Your Guide to Southwest Airlines Elite Status

Whether you snag A-List, A-List Preferred or the Companion Pass, there's plenty of value in Southwest status.
Rosemarie ClancyOct 20, 2021

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Southwest Airlines elite status is a bit unlike most major airlines. There are no upgrades to first class (that’s because Southwest first class isn’t a thing), and there’s no access to premium airport lounges (Southwest doesn’t have any). But the no-frills airline does offer an elite status program, and it’s worth pursuing if you find yourself taking advantage of its cheap fares to over 100 destinations in the U.S. and 10 other countries.

Southwest has two tiers of elite status: A-List and A-List Preferred. Southwest elite status perks vary by tier.

Southwest’s elite status tiers

How do you earn Southwest elite status? In short: Either fly frequently, or spend a significant amount of money with Southwest (or both).

A-List status: How to earn it, and what it entails

A-List is the lower of the two tiers of Southwest elite status.

How to earn A-List status: To get A-List status, you need to take 25 one-way flights or earn 35,000 tier qualifying points per year. Points are earned through booking flights with Southwest, or through making qualifying purchases with Rapid Rewards partners, which include other hotel programs like the World of Hyatt and Marriott Bonvoy programs, or booking rental cars through companies including Alamo, Hertz and National.

Benefits of A-List status:

  • Access to Fly By priority check-in and security access lanes (where available).

  • A dedicated A-List phone line.

  • A 25% earning bonus on all eligible revenue Southwest flights.

  • Same-day standby benefits free of airline charges.

  • All passengers included on your reservation will receive priority boarding (meaning Southwest will automatically reserve a boarding position 36 hours prior to the flight, though you and passengers on your reservation will still need to check in within 24 hours of scheduled departure to retrieve your boarding passes).

A-List Preferred status: How to earn it, and what it entails

The biggest difference between A-List and A-List Preferred: With the latter, you earn way more points per flight booked with Southwest, which means you’ll rack up points toward future flights even faster. Additionally, you’ll get free in-flight Wi-Fi.

How to earn A-List Preferred status: If you fly 50 qualifying segments or earn 70,000 qualifying points per year, you will earn A-List Preferred status.

Benefits of A-List Preferred status:

  • Free in-flight Wi-Fi.

  • Access to Fly By priority check-in and security access lanes (where available).

  • A dedicated A-List Preferred phone line.

  • A 100% earning bonus on all eligible revenue Southwest flights.

  • Same-day standby benefits free of airline charges.

  • All passengers included on your reservation will receive priority boarding (meaning Southwest will automatically reserve a boarding position 36 hours prior to the flight, though you and passengers on your reservation will still need to check in within 24 hours of scheduled departure to retrieve your boarding passes).

What about the Southwest Companion Pass?

Once you’ve attained elite status, you could level up even further by pursuing the Southwest Companion Pass, which is one of the most coveted perks in the budget air travel world.

If you fly 100 one-way flights or earn 125,000 points, you can earn the airline’s Companion Pass, which allows you to designate a companion who can travel with you for just the cost of taxes and fees.

Earning Southwest points with credit cards

In addition to flying to earn tier points, you can also earn them with the Southwest Rapid Reward credit cards. The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card carry a $99 and $149 annual fee, respectively.

What you can do with your points and status

Elite status will help you earn reward points faster with bonuses of up to 100%. When it comes time to redeem Rapid Rewards points, consider using them for a tropical vacation. Southwest flights to the Caribbean provide among the best value for budget travelers looking for a beach getaway. Southwest flights to Hawaii continue to expand as the airline adds more routes beyond just California, where service initially launched, into other West Coast airports too.

The list of international island destinations that Southwest flies to also includes Grand Cayman and Montego Bay. The airline also serves the Mexican destinations of Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Cozumel and Puerto Vallarta.

How much is Southwest elite status worth? 

Since Southwest offers all passengers two free checked bags anyway, and there’s no such thing as a Southwest first class lounge (heck, there’s no such thing as Southwest first class, period), Southwest elite status is worth much less than the value of elite status with most other airlines.

To determine the estimates below, we performed a comprehensive analysis of those aspects of airline elite status that offer the most tangible benefits.

By our estimates:

  • Southwest A-List status is worth $122.99.

  • Southwest A-List Preferred status is worth $983.94.

Just remember, the “value” of any elite status depends not only on the benefits it affords, but how much it costs to earn. By dividing the benefits by the cost, you can determine the “elite earning rate” for each level.

Value of benefits

Cost to earn

Elite earning rate

A-List

$122.99

$7,028

2%

A-List Preferred

$983.94

$14,056

7%

When you weigh the value of benefits versus the cost to earn, you’re looking at an elite earning rate of just 2% for A-List, and 7% for A-List Preferred.

Sure, Southwest elite status entails a few small benefits like priority check-in and boarding, but most of its value is wrapped up in the earning bonus: 25% for A-List and 100% for A-List Preferred. By earning bonus points on qualifying flights, you’ll get to your next reward flight faster. The more you fly, the more valuable your status is in earning more Rapid Rewards points toward your next flight.

But with an earning rate of just 7% when you factor in the cost to earn, it’s generally not worth the effort to go out of your way to try to earn Southwest elite status. With Southwest, the most valuable type of elite status for most people is not elite status at all — it’s the Southwest Companion Pass. In most cases (assuming you frequently fly with a friend), that’s a benefit worth having.


How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:

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