How to Get Southwest Elite Status [and Is It Worth It?]

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Southwest Airlines is unique in a lot of ways — they essentially don’t charge for baggage, they don’t charge change or cancellation fees — and they don’t assign seats.

While Southwest started as a budget airline, it has since evolved into a major player with raving fans. Southwest is a great choice for getting around the U.S. (including Hawaii) and they even fly to some international destinations.

The Rapid Rewards program is one of the most straightforward, easy to use frequent flyer programs out there. While you won’t be able to score some of those coveted business or first class redemptions with Southwest, you can still get a lot of value out of the program. That’s because there are no blackout dates — if a flight is available to purchase for cash, it’s available to purchase with points.

Southwest offers 3 levels of elite status — A-List, A-List Preferred, and Companion Pass. In this post, we’ll explain each of these levels and show you how to earn them. Plus we’ll discuss whether or not Southwest elite status is even worth it.

Elite Status on Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines offers 3 levels of elite status — A-List, A-List Preferred, and Companion Pass. A-List and A-List Preferred work in a similar fashion while Companion Pass is an entity all its own.

A-List and A-List Preferred are Southwest’s “traditional” elite status levels which offer benefits like upgraded seating and accelerated points earning.

Companion Pass is a status that offers a “buy one get one” benefit for up to 2 years.

Southwest Elite Status levels
Image Credit: Southwest

A-List and A-List Preferred Elite Status on Southwest Airlines

Benefits of A-List Status

A-List status is the lowest level of Southwest elite status but still offers some solid benefits.

  • Priority boarding (Southwest will automatically check you in)
  • Priority check-in
  • 25% more bonus points on Southwest flights
  • Free same-day standby
  • Dedicated A-List member phone line

Arguably the most important of all of these benefits is priority boarding. Unlike other airlines, Southwest doesn’t assign seats, so their boarding process is a little different. Having priority boarding ensures you won’t get stuck with an undesirable middle seat!

How to Earn A-List Status

To earn Southwest A-List status you’ll need to fly 25 qualifying one-way flights or earn 35,000 tier qualifying points in a calendar year.

Bottom Line: If you fly 1 round-trip flight per month for a year, you’ll almost be at A-List status. 

Benefits of A-List Preferred Status

  • Priority boarding (Southwest will automatically check you in)
  • Priority check-in
  • 100% more bonus points on Southwest flights
  • Free same-day standby
  • Dedicated A-List Preferred member phone line
  • Free inflight Wi-Fi

How to Earn A-List Preferred Status

To earn Southwest A-List Preferred status you need to fly 50 qualifying one-way flights or earn 70,000 tier qualifying points in a calendar year.

Essentially, you’ll earn A-List Preferred status if you fly 25 round-trips a year (that’s just over 2 round-trip flights per month).

While the requirements to earn A-List Preferred status are double the requirements for A-List status, the benefits, unfortunately, aren’t twice as good. You’ll earn more points on each flight and get free Wi-Fi, but that’s about the extent of the extra benefits.

Hot Tip: With A-List or A-List Preferred status, you’ll probably get an A boarding group, but it’s not guaranteed. However, if you don’t get an A boarding position, you’ll be able to board after the A group right before family boarding — which is still enough to ensure you don’t get stuck in a middle seat. 

Qualifying Flight

A qualifying flight is one that you pay for. That means flights you bought with Rapid Rewards points don’t count.

A one-way flight consists of your entire itinerary — extra legs of travel due to layovers don’t count. For example, if you fly from Dallas to Seattle but have a layover in Phoenix, that counts as 1 one-way flight for the purposes of A-List or A-List Preferred status (even though, technically, you flew on 2 flights).

Tier Qualifying Points

There are 2 ways to earn tier qualifying points — revenue flights and select Southwest credit cards.

  1. Tier qualifying points from a revenue flight should post within 72 hours after your entire trip has been completed. The number of points you earn is based on the type of ticket you purchase. You’ll earn the most points on Business Select tickets and the least amount of points on Wanna Get Away fares.

    Tier Qualifying Points on Southwest Flight
    Rapid Rewards points that you earn through revenue flights will count toward A-List and A-List Preferred status. Image Credit: Soutwhest
  2. There are 2 Southwest credit cards that allow you to earn tier qualifying points.

