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Southwest offers a simple rewards program that caters to leisure travelers and light business travelers. The airline's program has easier eligibility requirements and fewer elite tiers than other major airlines' status programs. Southwest also offers a companion pass benefit for the highest-volume travelers. In general, elite status on Southwest's Rapid Reward program is a good option if you prefer using the airline over the legacy carriers.
What are the Benefits of Southwest Elite Status?
Compared to major U.S. carriers like American, Delta and United, Southwest offers fewer benefits to elite status members. Members of Southwest's two elite status tiers get the benefit of priority check-in, priority boarding, a points-earning bonus and same-day standby free of airline charges (new flight must be within two hours of original departure time). Travelers in the highest status tier, A-List Preferred, benefit from free in-flight Wi-Fi. Southwest already offers two free checked bags, so this perk is not exclusive to elite status members as it is on other airlines.
|Southwest A-List||Southwest A-List Preferred|
|Same-day standby free of airline charges||Yes||Yes|
|Free in-flight Wi-Fi||No||Yes|
Southwest is a low-cost carrier and has fewer perks and amenities than the major U.S. carriers. Notably, there is no free seat upgrade benefit for Southwest's A-List members—as there are no business or first-class cabins on the airline's planes. There is also no airport air lounge access benefit for Southwest status members, as the airline does not have a network of lounges. However, if you're frequent flyer on Southwest and interested in airport lounge access, you can consider opening a credit card with a lounge access benefit.
If you're looking to get free first-class seats and to earn and redeem miles for international flights, then elite status on Southwest won't provide much benefit to you. However, the airline is a great option if you fly within the U.S. for business and are more concerned with saving money than getting luxury perks. Southwest has a route network of affordable domestic flights and a points-earning system, the Rapid Rewards program, that allows you to redeem your miles for relatively affordable trips within the states.
Southwest Airlines A-List
The lower tier of Southwest's elite status program is a bare-bones offering that provides a handful of perks to ease the travel experience. As an A-List member, you'll receive a priority check-in and security lane benefit that lets you skip the line at the ticket counter. You'll also receive a priority-boarding benefit that allows you to board in the first group. This benefit is common across all airline elite status programs, but it's especially useful on Southwest—an airline without assigned seating.
Southwest's entry-level benefits are slightly worse when compared to the legacy carriers', as the airline has less to offer in general. The benefits that are offered, however, will make the airport experience at check-in, security and the gate significantly easier. Without priority boarding, for example, it's possible that you'll be assigned the last boarding group and be stuck in a middle seat for long-haul cross country flight.
Southwest Airlines A-List Preferred
The second and highest tier of the Rapid Rewards program, A-List preferred, is similar to the entry-level tier with two exceptions. First, A-List preferred has a higher earning bonus on Rapid Rewards points—100% rather than 25%. Second, A-List preferred members get free inflight Wi-Fi, which normally costs $8 per flight. For an A-List preferred member who flies the tier-qualifying minimum of 50 annual one-way flights, the free Wi-Fi perk will save $400 per year.
The 100% miles bonus benefit also provides great value to travelers who are spending thousands per year with Southwest. Unlike on other airlines, Southwest's rewards redemptions aren't subject to restrictive blackout dates. In addition, the airline won't expire your points until 24 months after your last purchase with the airline, rather than the 18 months offered on other carriers.
Southwest Airlines Companion Pass
Southwest's Companion Pass allows you to designate one person to fly with you for free on Southwest flights for a year. The airline offers the pass to travelers who fly 100 annual one-way flights with the airline or earn 125,000 tier qualifying points. While the Companion Pass is not exactly an elite status level, the benefit is only available to the highest-volume Southwest frequent flyers.
The companion pass benefit offered to Southwest ultra-frequent flyers is the most unique and valuable benefit given by the airline. The pass allows the benefit-holder to get a two-for-one deal on any Southwest flight and only pay taxes and fees on the second ticket. This perk is unrivaled by any other benefit offered by U.S. carriers or credit card issuers. Most credit cards with companion tickets only provide reduced fare for the companion or a one-time complimentary pass.
