Southwest quietly increases early check-in fee by 20 percent

Fans of Southwest’s EarlyBird Check-In feature have to shell out a little extra dough for the pre-boarding privilege.

In March, the Dallas-based airline quietly raised the price from $12.50 up 20 percent to $15 for a one-way trip.

“Every few years, we review the price of our services in order to align with market and operational conditions as well as uphold the quality of our offerings,” Southwest said in a statement.

Southwest is known for its open seating policy where passengers are not given specific seat assignments but are corralled into one of three boarding groups—A, B, or C—when checking in. The highly coveted aisle seats are usually the first the go while those in the C group are often relegated to the middle.

Customers can start checking in up to 24 hours ahead of their flight’s scheduled departure. And the earlier you check in, the better your boarding group and ranking.

In 2009, Southwest rolled out its EarlyBird Check-In program, which, for a fee, automatically checked in customers and secured them a higher place in line. It doesn’t automatically get you into the “A” group but you do get a 12-hour jump on the rest of the passengers aboard your flight.

When the program opened, the fee was $10.

Despite the early check-in fee hike, Southwest is still the only major U.S. carrier that doesn’t charge extra for the first two checked bags.