Southwest Airlines is frequently considered one of the top airlines for families, and it’s easy to see why. Not only does it offer one of the most flexible rebooking and cancellation policies across all domestic carriers nationwide, but its loyalty program — Southwest Rapid Rewards — makes it easy to rack up points, and you can book flights without worrying about blackout dates. Better yet, the airline gives everyone two checked bags for free and Southwest Rapid Rewards points never expire.

Southwest Airlines also offers a family boarding group, which occurs after the “A” group boards the plane but before the “B” group can approach the boarding area. And, although the airline doesn’t have premium cabins you can upgrade to on its planes, the airline loyalty program does have a few tiers of elite status you can earn.

If you’re wondering whether elite status is worth it or not, keep reading to learn what Southwest elite status is all about.

What is Southwest elite status?

Southwest status works similarly to elite status levels offered by other airlines. Once you reach one of the elite status tiers, you’ll get the chance to earn more points on flights and qualify for VIP benefits each time you fly.

There are two main levels of elite status with Southwest Airlines: A-List and A-List Preferred. However, you can also pursue what is easily the best companion pass among all frequent flyer programs — the Southwest Companion Pass. To earn Southwest status or the Companion Pass, you’ll need to fly a specific number of eligible one-way flights with the airline or earn a specific number of tier qualifying points (TQP) within a calendar year.

Southwest elite status tiers and benefits

Southwest A-List benefits are certainly better than nothing, but they’re not really on par with the elite status perks offered by other airlines. Part of this has to do with the fact that Southwest Airlines doesn’t offer any premium cabins. So, you can use your Southwest status perks to board the plane early, get better customer service and earn more points on paid fare, but you’re not exactly going to score an upgrade to business or first class.

The following table outlines how to earn each Southwest elite status tier, along with the benefits of each tier:

Elite status level A-List A-List Preferred
How to earn it Fly 25 qualifying one-way flights or earn 35,000 tier qualifying points in a calendar year Fly 50 qualifying one-way flights or earn 70,000 tier qualifying points in a calendar year
Earning bonus 25% more points 100% more points
Status benefits
  • Priority boarding
  • Priority check-in and security lane (where available)
  • Dedicated customer service line
  • Free same-day standby (when available)
  • Free same-day changes (when available)
  • Priority boarding
  • Priority check-in and security lane (where available)
  • Dedicated customer service line
  • Free same-day standby (when available)
  • Free same-day changes (when available)
  • Free in-flight Wi-Fi

How do tier qualifying points and segments work?

You may be wondering what Southwest means when it says you need to earn a specific number of “tier qualifying points.” According to the airline’s terms and conditions, tier qualifying points are any points earned from an eligible flight or Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card. That means that some ways of earning points don’t qualify toward elite status, such as Rapid Rewards program enrollment points, Rapid Rewards reward flights, Rapid Rewards Companion Pass travel, Rapid Rewards partner points, bonus points and more.

Meanwhile, qualifying one-way flights work exactly how they sound. A qualifying one-way flight is one you pay for through the airline, whereas a segment you cover with rewards points won’t count toward status.

How does the Southwest Companion Pass work with elite status?

The Southwest Companion Pass is a perk that can be earned on top of the two elite status levels. In other words, you won’t lose the benefits of A-List Preferred status when you fly enough (or earn enough tier qualifying points) to reach Companion Pass status with Southwest. To earn the Companion Pass, you’ll typically need to fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 135,000 tier qualifying points in a calendar year.

The interesting thing about the Southwest Companion Pass is that your companion can fly with you for free regardless of how you paid for your own flight. So, you can cover your flight with Southwest Rapid Rewards points and still add your chosen companion for free. You’ll only have to pay airline taxes and fees for each ticket, which starts at $5.60 per one-way trip.

The Companion Pass lasts for the remainder of the year you earn it in and the entire subsequent year, so it can be incredibly lucrative if you earn it early in the calendar year. Just keep in mind that, when it comes to the Southwest Companion Pass, you can only change your companion up to three times each calendar year. This means the pass works best when you typically fly with only a few different people, such as your immediate family members.

Tips for quickly earning Southwest elite status

If you want to earn elite status with Southwest and you’re worried about meeting the requirements the traditional way, there are some steps you can take to reach elite status at a faster pace.

  • Pick up a co-branded Southwest credit card. According to Southwest, you can rack up 1,500 tier qualifying points for every $10,000 spent on your Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card or Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card. Note, however, that limitations may apply to the maximum amount of TQPs you can earn in this manner.
  • Buy Business Select fares. Southwest Airlines offer four main fare types: Wanna Get Away, Wanna Get Away plus, Anytime and Business Select. Business Select fares are more expensive, but they let you earn the highest number of points (12X points per dollar). You can book these fares to reach elite status faster.
  • Fly a lot of short flights with the airline. Since you can earn Southwest status with segments flown, it’s also possible to reach elite status quickly with a lot of flights and segments. This strategy might be financially reasonable to pursue during a Southwest sale since you can sometimes find one-way domestic flights for less than $100.
  • Apply for Southwest Status Match. One final way to earn Southwest elite status is through the Southwest Status Match program, which lets you automatically receive Southwest status if you have elite status with another airline and are willing to meet a few additional requirements. To qualify, all you have to do is sign up for a free Southwest Rapid Rewards account and have proof of your current elite status level. Once Southwest receives your information, you’ll need to fly three round-trip flights or six one-way flights with Southwest within 90 days of confirmation of your enrollment. You can apply for this promotion through Southwest’s Status Match page, but you can also request a status match by sending your first and last name, your Rapid Rewards number and a screenshot of your elite status with another domestic carrier to this email address:

Is Southwest elite status worth it?

Pursuing Southwest elite status may or may not be worth it depending on what you have to give up to achieve it. If you have to pool all your flights with Southwest and potentially pay more for airfare when you fly to earn elite status, then you’re probably not doing yourself any favors.

After all, Southwest Airlines lets you pay for Early Bird check-in (starting at $15) that lets you board the plane early if you want, and you can get expedited airport security when you join TSA PreCheck. Southwest A-List Preferred status does come with free Wi-Fi when you fly, but paying for Wi-Fi outright on Southwest only costs $8 one-way to begin with, so that’s not a huge benefit.

Southwest elite status tiers do make it easier to earn more points on paid fares with the airline, but you can also pick up an airline credit card that lets you earn Southwest points for all of your spending. And since Southwest Rapid Rewards is a transfer partner of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, you can earn points with flexible travel credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve® and transfer them to Southwest.

The bottom line

Southwest elite status isn’t as lucrative as status offered through some other frequent flyer programs since the airline doesn’t offer any premium cabins to get upgraded to. That said, pursuing elite status is the best way to earn more points when you fly with the airline, which is ultimately how you rack up more rewards for award flights.

Achieving Companion Pass status can even help you score a nearly-free fare for your companion each time you fly, which essentially works out to a buy-one-get-one flight the entire time you have it. At the end of the day, achieving this status can be well worth it if you fly with Southwest often or plan to in the future.