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Of all of the airlines, Southwest tends to split opinions among travelers like no other. Some people dislike it for the open seating policy and lack of a premium cabin. And don’t get us started on the “can you?” or “can you not?” debate about seat saving.
Others love Southwest for the two free checked bags and the family boarding that pretty much ensures parents won’t be seated separately from their small children. And many people herald Southwest for offering one of the best perks in travel rewards: the Southwest Companion Pass.
When it comes to elite status, some people think that since Southwest Airlines doesn’t have some of the typical benefits associated with it, like seat upgrades or airport lounge access, it’s not worth having. If you fly Southwest somewhat regularly, it can definitely make sense to earn elite status.
Here’s how you can earn Southwest A-List and A-List Preferred elite status and some tips on how you can use that status to improve your travels.
Ways To Earn Southwest Elite Status
Southwest has two tiers of elite status: A-List and A-List Preferred. There are four main ways to earn this status. Let's look at what they are.
You can earn elite status through flying a specific number of flights on Southwest. Unfortunately, only revenue flights (as in, flights you pay for) qualify; flights booked with Rapid Rewards points do not count toward the requirement.
You can also meet the requirements with tier-qualifying points, which can be earned from your purchased flights or through credit card spending. We’ll discuss more about credit card spending below.
- A-List: Earned after 25 one-way qualifying flights OR 35,000 tier-qualifying points in a calendar year.
- A-List Preferred: Earned after 50 one-way qualifying flights OR 70,000 tier-qualifying points in a calendar year.
You can earn A-List status through status match opportunities. If you currently hold status with pretty much any other U.S. airline, you can match it to Southwest A-List. Southwest's website lists the online requirements, but essentially you’ll need to email proof of your current elite status with a U.S.-based carrier.
You’ll be bumped up to A-List right away and have it for three months. In order to extend your status to 12 months, you’ll need to either fly three round-trip qualifying flights or six one-way qualifying flights booked after your airline status match is approved and within 90 days from enrollment. You can only do this status match promotion if you have not received A-List status in any other promotion in the last 12 months.
Southwest sometimes offers promotions to help Rapid Rewards members earn elite status faster or bypass some of the standard flying or tier-qualifying point requirements for elite status.
For example, in early 2023, there was a promotion that offered double tier-qualifying points on flights, counted reward travel as qualifying flights, and offered bonus tier-qualifying points on Southwest credit card spending.
Keep an eye on your email account for opportunities from Southwest Airlines and also regularly check out our frequently updated Reward Program Promotions.
Credit card spending
Rapid Rewards members who have any of the four Southwest credit cards below can potentially spend their way to elite status, as those cards earn 1,500 tier-qualifying points for every $10,000 spent annually (can be done an unlimited number of times).
Eligible cards include:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
- Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card
- Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card
Benefits of Southwest A-List and A-List Preferred Elite Status
The table below lists the current benefits for A-List and A-List Preferred status.
How Southwest Elite Status Can Improve Your Travel Experience
Let’s talk about some of the benefits that offer significant value and explore how you can make the most of them. The sweet spots for maximizing Southwest elite status can be obtained by just having A-List, as these benefits we’ll talk about are offered on both tiers.
As part of the priority boarding benefit, A-List or A-List Preferred members and everyone on your reservation are checked in automatically. And unlike EarlyBird Check-In, you don’t have to pay any extra for the privilege of doing so.
Southwest assigns boarding by group (A, B, or C) and position (1–60). Because Southwest does not have assigned seating, you have to check in 24 hours ahead of your scheduled flight to get a good boarding position. Have a 6 a.m. flight? Gotta set your alarm to wake up early the day before to check in. Did you oversleep and miss your 24-hour check-in time? Oops, that probably means C group for you.
Or are you on a trip enjoying yourself but have no cellphone signal, so you don’t check in for your return flight home until hours after the check-in window opens? Tough luck; you’re probably getting a C group spot and a middle seat.
The automatic check-in for elite members eliminates needing to watch the clock and have your phone or computer by your side to check in precisely on time.
Keep in mind that even though you are automatically checked in, it’s still a good idea to check in online at some point, preferably before arriving at the airport, so you won’t need to go to the ticket counter for a boarding pass.
A group boarding
Have a favorite seat on the plane? Always go for an aisle (or a window) seat? Do you head to the exit row for the extra legroom? Maybe you like the bulkhead (first row), because there’s no seat in front of you. Or you’re happy with any of the first few rows in order to deplane faster after arriving at your destination.
With Southwest elite status, your boarding position is automatically assigned, beginning 36 hours prior to departure. You’ll receive priority boarding, which nearly always gets you in the A group and frequently somewhere between A16 and A30, depending on the number of elite status members on your flight (A1–A15 is guaranteed for Business Select fares and customers who purchased Upgraded Boarding). And, if for some reason you are not in the A group (for example, you made a flight change less than 36 hours before departure), you can board after the A group, no matter which group is listed on your boarding pass.
Obviously, you’re not guaranteed to get your first choice of seat, but you increase the likelihood of doing so the earlier you can board.
Same-day confirmed change
One of the newest benefits to Southwest's elite status is the offering of a same-day confirmed change for A-List and A-List Preferred members. With this benefit, if there's an open seat on a different flight between the same cities on the same calendar day, you can switch to it with no change fees. This can potentially provide great flexibility on the day of travel. However, if you're unable to confirm a change, you can still go standby at no charge.
You can unlock immense value from the same-day change benefit by booking the lowest-priced Wanna Get Away fare, even if it’s not at your preferred departure time. Then, on your travel day, you can switch to a different, more expensive flight as long as there’s an open seat on it.
It’s not advised to try this during peak travel times, as you may get unlucky and find all flights are sold out and you’re stuck with your original booking. In any case, if you need more assurance of arriving at your destination at a certain time (barring airline delays), don’t chance it by booking the last flight of the night because it’s the least expensive, hoping to switch to an earlier flight. However, if you have some travel flexibility, utilizing the same-day change benefit can save you money.
One drawback to the same-day change is if you have an early A boarding group on your original flight. You’ll lose that position on the new flight and likely wind up boarding at the end of the A group since you may be assigned B or C.
For non-status holders, the Wanna Get Away Plus fare offers the same-day confirmed change benefit, though it is more expensive than the basic Wanna Get Away fare. Southwest also recently announced it is adding the benefit of free same-day standby for all fares. Currently, there is a change fee for passengers without elite status who Wanna Get Away fares.
So you can’t get upgraded to a fancy lie-flat seat (Southwest doesn’t have them) and you don’t get access to international airline lounges (Southwest doesn’t have airport lounges and is not part of any alliance that does have them). That doesn’t mean Southwest elite status isn’t worth having. Granted, you’re not getting thousands of dollars of value, but the benefits of A-List and A-List Preferred do go a long way toward improving the travel experience and can even help you save money in some cases.
Whether you’re a regular Southwest flier or an infrequent customer thinking about switching your loyalty, don’t overlook the perks of Southwest elite status.
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