boarding benefit

Reimbursement for 4 upgraded boardings, when available, each anniversary year.

Reimbursement for 2 EarlyBird check-ins each anniversary year.

Reimbursement for 2 EarlyBird check-ins each anniversary year.

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To receive reimbursement for an upgraded boarding or EarlyBird Check-In, you must pay for it with the card. Reimbursement will appear as a credit on your statement within one to two billing cycles.

How does Southwest boarding work?

Rather than assigning seats to passengers, Southwest has an open seating style. Here's how Southwest determines who gets to pick their seats in which order:

Know your Southwest boarding position

There are typically three Southwest boarding groups (plus a few in-between groups of sorts, like family boarding).

The standard boarding groups are either: A, B, or C.

With that, there are typically positions 1-60.

Your boarding group is printed on your boarding pass. Group A boards first, then group B, and afterwards group C.

Positions are assigned at check-in, which opens exactly 24 hours before departure. Though, you can hack the system and check-in earlier than that (but more on how to get a better Southwest boarding position later).

If you get A1, then it’s your lucky day — you’ll likely be the plane's first passenger. (Though there may be some exceptions for people with certain disabilities, pre-boarders or people connecting from an earlier flight.) If you get C60, well, hopefully, you’re fine with the middle seat near the bathroom.

Here’s what a paper Southwest boarding pass with the boarding position looks like. This boarding pass indicates Group A and boarding position 40.​​ This means the passenger can board the aircraft after Group A positions 1-39 have boarded.

southwest boarding groups how to

Listen up for your boarding group to be called

As the gate agent prepares the plane for boarding, they’ll call boarding groups (e.g., Group A, 1-30). From there, you’ll head to one of the numbered posts at the gate area, broken up into smaller blocks (e.g., position 1-5). Stand between the corresponding posts based on your boarding position.

Embrace the Southwest open seating policy

Once onboard, pick any open seat, stow your stuff in the overhead bin or under the seat and get ready for takeoff.

Everyone has their favorite seat, but of course the benefits of a good boarding position mean increased likelihood that you'll nab your seat of choice. That could include getting that coveted window seat, having more overhead bin space, or simply deplaning faster.

What is the Southwest boarding order?

Here’s the order of how early Southwest's boarding groups get to enter the plane, from first to last:

1. Preboarding

Southwest allows people who need boarding help or extra time, or folks with specific seating needs to accommodate their disability, to board first. To join that group, request preboarding from a Southwest customer service agent at the ticket desk or departure gate.

Southwest employees will ask "fact-finding questions" to decide if you meet the pre-boarding qualifications. If you do, you’ll receive a boarding pass with a specific preboarding designation, allowing you to preboard with one companion. If you’re traveling with more than one other person, they’ll typically have to board with their original group.

People who are preboarding are not allowed to occupy an exit row seat.

2. Group A

Next up? People with seats in A1-A15 — which is typically filled with Southwest elite flyers, people who purchased Southwest Business Select fares and those who paid extra for their tickets before boarding.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Southwest sells any leftover A1-A15 boarding positions either online through Southwest's upgraded boarding portal within 24 hours of departure, or at the gate.

The rest of Group A follows with A16-60.

3. Other people with disabilities

If you don’t qualify for preboarding but need extra boarding time, you can board after the A group but before Family Boarding and B groups. You’ll still need to speak to a Southwest customer service agent, who will print you a new boarding pass with an extra time designation, indicating that you can board with this group.

4. Families and active-duty military in uniform

If you’re traveling with a child 6 years old or younger, you and up to one other adult can board during Family Boarding, which occurs before the B group. Active military traveling in uniform may also board during this time.

5. Groups B and C

Next up is B group. For large and full flights, there’s also C group. Both groups board in numerical order from position 1 to position 60.

How to get a better Southwest boarding position

There are a few ways to get an early (which means better) Southwest boarding position. But many of them come at an extra cost.

If you don’t want to pay anything more than what the Wanna Get Away, Wanna Get Away Plus or Anytime fares already cost, your boarding position is decided based on your check-in order.

Check in online at Southwest.com or on the app beginning 24 hours before your flight's scheduled departure time. Or, check in at the airport.

But, the longer you wait, the worse the boarding position you’ll have.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Set an alarm for that 24-hour mark (maybe even a few minutes early to get logged in) to make sure you get the best Southwest boarding position possible.

