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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

It’s that time of year again. We’re in the final stretch of 2016, and that means one thing: the deadline for airline elite status qualification is quickly approaching. With just a few weeks left to qualify or requalify, it’s time to check your balances and take a few simple steps if you’re coming up short.

Over the past several days, we’ve covered the elite-status programs of five major carriers: Alaska, American and Delta. Today, we’re continuing the series with a look at Southwest Rapid Rewards’ A-List status program and what you need to know to bring that status home for another year.

Southwest has just two elite tiers.
Southwest has just two elite tiers.

Useful Posts

Before we get going, be sure to check out some of these posts for helpful hints and reminders about what you should be doing around this time of year.

SOUTHWEST RAPID REWARDS A-LIST

Southwest Rapid Rewards operates a bit differently from the other four airlines we’ve covered. To begin with, Southwest Rapid Rewards offers just two different levels of elite status: A-List and A-List Preferred. Southwest also offers its Companion Pass, which isn’t technically an elite tier, but I’m going to discuss it anyway!

QUALIFICATION AND BENEFITS

You can earn elite status in two different ways: completing one-way flights or earning Tier-qualifying points (Southwest’s equivalent of elite-qualifying miles). Flyers earn between 6-12 points per dollar on qualifying fares depending on the class of ticket they purchase according to the following formula:

  • Wanna Get Away: 6 points per dollar
  • Anytime: 10 points per dollar
  • Business Select: 12 points per dollar
You earn points based on the fare you purchase.
You earn points based on the type of fare you purchase.

Points earned from Southwest’s partners like rental car agencies or through the Rapid Rewards shopping portal and the Chase Southwest credit cards do not count toward Tier qualification. However, if you have the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase, you can earn 1,500 TQPs for each $10,000 in purchases up to $100,000 in purchases annually, which equals 15,000 TQPs.

Also keep in mind that the “one-way flights” you can qualify on are not segments. Per Southwest’s terms and conditions: “A flight segment is defined as a one-way trip booked through Southwest Airlines from an origin city to a destination city, including any intermediate stops and/or connections on Southwest Airlines.” So unfortunately, you don’t earn more elite credits by taking more circuitous itineraries.

Flying more segments won
Flying more segments won’t get you closer to elite status.

In the above example, you’d earn the same single one-way flight credit whether you took the nonstop from Pittsburgh to St. Louis, or the later itinerary with the connection in Chicago.

Here are the qualification requirements and benefits of each tier.

A-List: 25 one-way flights or 35,000 tier-qualifying points (the equivalent of purchasing $2,917-$5,834 on airfare).

Benefits:

  • Priority boarding
  • 25% bonus points on airfare
  • Standby priority
  • Priority check-in and security lane access
  • Priority phone line
A-List gets you priority check-in and security.
A-List gets you priority check-in and security access.

A-List Preferred: 50 one-way flights or 70,000 tier-qualifying points (the equivalent of purchasing $5,834-$11,667 on airfare).

  • Priority boarding
  • 100% bonus points on airfare
  • Standby priority
  • Priority check-in and security lane access
  • Priority phone line
  • Free in-flight Wi-Fi
A-List Preferred members get free in-flight Wi-Fi.
A-List Preferred members get free in-flight Wi-Fi.

Companion Pass: The Companion Pass isn’t technically an elite tier, but it is one of the most potentially valuable frequent flyer perks in the world, as it lets you designate a friend or family member to travel with you on Southwest for free. To qualify for it, you must earn 110,000 Companion Pass-qualifying points (which differ from Tier-qualifying points — more on this later) or fly 100 qualifying one-way flights in a calendar year. The Companion Pass is valid for the year in which you earn it as well as the following calendar year, so it’s much better to earn this in January 2017 than it could be to secure it now.

LAST-MINUTE EARNING IDEAS

Though time is short, if you find that you’re not quite going to make the earning threshold of your elite status tier, there are still some good options out there to put you over the top.

Because of Southwest’s one-way rules, you won’t find that maximizing your routing by adding connections will do you any good. Instead, focus on the various earning formulas to try to maximize your spending.

It
It might involve some flying, but there’s still time to finish your quest for A-List status this year!

Purchase Business Select Fares

Personally, I find the terminology Southwest uses to label its fares to be confusing since the most expensive one, Business Select, is not, in fact, for business class (the airline doesn’t have a premium cabin). Rather, it’s called that because these fares are higher than the other two fare classes and include perks like guaranteed A1-15 boarding (i.e., priority boarding), priority check-in and security in Southwest’s “Fly By” lines and a coupon for a premium drink.

