Southwest may have started as a regional carrier back in the 60s, but today it’s the largest low-cost carrier in the world. It flies primarily in the US serving 111 destinations, but also has service to 10 other countries including destinations in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.
The carrier appeals to budget-minded leisure and business travelers, and elite status will appeal mostly to the carrier’s frequent travelers who want to take advantage of available benefits and point earning bonuses.
Because the perks of status with Southwest are not as robust as those offered by other carriers, you need to determine if you fly enough to achieve elite status and if obtaining that status is worth being loyal to Southwest.
There may be another airline that is a better fit for your travel plans depending on where you are based and where you fly. The domestic legacy carriers have better benefits, though it takes more to achieve elite status with them because Southwest has one of the lowest entry points for status seekers.
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Southwest Rapid Rewards Loyalty Program
Like other major airlines, Southwest has a frequent flyer program called Rapid Rewards. It works somewhat differently than other programs, but essentially you earn points toward award travel by flying just like other airlines reward you with miles, and you redeem your points for award flights.
Unlike other airlines though, Southwest doesn’t limit award seats on flights and there are no blackout dates, so as long as there are open seats on a flight you can book award travel on it. Also, points don’t expire as they do with many other airlines, so even if you are not a frequent Southwest flyer, you should sign up for its Rapid Rewards program when traveling on the airline.
Southwest points are awarded based on the price of the ticket and the type of fare booked. You’ll get six points per dollar spent on its lowest Wanna Get Away fares. Anytime fares earn 10 points per dollar, and Business Select tickets earn 12 points per dollar.
The number of points needed for an award ticket on Southwest vary by destination, demand, fare class and other factors as the amount of points that you need to redeem is tied to the cash price of the ticket.
Southwest elite status is also different from other airlines which have multiple elite status tiers. The airline only has two elite tiers: A-List and A-List Preferred.
How to Get Elite Status
You qualify for A-list and A-List Preferred elite status by flying a particular number of flights or a set number of miles in a calendar year. You earn status the year that you qualify, and you get to keep it the next year as well.
The only other way to help you achieve A-List status on Southwest is by earning elite status points with one of the airline’s co-branded credit cards issued by Chase.
The Rapid Rewards Premier and Priority personal cards, which carry a $99 and $149 annual fee respectively, let you earn 1,500 tier-qualifying points toward Southwest elite status for every $10,000 spent, up to $100,000 for a total of 15,000 possible points per year. The Premier and Performance business cards also offer the same ability to earn tier qualifying points toward elite status. They carry a $99 and $199 fee respectively.
Status March Promotion
Southwest is also currently running a status match promotion if you have elite status with another domestic airline program. To get the match, enroll in the Southwest Rapid Rewards program if you are not already a member, and register for the match promo on this page before 12/31/21. You will be prompted to send the airline an email with proof of your status with another airline frequent flyer program.
If you fly three roundtrips within 90 days of getting approved, Southwest will extend your A-List status for an extra 12 months. The status match process takes about 12 business days, and you will only get elite benefits on flights booked after you are approved. If you are a current A-List member whose status is expiring, you are not eligible for the match.
Southwest Airlines A-List
This is the first tier of elite status with the airline. To achieve it you must fly 25 one-way revenue flights or fly 35,000 miles in a calendar year. That translates to about one round-trip flight per month if you are going by flight segments. Only segments from the origin city to the destination count, not the legs of a connecting flight. All miles flown count.
You keep your status for the year you earned it and the following year. To maintain status and benefits you need to re-qualify each subsequent calendar year. If you earn more points than you need for A-List, you are elevated to the next and highest tier.
Southwest Airlines A-List Preferred
This is the top tier of the airline’s elite status program. You have to fly 50 one-way flights or 70,000 miles in a calendar year to achieve this level. You also get the status and benefits in the year that you qualify and the following year.
This status level earns you a 100% point bonus, so you get double the points you would have earned without status. This is particularly helpful if you are trying to get a Southwest Companion Pass, a highly coveted benefit that allows you to take a spouse or companion for just the cost of taxes and fees.
Other airlines may offer a single companion pass with a credit card sign-up or companion pass certificates based on status, but the Southwest pass let’s you take someone on any flight including award flights.
If you earn 125,000 points in a single year or fly 100 one-way trips, you will earn a Companion Pass. Like elite status, It is good the year it is earned as well as the following year. All points earned by using any Southwest co-branded credit card to make purchases count toward this benefit, and points earned through partner promotions also count. The points needed for this benefit do not need to be elite qualifying points.
To quickly boost your points balance to get a Companion Pass, you can apply for one or even two of the airline’s credit cards that offer a sign-up bonus. All three personal credit cards including the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus, Premier and the premium Priority card offer a 40,000-point bonus after you spend $1,000 in the first three months after opening the card.
With Southwest Business credit cards you can earn up to 100,000 points as part of the sign-up bonus. You get 70,000 points after spending $5,000 for purchases on the card in the first three months, but you can also get an additional 30,000 points if you spend a total of $25,000 on the card in the first six months.