Southwest Family Boarding: How to sit together

Families (two adults traveling with a child 6 years of age or younger) can board after Group A but before Group B. If the child and adult both have Group A assigned on their boarding pass, they can board along with Group A in their allocated boarding position.

However, this still doesn’t guarantee you’ll sit together, especially if your boarding position is A50. The best way to ensure you sit together (and where you want) is to buy a Business Select fare, upgrade your boarding pass or have the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card or the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card.

How to get the best seat on Southwest Airlines (Group A)

Everyone has a different favorite seat on an airplane, but the easiest way to get the best seat on Southwest is via an A1-15 boarding group position. Since this is the first boarding group, you’ll have your pick of nearly any seat.

Here are three ways to guarantee an A1-15 group position on Southwest, but it’s going to cost you:

1. Buy a Business Select fare

Business Select fares come with many perks including Fly By priority lane access, a complimentary premium drink, and yes, guaranteed receipt of an A1-15 boarding position.

Business Select fares are not cheap. They can often be multiple times more expensive than Wanna Get Away fares, but they tend to be a better deal than Southwest’s middle tier called Anytime fares.

If you’re willing to pay for a seat upgrade, it’s almost always better to opt for Business Select over Anytime fares because you’ll get benefits like elevated points earning and the guarantee of a good seat.

2. Buy upgraded boarding (when available)

While not a guarantee, Southwest sells the remaining A1-A15 boarding positions for an extra fee. You can purchase that either on the day of travel at the ticket desk or gate, or within 24 hours of takeoff on Southwest's website.

It’s $30 to $80 per segment depending on your itinerary. These positions are not assigned to regular ticket customers once the 24-hour check-in window begins, so if the flight is low on elite flyers or Business Select passengers, there may be some available for purchase.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Some cards, such as the The Platinum Card® from American Express or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, can offset the cost of upgraded boarding by offering a $200 airline incidental credit. These annual statement credits cover incidental air travel fees with one qualifying airline of your choice.

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
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3. Use a Southwest credit card to get complimentary upgraded boarding (when available)

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card and the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card, reimburse cardholders for up to four upgraded boardings to positions A1-A15 every anniversary year.

The process is the same as anyone else purchasing upgraded boarding. You’ll have to buy it on the day of travel at the ticket desk or gate, and it’s only for sale if seats are available. But no matter the cost — whether $30 or $50 — you’ll get that four times a year in the form of a credit reimbursement.

Those boardings can be purchased all at once or for different flights, so you could opt to upgrade your posse once or give yourself the VIP treatment a few times throughout the year.

Get up to 80,000 bonus points with our favorite Southwest cards
Check out our nerdy picks for the best Southwest credit cards and find the right card for you.

Other ways to get a good seat on Southwest

These two options won’t guarantee an A boarding position, but they’ll still put you ahead of others who try to check in online 24 hours out or at the airport ahead of their flight:

1. Have Southwest elite status

Customers with Rapid Rewards A-List Preferred or A-List Member status get their boarding position automatically reserved 36 hours before departure. That's before normal check-in begins, putting them ahead of everyone else who has to wait for that 24-hour window. The benefit also applies to other travelers on the same reservation as A-List Preferred or A-List Members.

While holding Southwest status doesn't guarantee an A position (e.g., if everyone else on the flight also had A-List Preferred or A-List status), it will get you the earliest position available (and sometimes lands you in the A1-A15 positions).

2. Buy EarlyBird Check-In

EarlyBird Check-In is an add-on to your ticket that automatically checks you in 36 hours before the flight's scheduled departure time. That puts you in the running for the best boarding position next to folks with Southwest status, Anytime and Business Select fares, and ahead of everyone else who has to wait for the 24-hour window.

EarlyBird Check-In typically costs $15-$25 one-way per passenger on top of your fare price.

How is EarlyBird Check-In order decided? Boarding positions are assigned based on the time that EarlyBird Check-In was bought relative to passengers within the same fare class. So Wanna Get Away Plus passengers will be checked in ahead of Wanna Get Away passengers with EarlyBird.

EarlyBird does not guarantee a boarding position, but it does increase your odds of getting in a better boarding position. EarlyBird check-in generally means Southwest A group.

