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While Southwest Airlines doesn't have as many routes or partnerships as the legacy carriers, the airline’s Rapid Rewards loyalty program is worth considering if you find yourself taking advantage of its cheap fares to over 100 destinations in the U.S. and 10 other countries.
Plus, if you already have status with another domestic airline, Southwest will match it. This will let you take advantage of the airline’s elite status perks, including:
Dedicated phone line.
Priority check-in and security lane access, where available.
Free same-day standby for alternate flights.
25% earning bonus.
To get the status match, you need to sign up for the Southwest Rapid Rewards program and email proof of your status with another airline. Once the airline verifies the information, you’ll get matching A-List status. You can extend your new status another 12 months by taking three round-trip flights (or six one-ways) within 90 days of enrollment.
» Learn more: Southwest Rapid Rewards program: The complete guide
How to get elite status by flying and spending
To get A-List status, you need to take 25 one-way flights or earn 35,000 tier qualifying points per year. If you fly 50 qualifying segments or earn 70,000 qualifying points per year, you will earn A-List Preferred status. If you fly 100 one-way flights or earn 125,000 points, you can earn the airline’s coveted Companion Pass, which allows you to designate a companion who can travel with you for just the cost of taxes and fees.
In addition to flying to earn tier points, you can also earn them through 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.
Even though these cards don’t come with automatic status, they let you earn 1,500 tier qualifying points toward A-List and A-List Preferred status for every $10,000 spent, up to $100,000. The airline’s Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card offer the same tier-point earning benefit.
Elite status perks
Both A-List and A-List Preferred status will get you priority check-in and boarding. The airline has Fly-By priority check-in lines to get you to the counter quicker, and Southwest will automatically assign you a boarding position 36 hours before your flight.
If you want to change your flight on the same day to an earlier flight, both tiers get free same-day standby through the end of 2020. After that, Southwest elites get the same benefit, but will have to pay taxes and fees associated with itinerary changes.
Keep in mind that elite status benefits are not available to Companion Pass travelers, unless that person also has status.
Top-tier A-List Preferred elites receive free inflight Wi-Fi and a 100% point earning bonus, whereas A-List elites only get a 25% bonus.
» Learn more: How to get airline perks without elite status
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. Island destinations that Southwest flies to include Grand Cayman, Honolulu and Montego Bay. The airline also serves the Mexican destinations of Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Cozumel and Puerto Vallarta.
» Learn more:
If you manage to earn elite status or get it matched, your vacation will be off to a great start.
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 which 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
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 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card