Last-minute strategies for Southwest Airlines elite status

Nov 18, 2019

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The clock is ticking as the end of 2019 fast approaches. Frequent flyers scrambling to earn elite status in 2020 know exactly what this means — it’s time to come up with strategies to ensure they can keep those all-important perks.

If you think you won’t hit your goal, here are ideas to reach the required number of qualifying points or segments to earn Southwest elite status. You can check out our guides on last-minute strategies to lock in status with Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta and United as well.

(Photo by Benét J. Wilson / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy.)

As someone in her fourth year of Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards A-List status, I’ve just barely made it in the past two years. In 2017, it took until my very last flight of the year to earn status. In 2018, I ended up spending $398 to take three round-trip flights between Baltimore and Boston in December — all in one day, mind you — to hit the 25 one-way segments needed for A-List in 2019. Thanks to careful planning, I made 2020 Rapid Rewards A-List in August, based on the 35,000+ points I flew in 2019. A-List Preferred is either 50 segments or 70,000 miles.

Related: What is Southwest Airlines elite status worth?

(Image by Benét J. Wilson / The Points Guy

Rapid Rewards doesn’t come with legacy perks such as seat upgrades or airport lounges. So why is Southwest A-List status worth it?

Elite status qualification and benefits

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards has two elite levels — A-List and A-List Preferred. Unlike the legacy U.S. carriers, earning Rapid Rewards points that go toward status is relatively easy, based entirely on either segments flown or points earned, as illustrated above.

Base Rapid Rewards members earn 6 points per dollar spent on the lowest Wanna Get Away? fares, 10x for Anytime fares and 12x for Business Select® fares. However, those points are multiplied when you’re a Southwest elite, which can really add up if you travel on the airline regularly, as shown below.

 

A-List status comes with the following perks:

  • 25% points earning bonus
  • Free same-day standby
  • Priority boarding
  • Priority check-in and Fly By® Access at airport security lines (where available)
  • Dedicated customer service phone line

A-List Preferred includes the above benefits, but with a 100%-point bonus and free inflight Wi-Fi, which usually costs a reasonable $8 a day on the airline. Then there’s Southwest’s famous Companion Pass, which lets you to choose one person to fly with you, free of airline charges (minus taxes and fees) on paid and award tickets. To qualify, you must fly 100 one-way flights or earn 125,000 qualifying points in a calendar year, starting on Jan. 1, 2020.

Related: How to quickly earn the Southwest Companion Pass

Why A-List perks matter

Remember the $398 I paid last December for three BWI-BOS flights? Having A-List status in 2019 more than paid for my investment. Let’s do the math.

Thanks to my status, I no longer had to pay between $15 and $25 one way for EarlyBird Check-In. If we assume I flew 12 round-trip flights, paying $40 for each one, I would have paid $480 in 2019 — enough for a December sun-chaser trip to Phoenix. Because I prefer sitting in aisle seats, this is a fee I’ve gladly paid, but no longer have to because of my A-List status.

If I have to make a last-minute change on a flight or choose to take a same-day earlier or later one and end up with a dreaded C boarding pass, I’m covered, since Southwest allows A-Listers to board right after the A group. One time, a mechanical issue caused my flight to be cancelled. Instead of standing in a long line at the gate check-in or customer service desk, I was able to call the dedicated A-List phone line and be rebooked on the last flight of the night while many of my fellow travelers were left scrambling.

Passengers who want to stand by on an earlier or later Southwest flight must pay the fare difference to do it. If a seat is available, A-List travelers can stand by for free. In October, I had a ticket from Tampa International Airport (TPA) to BWI that cost $151. I decided to catch the earlier 12:30 p.m. flight, which cost $534. I would have had to shell out $383 to take that one flight. So that $398 investment saved me at least $863 in 2019.

Related: Battle of the airlines: Why I think Southwest Airlines is the best

Last-minute earning strategies

With a little more than a month left to hit Southwest A-List status, it’s time to get serious, since you do have options. If you want to do it the old-fashioned way — flying short hops to get those one-way segment numbers up, you can. I found several bargain fares between Baltimore and Boston in mid-December.

When I was desperate last December, I was able to call the dedicated A-List phone line where a friendly agent was helpful in making sure I had the cheapest flights for my mileage run. But if the thought of doing a series of mileage runs doesn’t thrill you, check your wallet for Southwest Airlines cobranded credit cards.

Related: Why right now is the best time to apply for Southwest Airlines credit cards

Although the carrier’s cards don’t offer the highest points per dollar spent — 3x points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year (as part of the current welcome bonus), 2x on Southwest and its hotel and car rental partners and 1x on everything else — the points you do earn will help you get status. You’ll receive 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points (TQP) for every $10,000 in purchases on your Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card or Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, with a limit of 15,000 TQPs earned per year.

If you’re new to the airline, you can ask Southwest for a status match. Sign up for Rapid Rewards, go to the status match page and click on the “Register now” button. You will be prompted to send an email with proof of your current airline elite status with a domestic airline, your name and Rapid Rewards account number. Once the airline verifies your information, you’ll need to fly three round-trips (or six one-ways) within 90 days of confirmation of your enrollment, and Southwest will extend your A-List status for another 12 months.

Related: Airline elite status match and challenge options

Bottom line

When the TPG team did the Battle of the Airlines — American, Delta, Southwest and United — I felt a bit sad hearing all the perks they received with their elite status. But when I learned about the hoops they needed to jump through to keep their status — a complicated mix of dollars spent, segments flown and miles flown — it made me really appreciate how simple Southwest makes it to get status.

Podcast: TPG staffers debate their favorite airlines

So now is the time to take out the calendar — or call that friendly dedicated Southwest Airlines A-List phone agent — and start finding cheap flights that will help you hit that target of 25 one-way segments. Having A-List status on Southwest Airlines can save you hundreds of dollars a year and give you a better passenger experience on the granddaddy of low-cost carriers.

Featured photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy.

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