You can easily earn a Companion Pass if you successfully apply for a personal and business card and meet the minimum spend on each in the allotted time. If you spend the full amount needed to reach the top sign-up bonus on the business card (100,000 points), and add that to the welcome bonus on the personal card (40,000 points), that will give you 140,000 bonus points, which is more than enough to obtain the Companion Pass.
Do Sign-Up Bonus Points Count Toward Elite Status?
Sign-up bonus points will not get you elite status though, unlike some other co-branded airline cards that offer some level of status as part of the welcome package. You still have to fly on Southwest and/or earn elite qualifying points through spend on one of its co-branded cards, and that option is limited to 15,000 points per card, so at least 10,000 more are needed by flying to reach A-list status if you have only one Southwest card.
Bonus points earned by flying with status (25% with A-List status and 100% with A-List Preferred status) will count toward reaching a higher elite status and will also count toward the Companion Pass, so if you do fly the airline regularly and can achieve status, that will help you reach the number of points needed to secure a pass for your companion to fly free with you.
What are the Benefits and Perks
One of the big perks that other airlines offer elite members is the opportunity to upgrade to first class. But Southwest doesn’t offer first class on its planes as most flights are domestic, so this is not part of the A-List program. Likewise, there are no lounge benefits with this status, which is another big perk for elites in other airline programs.
Also, other airlines that charge for extra baggage offer perks like a free second checked bag. But Southwest includes two checked pieces of luggage for each passenger, so that is also not an incentive in its loyalty program.
Priority Check-in and Security Lane
What you do get is Fly By priority check-in and security lane access to get you through that queue faster. You’ll also get priority boarding for yourself and everyone on your reservation. Boarding passes can be issued 36 hours before the flight, but you still need to check-in online 24 hours prior to your flight to get your boarding pass. There’s also a dedicated phone line for A-list members.
Also, If you’re trying to get on an earlier flight, if you have A-List status you can get same-day standby if available. There are no extra airline fees to make this change, but you do have to pay any associated fees and taxes. If you change the date of the flight, you have to pay the difference in fares as well.
A-List status also helps you earn rewards faster, as you get a 25% bonus on points earned, which lets you accumulate enough points the Companion Pass sooner. If you have A-List Preferred status you earn a 100% point bonus, which is double the points per flight. This is the most valuable benefit of A-List status for many.
Obtaining Elite Status by Flying and Spending
If you fly between US cities frequently for work, then you should be able to achieve elite status with Southwest. You only need to fly 25 one-way flights to get A-List status, so that’s an average of one round-trip flight a month, which is not likely for a vacation traveler, but definitely manageable for a business traveler that lives in a city that Southwest serves and travels to the carrier’s destinations. A-List Preferred takes twice as many flights, so you would need to fly about twice a month to get to this level.
The earlier in the year that you qualify for elite status or the Companion Pass, the more valuable the benefit is because you’ll get to use those perks for the remainder of that year you qualify and the following year. If you can achieve either elite status or earn the Companion Pass in the first quarter for example, you will retain it for nearly two years.
Like elite status, you need to re-qualify for the Companion Pass each calendar year after it expires. Keep in mind that the companion must be booked on the same flight, and if the main passenger has elite status not all of the benefits are available to the companion. Early boarding is available for both passengers because they are booked on a single reservation, but your companion won’t get priority check-in and security lane access if you are an A-List elite and they won’t get free wi-fi if you are an A-List Preferred member.
Southwest Credit Cards
As previously noted, Southwest credit cards have limitations on how many qualifying tier points can be awarded to achieve elite status. How much you plan to spend on the card to achieve tier points is another consideration in whether elite status is an achievable goal.
All personal SW credit cards offer bonus spending categories where you can earn 3x per dollar on dining the first year you have the card and 2x on Southwest purchases as long as you hold the card. You earn one point per dollar for all other purchases.
Business cards earn 3x per dollar on Southwest Airlines purchases and 2x on every dollar spent on social media and search engine advertising, as well as internet, cable and phone services. But while those bonus points will count toward the Companion Pass if that is your goal, they do not count as elite qualifying points so they will not help you earn elite status.
Is it Worth It?
If you are working toward getting the Companion Pass by flying, you will get elite status on the way and that will help you achieve your goal because the earning bonus on flight purchases will help you accumulate more points.
Because all the points you earn through credit card spending don’t count toward elite status though, you need to do the math to determine if elite status is a realistic goal based on your flying and spending patterns if you have a Southwest credit card or plan to get one, as well as tabulating the points you will earn with the fare class you usually book.
If Southwest is your carrier of choice and you fly on it enough for personal and/or business travel, or you can make up the elite qualifying points needed for status with a co-branded card, then it’s worth shooting for. But if you can find comparable fares on another carrier and you fly enough to get elite status with that airline, then those perks are likely more beneficial as Southwest has limited benefits.
If you already have elite status with another carrier though, it’s a no-brainer to match it with Southwest for the perks even if you don’t fly on the airline much. Because they offer discounted fares that are lower than many other domestic carriers, you may find yourself booking a flight in the future so it’s a good idea to secure status if you qualify.