    With either of these cards, you’ll receive 1,500 tier qualifying points for every $10,000 you spend with a maximum of 15,000 points ($100,000 in purchases).

What Doesn’t Count Towards A-List or A-List Preferred Status?

Unfortunately, there is a long list of things that won’t help you earn A-List or A-List Preferred status on Southwest Airlines:

  • Purchased points
  • Transferred or gifted points
  • Tier bonus points
  • Flight bonus points
  • Reward travel
  • Charter flights
  • Rapid Reward partner points
  • Points transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards or any other partner programs
  • Companion Pass travel
  • Bonus Rapid Rewards points (unless specifically designated to count towards status)

Companion Pass Status on Southwest Airlines

The Southwest Companion Pass, while considered an elite status, has nothing to do with A-List or A-List Preferred. It’s a stand-alone benefit that doesn’t build on the other statuses.

southwest companion pass
The Southwest Companion Pass lets you bring a companion on any Southwest flight for just the cost of taxes and fees. Image Credit: Olena Yakobchuk via Shutterstock

Benefits of Companion Pass Status

The Southwest Companion Pass is arguably one of the best benefits in travel today. When you earn the Companion Pass, you will be able to bring a companion on any Southwest flight for just the cost of the taxes and fees on the second ticket ($5.60 each way on domestic flights or about $75-$100 each way on international itineraries).

This benefit lasts for the remainder of the calendar year in which you earn it plus the entire next year — for a maximum time of 2 full years!

The number of times you can bring a companion is not limited — plus you can even bring a companion on a flight that you purchased with Rapid Rewards points.

Hot Tip: None of the benefits from A-List or A-List Preferred status are included when you have a Companion Pass.

How to Earn Companion Pass Status

Earning the Southwest Companion Pass is getting harder. Starting on January 1, 2020, you’ll need to earn 125,000 qualifying points or fly 100 qualifying one-way flights to earn the Companion Pass. Previously you only needed to earn 110,000 qualifying points or fly 100 qualifying one-way flights.

Points that count towards the Southwest Companion Pass include:

  • Points earned on revenue flights booked through Southwest.com
  • Points earned from hotel, car rental, or ground transportation partners
  • Points earned from a Rapid Rewards credit card (including welcome bonus points)
  • Points earned from shopping and dining partners
  • Points earned from Southwest home and lifestyle partners

Points that don’t count towards the Companion Pass include:

  • Purchased points
  • Transferred or gifted points
  • Points earned from program enrollment
  • Promotion bonus points (with the exception of a Rapid Rewards credit card)
  • Partner bonus points (with the exception of a Rapid Rewards credit card)
  • Flight bonus points
  • Points transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards or any other partner programs
  • Purchased promotional tier qualifying points

Hot Tip: The quickest way to get a large chunk of points that will count towards a Companion Pass is to earn the welcome bonus on one of the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards.

Is Southwest Elite Status Worth It?

So now that you know all about Southwest elite status and how to earn each level, let’s take a look at the value of elite status, and if it’s even worth it?

Value of A-List and A-List Preferred Status

The main benefit of A-List status is priority boarding. This allows you to board after the A group even if you have a B or C boarding position. That can be the difference between a comfortable flight in a window or aisle seat versus a cramped middle seat in the back of the plane.

This status essentially ensures you’ll never need to purchase EarlyBird Check-In to get a decent seat. Depending on how often you fly, this can be a great benefit. Since EarlyBird Check-In can cost between $30-$50 for a round-trip flight, you can see that the value of this benefit can be huge.

If you fly once a month and purchase EarlyBird Check-In each time, this benefit would provide $360-$600 in annual value.

A-List Preferred status includes a couple of extra perks including 100% more bonus points on your flights and free Wi-Fi. The free inflight Wi-Fi is a nice perk, especially if you like to get some work done while traveling. This usually costs $8 per day, so for each round-trip flight you take, this benefit would be worth $16. If you fly once a month, you would get $192 in value from this perk yearly.

Value of The Companion Pass

The Southwest Companion Pass can save you thousands of dollars!

Let’s assume that you and your companion fly once a month and your flights cost $300 each. With the Companion Pass, you would only have to pay for 1 flight each time, saving you $3,600 over the course of a year!

