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Southwest Airlines offers two levels of elite status: A-List and A-List Preferred. However, its 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).
However, Southwest’s elite status is worth pursuing if you find yourself taking advantage of its cheap fares to over 100 destinations in the U.S. and 10 other countries.
» Learn more: Southwest Rapid Rewards program: The complete guide
Southwest’s elite status tiers and 2022 boost
How do you earn Southwest elite status? In short: Fly frequently, spend a significant amount of money with the airline or both.
Tier Qualifying Points
TQPs are earned from revenue flights booked on Southwest and by spending on Southwest’s credit cards. You earn 1,500 TQPs for every $10,000 spent using the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card and the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card.
Southwest’s boost for elite status due to COVID-19
Because of the pandemic, Southwest made it easier for loyalists to qualify for elite status. Those who had a Rapid Rewards account as of Dec. 31, 2020 automatically received 15,000 TPQs deposited in their loyalty accounts. If you’re in this category, you only need to earn 20,000 or 55,000 TQPs to reach A-List and A-List Preferred in 2021, respectively.
About Southwest A-List status
A-List is the lower of the two tiers of Southwest elite status.
Here are the 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).
About Southwest A-List Preferred status
The biggest difference between A-List and A-List Preferred is 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.
In addition to the benefits provided by A-List status, A-List Preferred status includes:
Free in-flight Wi-Fi.
A dedicated A-List Preferred phone line.
A 100% earning bonus on all eligible revenue Southwest flights.
» Learn more: How to get airline perks without elite status
2022 perk: Earn elite status with Southwest credit cards
To make earning elite status in 2022 easier, Southwest is allowing its cardholders to earn an unlimited number of TQPs when using the following four credit cards:
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card (annual fee $99): Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card (annual fee $99): Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card (annual fee $149): Earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card (annual fee $199): Earn 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
» Learn more: Is Southwest’s credit card worth it?
What you can do with your points and A-List 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. Additionally, the airline serves the Mexican destinations of Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Cozumel and Puerto Vallarta.
» Learn more: Here's how much your points and miles are worth
How much is Southwest A-List 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
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 includes 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.
What about the Southwest Companion Pass?
The Southwest Companion Pass 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. For a limited time, you'll be able to earn a Companion Pass through the sign-up bonus on some of the co-branded credit cards.
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 2022, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card