How to Get A-List Status
To qualify for elite status on Southwest, you have to fly at least 25 one-way flights in one calendar year or earn 35,000 tier qualifying points. Compared to other major carriers' elite status programs, Southwest has the most lenient entry-level requirements for flights. The three legacy carriers and Alaska Airlines all require 30 annual segments per year to qualify.
|A-List||A-List Preferred||Companion Pass|
Southwest's A-List status tier has a slightly higher points requirement than other airline's entry level programs, but the airline also makes it easier to earn points. Tickets in Southwest's cheapest fare class, Wanna Get Away, earn six points per dollar, and fares in regular economy receive 10 points per dollar. Other airlines generally do not count points earned on their cheapest ticket class ("basic economy") toward status eligibility.
|Fare type||Wanna Get Away||Anytime||Business Select|
|Points per dollar||6||10||12|
Earning status on Southwest can be more expensive than on other airlines. While Southwest does not have a spending requirement for elite status, their points earning scheme effectively sets a minimum spending threshold of $2,916.67—and this is if you only purchased Business Select tickets, which earn 12 points per dollar. If you purchased exclusively Anytime tickets, you'd have to spend $3,500. On exclusively Wanna Get Away fares, the minimum spend rises to $5,833.34.
Is Southwest Elite Status Worth It?
Elite status on Southwest provides few benefits outside of an accelerated check-in and boarding process. However, if you fly enough to qualify for the companion pass, then loyalty to Southwest may be worth it. In general, Southwest is a decent go-to airline for domestic travelers who value customer service and don't expect to be pampered with upscale perks like free airport lounge access and business class upgrades.
Southwest's entry-level status tier provides decent value for the casual domestic traveler. Most benefits provide a bump in convenience and flexibility—like priority boarding, priority check-in and same-day standby free of airline charges—that will make your airport experience a lot smoother.
The flight requirements to make A-List are reasonable and the minimum spend to earn the 35,000 required points is around $3,000. If you take at least one trip per month and spend roughly $300 on fare per trip, you can qualify for A-List.
The second tier of Southwest's status program provides decent value for moderate business travelers. Members at the A-List preferred level will likely receive the most value from this tier's free wifi perk (a value of $16 per trip) and 100% points earning bonus. This means that any ticket purchase will earn you double rewards points.
With a minimum flight requirement of 50 annual one-way flights, you'll need to take at least two trips per month to qualify for A-List Preferred. If you're traveling this much on a legacy carrier, you'll only qualify for the lowest status level. On airlines like American and United, this tier provides a free checked bag, small rewards points boost (seven points per dollar) and occasional seat upgrades.
The Companion Pass is worth it for almost anyone who flies enough to qualify for the benefit (100 annual one-way flights). For travelers who want to fly with a partner, the Companion Pass is by far the most useful and valuable benefit—across all U.S. airlines. However, this benefit is less important if you prefer to travel alone or don't mind spending more on airfare when you do fly with your significant other.
In addition, the flights and spend required to qualify for Companion Pass would put you in a top-tier status bracket on a legacy carrier. If you're more interested in frequent seat upgrades, international transfer partners and airport lounge access, then devoting your business to an airline like Delta, United or American is a better choice than consolidating flights on Southwest to get the Companion Pass.
Southwest Elite Status vs. Credit Cards
Southwest offers three credit cards that come with travel benefits and spending rewards. For an annual fee, each of the cards gives a spending bonus and an annual points bonus. While none of the cards provide airport experience benefits comparable to A-List and A-List preferred status, they have some of the most competitive points bonus sign-up offers. However, this benefit is only worth it if you're okay with redeeming those points for coach class tickets on Southwest, as there are are no business or first-class options.
Outside of the sign-up bonus, Southwest's credit card spending rewards are not competitive with other travel cards on earning points. If you're looking to earn points on your travel purchases, opening a general travel rewards card is a better option. These cards tend to earn more points and have comparable, if not lower, annual fees than the $149.