While these fares are higher than Wanna Get Away and Anytime fares (though actually they’re not much higher than the Anytime fares in most cases), if the fare difference is not too drastic, you can at least double — and usually triple — your earning.

For example, let’s say you needed to fly from Baltimore to St. Louis. With the following itinerary, there’s only a difference of $48 between the Wanna Get Away fare and the Business Select fare.

southwest-bwi-stl

However, you’d only earn 1,751 points on the Wanna Get Away fare, but 4,038 points on the Business Select one. That’s like paying $48 extra for 2,287 points, which puts you that much closer to elite status.

If you’re within striking distance of an elite tier and have some travel plans this month, it might be worth investigating whether the Business Select fares on your routes are worth purchasing for their extra earning rates.

Credit Card Spending

If you have the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase, remember that for every $10,000 you spend on it up to $100,000 in a calendar year, you earn 1,500 Tier-qualifying points. So if you’re near a $10,000 threshold, or you can get to one through end-of-year purchases, it might be worth concentrating your spending on the card this month just to snag a few extra points.

While the points you earn on the card just through regular spending (i.e., not threshold bonuses) do not count toward A-List qualification, they do count toward…

Companion Pass Qualification

One of the great things about qualifying for the Companion Pass is all the ways you can earn points toward this goal. Unlike with the Tier-qualifying points required for A-List status, there are a lot of other ways to rack up points that qualify for the Companion Pass.

The Southwest Airlines Companion Pass is so valuable, that it is in a class by itself.
Instead of elite status, earning Southwest’s Companion Pass is worth it in and of itself.

In addition to the points you earn by purchasing airfare on Southwest, the points you earn by signing up for and spending on a Southwest co-branded credit card (as well as any anniversary bonuses you might get as a cardholder), plus points you earn through Southwest’s rental car and retail partners through the Rapid Rewards Shopping portal, and points you transfer into your Rapid Rewards account from partner hotel programs like Best Western and Marriott, all count toward earning the Companion Pass.

Points earned from Rapid Rewards
Points earned from Rapid Rewards partners, including hotel programs, count toward Companion Pass qualification.

Unfortunately, the one exception is Ultimate Rewards points transferred to your Southwest Rapid Rewards account if you have a card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire Preferred. These do not count toward either Tier or Companion Pass qualification.

That said, if you’re nowhere near earning the Companion Pass for this year, it’s probably a better idea to get ahead in your qualification for next year. That’s because if you earn the pass early in 2017, it will be good not only for the rest of 2017, but 2018 as well. And if you play your cards right, that could be nearly two years of half-priced flying!

One strategy for doing this involves applying for one or more of the Chase Southwest cards such as the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card and the business version, which are offering 40,000 points (when you spend $1,000 in three months) and 60,000 points (when you spend $3,000 in three months) at the moment.

If you hit those spending goals early in 2017, you’ll have racked up over 100,000 Rapid Rewards points right off the bat, and then with some strategized spending and travel, you can hit the 110,000 points you’d need for the Companion Pass pretty quickly. That pass would be good for nearly two years of free flying for your companion — the rest of 2017 and then all of 2018. Not a bad deal.

The one reason you might want to wait is that Chase periodically raises the bonus on the personal card to 50,000 points, so we might see that again in the coming months. But if you’re in a hurry to earn that pass and start flying, this could be a good shortcut.

Status Challenge

While Southwest doesn’t have a formal status challenge program, there are reports that it does offer status challenges to some flyers. According to reports, you can match from mid-tier status (like American AAdvantage Platinum or Delta Medallion Gold) to A-List but not A-List Preferred.

You can also contact Southwest directly about a status challenge. Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images.
You can also contact Southwest directly about a status challenge. Photo by Tim Boyle via Getty Images.

If you’re interested, you should email rapidrewards@wnco.com with a copy of your current status card from another program, a copy of your driver’s license, your full name, address, phone number and email address. If accepted, you’ll have 90 days to meet the challenge and will be given status for six months.

According to reports, A-List requires completing three new revenue round-trip flights or earn 8,000 Tier-qualifying points within the 90-day promotional period. This doesn’t seem like a great option because it’s flight-intensive and your status is only good for six months. Still, if you plan to fly enough to earn status in 2017 anyway and want a kick-start, this could be a good way to go.

There are also sometimes highly targeted Companion Pass offers like we saw in July, so if you qualified for one of those or are taking part, make sure you finish your flight activity.

Have any other strategies to earn Southwest elite status quickly? Share them in the comments below!

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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