Southwest elite status: How to earn it and the benefits of doing so

1

At Bankrate we strive to help you make smarter financial decisions. While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here’s an explanation for

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired.

Southwest Airlines is frequently considered one of the top airlines for families, and it’s easy to see why. Not only do they offer one of the most flexible rebooking and cancellation policies across all of the domestic carriers nationwide, but their loyalty program—Southwest Rapid Rewards—makes it easy to rack up points, and you can book flights without worrying about blackout dates.

Southwest Airlines also offers a family boarding group, and although they don’t have premium cabins you can upgrade to on their planes, the airline loyalty program does have a few tiers of elite status you can earn.

If you are looking into Southwest Airlines and wondering if you should pool your flights with them to earn elite status, keep reading to learn what Southwest 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 get the chance to earn more points when you pay for flights, and you can qualify for VIP benefits each time you fly.

To earn Southwest status, you’ll need to fly a specific number of eligible one-way flights with the airline or earn a specific number of tier qualifying Southwest Rapid Rewards points within a calendar year. 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.

Southwest elite status tiers

The following table outlines how Southwest elite status tiers work:

A-List A-List Preferred Companion Pass
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 Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 125,000 tier qualifying points in a calendar year
Status benefits
  • Priority boarding
  • Priority check-in and security lane
  • 25 percent earning bonus
  • Dedicated phone line
  • Free same-day standby
  • Priority boarding
  • Priority check-in and security lane
  • 100 percent earning bonus
  • Dedicated phone line
  • Free same-day standby
  • Free in-flight Wi-Fi
A chosen companion flies free when you do, whether you pay for your flight with cash or points

How does the Southwest Companion Pass work?

Note that 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.

The interesting thing about the Southwest Companion Pass is the fact 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 works out to $5.60 per leg for domestic flights and up to $100 round-trip for flights to the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico.

How do tier qualifying points and segments work?

Another thing: You may be wondering what Southwest means when they say you need to earn a specific number of “tier qualifying points.” According to the airline, tier qualifying points are any points “earned from revenue flights booked through Southwest Airlines or through the use of the Rapid Rewards Priority, Business Performance, or Premier Credit Cards.” In other words, purchased points and points earned from Rapid Rewards program enrollment, tier bonus points, flight bonus points, points earned through the Southwest Dining program and points earned through partners do not count toward elite status qualification.

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.

Benefits of Southwest elite status

Southwest A-List benefits are certainly better than nothing, but they are not really on par with elite status perks offered by other airlines. Part of this has to do with the fact that Southwest Airlines planes don’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 a paid fare, but you’re not exactly going to score an upgrade to business or first class.

The benefits of both main Southwest status tiers are as follows:

A-List

  • Priority boarding
  • Priority check-in and security lane
  • 25 percent earning bonus
  • Dedicated phone line
  • Free same-day standby

A-List Preferred

  • Priority boarding
  • Priority check-in and security lane
  • 100 percent earning bonus
  • Dedicated phone line
  • Free same-day standby
  • Free in-flight Wi-Fi

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 $15 to $25 for Early Bird check-in 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 your spending. And since Southwest Rapid Rewards is a transfer partner of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, you can even earn points good for Southwest flights with top travel credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

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 a few 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 (TQPs) for every $10,000 in purchases on your Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card or Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card. Note, however, that the maximum amount of TQPs you can earn is 15,000 per year with $100,000 in spending. This means you would have to make up the shortfall toward elite status with paid flights.
  • Buy Business Preferred fares: Southwest Airlines offer three main fare types — “Wanna Get Away fares,” “Anytime fares” and “Business Select fares.” 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 when you can sometimes find one-way domestic flights for as little as $49.

What is 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 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 with Southwest within 90 days of confirmation of your enrollment. You can apply for this promotion online using this page on the Southwest website, 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: southwest.statusmatch@wnco.com.

The information about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card.