“Is there an industry standard regarding reimbursing employees the $20 (roundtrip) charge for early bird seating on Southwest that you are aware of? We have one employee who thinks we should pay it, arguing that Southwest is cheaper, so it should be okay to spend extra. I’m trying to collect some data to see if her claim is true and determine if this is something we should be reimbursing.”
Contrary to their advertising that they don’t charge fees, it is true that Southwest Airlines has a fee called the Early Bird Check In Fee. How does it work? Well first you have to know that Southwest Airlines does not assign any seats. The boarding process is categorized into 3 groups – A, B & C. Within each group there are numbers from 1 to 60. So depending on the fare you purchased and when you checked in online (you can’t before 24 hours of your flight time), you are assigned a letter/number combo – example A20 will board before A21. A30 will board before B1. You get the idea.
As most travelers have seat preferences, it is imperative that you check in as soon as you can so that when you board the plane, you can get the window or aisle seat you prefer. Hence the run up to check in first as soon as the 24 hour clock opens up.
So how does the Early Bird Check In Fee come in? For $10 you can get a “better boarding position” where you can check in 36 hours prior to your flight’s departure as opposed to the others who check in 24 hours before. As Southwest puts it, that is “an 12-hour advantage” over general check in. This results in a better seat selection and more access to overhead storage space.
My Response to the Above Question:
The early bird check in is another way for Airlines to add to their already large list of Ancillary Fees. This year it totaled $7.8 Billion! Southwest has created this early bird because they don’t assign seating. So one of the things that Southwest does is to offer people the ability to get letters assigned to them so that you can get a better seat. The closer to the 24 hour mark you check in, the better your odds of boarding first. Of course travelers love it because it allows them to beat the “system” so to speak. It gives them a 48 advance option as opposed to the 24 hour option which is free. But they charge $10 for it.
As far as the claim that southwest is cheaper, that is not true. It’s a perception. Take the following example.
23 September from LAX to SFO:
American Airlines at 745am is $59.70 one way
Southwest Airlines at 700am is $59.70 one way
The important thing is not Southwest but advance purchase and a review of all airlines. The thing with Southwest is that they use a lot of smaller nearby airports which maybe other major airlines don’t fly to. So they go into Ft Lauderdale instead of Miami.
As far as if this is something you should reimburse, consider that it is a small price to pay for a happy employee. If a traveler is on the road a lot, they should take advantage of these little services. It does not cost that much and it does make their life a lot of easier.