Southwest Airlines Makes Elite Status Easier to Earn

The airline lowered elite status qualifications and added a “cash plus points” redemption option.
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Most airlines make it harder to earn elite status each year. Southwest Airlines is going the other way.

The airline is making it easier for members to qualify for its A-List elite status, and adding two free drink coupons to its list of benefits for top-tier elite status members.

In other changes to the Rapid Rewards program, Southwest is adding a “cash plus points” redemption option that will allow flyers to cover a portion of a flight’s cost with points (instead of “all or nothing”).

Here’s what to know about the changes for 2024.

Easier path to elite status

The most significant change Southwest Airlines is making to the Rapid Rewards program for 2024 involves elite status qualification.

Rapid Rewards members can earn A-List or A-List Preferred status by either flying a certain number of segments or accruing a certain number of “Tier Qualifying Points,” (TQP) which are earned through flying and spending on certain co-branded Southwest credit cards.

How do you get A-List on Southwest?

Starting on Jan. 1, 2024, Rapid Rewards members can qualify for elite status as follows:

Status

Benchmark

A-List

20 one-way flights (down from 25) or 35,000 TQP (no change).

A-List Preferred

40 one-way flight (down from 50) or 70,000 TQP (no change).

Though Southwest is not reducing the number of TQP a member will need for A-List or A-List Preferred status, the airline is making it easier to earn points through credit card spending.

Cardholders will earn TQP more easily

Starting Jan. 1, 2024, members will earn 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs) toward A-List and A-List preferred for every $5,000 spent on the following credit cards:

Currently, those cards earn 1,500 TQP per $10,000 in spending, so Southwest has reduced the spending required in half. Now, only the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card requires that level of spend for the TQP bonus.

Southwest to add cash + points option

Southwest is also making it easier for members to redeem points — particularly if they don’t have enough for an award flight — with a “cash plus points” redemption option.

Some loyalty programs, especially hotels, already offer this option. This will allow members to book a flight using a combination of Rapid Rewards points and cash. You’ll need at least 1,000 points in your account to use this option.

“Cash plus points” bookings can appeal to members short on points, but they’ll still want to be careful that they’re getting a good value for their Southwest points. The calculation should look like this: (Full cash price - cash price with points)/number of points.

NerdWallet values Southwest Rapid Rewards points at 1.5 cents each, so if the calculation is lower, use cash to pay for the booking instead of cash plus points.

Southwest is expected to roll out this change sometime in spring 2024.

A-List Preferred members get two free drinks

One additional change to the Rapid Rewards program will have top-tier Southwest Rapid Rewards elite status members saying an extra “Cheers!”

A-List Preferred members will receive two free inflight premium beverages (such as beer, wine or spirits) on eligible flights. The drink coupons will be loaded right onto the mobile boarding pass.

This will begin sooner than the other changes, effective Nov. 6, 2023.

What these changes mean for Southwest flyers in 2024

Southwest’s tweaks to its Rapid Rewards program for 2024 is generally good for frequent flyers, making it easier to earn A-List and A-List Preferred status through lowered benchmarks and more efficient TQP earnings for credit cardholders. The two free drinks for A-List Preferred members don’t hurt, either.

Notably, these changes stand in contrast to some airlines such as Delta Air Lines, which has made it more difficult for members to earn status beginning next year.

It’s also worth nothing, however, Southwest elite status comes with fewer tangible benefits since the airline already has free checked bags, open seating and no premium cabins. Still, since there’s open seating, A-List members’ ability to secure an earlier spot in the boarding process — arguably the best perk of Southwest elite status — certainly comes in handy for frequent flyers.

(Top photo courtesy of Southwest Airlines)


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