Southwest seating chart

What’s a good seat on your Southwest flight? Head over to Seatguru. Once there, type in your travel date and flight number to choose your flight.

Oftentimes, Seatguru shows several aircraft configurations for a specific flight. For Southwest, Seatguru features three aircraft seating charts: Boeing 737 MAX 8, Boeing 737-700 and Boeing 737-800. Make sure your aircraft matches the Seatguru result.

From there, read the seat reviews. The plane seats will either be green, yellow, red or white. Green means it's a great seat (usually with extra legroom) and yellow means there is some drawback (like limited recline). Red means several drawbacks (such as a misaligned window and near the bathroom).

White seats are just regular cabin seats

When you're not happy with your Southwest boarding number

If you’re cool with checking your luggage if the overhead bins run out of space or don't mind the middle seat for a few hours, then getting assigned Group C will be manageable.

But if you want to be among the first to board and accidentally ended up with a bad boarding position, your best bet to jump the line is to pay the $30-$50 for an A1-15 boarding position. You can do this either in-person at the airport or online.

If Business Select is sold out, you’re probably out of luck on purchasing upgraded boarding. Next time, consider purchasing EarlyBird Check-In or booking a higher fare class to begin with.

Southwest boarding groups, recapped

Southwest offers three boarding groups (A, B or C), and a position 1-60+, which get assigned at check-in. While the Southwest boarding process can be confusing, remember this: Check in exactly 24 hours before your flight, and you'll generally be OK.

Otherwise, you can pony up extra cash for expensive tickets or upgraded boarding passes. Know which of your credit cards may offer airline credits to offset these fees, as they can get you out of a jam when you miss the check-in deadline.

If you’re traveling with a larger group with multiple reservation numbers, everyone needs to handle their business and check in separately if you want any shot at getting boarding positions near each other.

Frequently asked questions

Southwest follows an open seating style, meaning there are no assigned seats. You’ll be assigned a boarding group (either A, B, or C) and position (1-60+) upon check-in, which determines your boarding order. Once on board, you choose your seat. If you’re last to board, you likely won’t get to sit with your family.

However, Southwest has a solution to better ensure families can sit together. If you’re traveling with a child 6 years old or younger, up to two adults may board during Southwest’s Family Boarding period, between Group A and Group B boarding (unless both the child and adults have A boarding passes and can board in that earlier group).

For an additional fee, EarlyBird Check-In automatically checks you in 12 hours ahead of the traditional 24-hour check-in window. While it’s not a guarantee of the coveted A boarding group, you’ll end up in an earlier boarding position than if you had not paid for it.

Families with children 6 and under can board before Group B free of charge, so for these travelers, paying for EarlyBird Check-In is usually not worth it.

However, if you have children older than 6 and don’t want to risk sitting apart on the plane, it can make sense to pay for EarlyBird Check-In.

Your Southwest boarding group is determined upon check-in. The earlier you check in, the earlier your boarding group.

Typically, you’ll check in for your flight online beginning 24 hours before the scheduled departure time or anytime thereafter. If you don’t, you can check in and get your boarding pass at the airport through the Southwest ticket counter or, if available, a self-service kiosk.

However, you can secure an earlier boarding position by purchasing a Business Select fare, purchasing EarlyBird Check-In or by purchasing an upgraded boarding pass from the counter on the day of travel (when available).

Generally, yes, you can sit anywhere on Southwest. Since the airline's flights have open seating, you simply choose any available seat once on board.

There are a few exceptions. For example, passengers who preboard may not occupy an exit seat.

Seniors do not get priority boarding on Southwest.

There is priority boarding for customers who have a specific seating need to accommodate their disability, who need assistance in boarding the aircraft or who need help stowing an assistive device. These passengers board before Family Boarding, between the A and B groups.

No, Southwest does not have assigned seats. Instead, passengers can select their seat upon boarding. Passengers board in alpha-numerical order, and your boarding position is determined by your fare, if you purchased EarlyBird Check-In, whether you're part of certain preboarding groups and how quickly you check in for the flight 24 hours ahead of departure.

If you are assigned to boarding group C on Southwest, expect to have fewer window and aisle seat options, and less overhead bin space. You may, however, secure a middle seat towards the front of the plane, which can mean earlier disembarkation. Though boarding Group C on Southwest isn't great, there are some possible upsides.


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