Even if you only fly a few times a year, the Southwest Companion Pass can save you hundreds and hundreds of dollars. While earning the Southwest Companion Pass isn’t easy, it’s 100% worth it!

Hot Tip: Southwest flies to lots of vacation spots including Hawaii and many destinations in the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico — and you can use your Companion Pass for flights to any of these tropical places!

Final Thoughts

Southwest offers 3 levels of elite status, each with its own benefits. A-List and A-List Preferred statuses offer nice benefits including priority boarding and free inflight Wi-Fi, plus accelerated points earning.

Companion Pass is a separate entity and doesn’t include any of the benefits that come with A-List or A-List Preferred. However, having the Southwest Companion Pass has the potential to offer thousands of dollars of value. This elite status allows you to bring a companion on any Southwest flight for just the cost of taxes and fees for up to 2 years. It’s a huge benefit and can offer lots of value to even those that only fly a few times a year.


Frequently asked questions

How do you get elite status on Southwest?

To qualify for A-List status you need to fly 25 qualifying one-way flights or earn 35,000 tier qualifying points. To earn A-List Preferred status you need to fly 50 qualifying one-way flights or earn 70,000 tier qualifying points. To earn Companion Pass you need to fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 110,000 qualifying points. After January 1, 2020, you’ll need to earn 125,000 qualifying points or fly 100 qualifying one-way flights to earn Companion Pass.

What are tier qualifying points?

Tier qualifying points are points earned from a revenue flight (one that you pay for) or points earned on select Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards. You’ll earn 1,500 tier qualifying points for each $10,000 you spend on the Southwest Premier card or the Southwest Priority card.

Will Southwest Airlines match status?

Yes, Southwest Airlines will do a status match from another airline. For more information check out our detailed guide on how to status match with Southwest Airlines

Can you buy Southwest A-List status?

No, you can’t buy status on Southwest Airlines.

Does Southwest A-List status automatically check you in?

Yes, you’ll be automatically checked in if you have Southwest A-List or A-List Preferred status.

Katie Seemann

About Katie Seemann

Katie is an Ohio native who caught the travel bug after spending a semester in college in Nottingham, England. In addition to exploring England, she visited Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands during that time and loved every minute of it (everything except the hostel in Scotland – that’s an experience she doesn’t intend on repeating!) In 2015, Katie discovered the world of points and miles, and since then she’s earned countless points and has an embarrassingly large number of credit cards in her wallet (which she needs a spreadsheet to keep track of!)

Disclaimer: Any comments listed below are not from the bank advertiser, nor have they been reviewed or approved by them. No responsibility will be taken by the bank advertiser for these comments.

3 comments

  1. One big negative about the companion pass is that you and your companion’s reservations are separate. When you checkin online, and have do so exactly 24 hours in advance to get a decent boarding position, and good seats, you have to check in twice, once for your and once for you companion. Yes, the first person on can save a seat, but one is not supposed to do, and its a pain. Southwest answer to that is to buy early checkin, but doing that for 2 people is another $60 on a round trip. Which on the short trips we take on SW would be wipe out much of the companion savings. After a year of a companion pass, we decided the hassle was not work it.

    Reply

    • Katie Seemann December 6, 2019

      Hi Ralph,

      Checking in at just the right time can be a bit of a pain, but for most people it’s a small price to pay when you can get a 2 for 1 fare! I’m surprised you didn’t see much value in the Companion Pass, but not everything is perfect for everyone. Personally, my family has gotten thousands of dollars of value out of ours in the 3 years we have had it.

      Thanks for reading!

      Reply

  2. SW status match challenage is the easiest to complete as you have 90 days to do six segments (6 one-ways, 3 round trips, etc) then you get SW status for all of the next calendar year. Instead of say flying direct from SoCal to Vegas, you can book muliple one ways, SoCal to NorCal, NorCal to AZ, AZ to Vegas, same in reverse and you’re award the status and often all these legs qualify for $39 fares when SW is having their flash sale.

    If don’t have any airline status, but do have hotel status even if you got it through a credit card, here’s what you can do. SW will status match AA, AA will challenage match Hyatt status, MLIfe/(MGM) will status match Caesars Rewards, Caesars will status match the Wyndam, and the Wyndam will status match most hotel chains.

    Reply

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