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Why I’m scrambling to make Southwest A-List status for 2022

Sept. 16, 2021
11 min read
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Getting Southwest Airlines A-List elite status for 2022 was supposed to be easy.

At the beginning of 2021, the airline added 15,000 tier-qualifying points and 10 qualifying one-way flight segments toward tier status for all Rapid Rewards members with accounts active as of Dec. 31, 2020. Effectively, this was a running head start.

Like most everyone else who had hunkered down for most of 2020 and the first few months of 2021, I was ready to travel again. I got my second COVID-19 vaccination in April and took advantage of Southwest's amazing 50th anniversary fare sale, buying a slew of tickets for travel through the end of the year.

I was ready and requalifying was as certain as it could be. But it didn't turn out to be as easy as it looked.

Despite some setbacks, as we head toward the final few months of the year, I've still got my eye on the A-List prize and the better boarding group numbers, free same-day standby privileges and other perks that come with it. Here's how, despite setbacks, I may still requalify for 2022 Southwest Airlines elite status after all.

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Earning elite status with Southwest Airlines

As someone in her sixth year of Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards A-List status, it hasn't always been easy to make it to the finish line each year. 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 (aka a mileage/status run) — all in one day, mind you — to hit the 25 one-way segments needed for A-List in 2019.

Here's a look at what it takes to earn Southwest Airlines status this year.

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Status'Normal' requirements2021 boostNet effective 2021 requirements
A-List35,000 TQPs or 25 flights15,000 TQPs and 10 flights20,000 TQPs or 15 flights
A-List Preferred70,000 TQPs or 50 flights15,000 TQPs and 10 flights55,000 TQPs or 40 flights

Thanks to careful planning, I made Rapid Rewards A-List status for 2020 in August, based on the 35,000-plus qualifying points I flew. And thanks to the pandemic, Southwest extended elite status to all Rapid Rewards members and gave us that boost illustrated in the chart above.

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

Related: What is Southwest Airlines elite status worth?

(Screenshot courtesy of Southwest Airlines)

As you can see in my account, despite the points boost, I still need 12,568 points or five one-way flights to secure my A-List status for 2022. I had it planned out beautifully with trips I wanted to take through the end of 2021. Had it worked the way I had planned, I would have had my A-List status by the end of September.

Related: Targeted: Southwest makes it easier for some to requalify for elite status

Delta variant, and hope for 2022 status

But, as you know, the delta variant happened, accompanied by a spike in COVID-19 cases. That, along with vaccinated friends who caught breakthrough cases of COVID-19, made me decide -- painfully -- that I needed to curb my travel for a bit.

Related: I got a positive COVID-19 test in the middle of a trip. Here’s what happened

I canceled trips to Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta and Puerto Rico. As I noted, I would have made A-List by both points and flight segments. If I take five one-way flights by the end of the year, I'll get to the finish line -- that may or may not be realistic.

But then Southwest announced a program that gave me hope.

The airline will make it easier for everyone to qualify for status next year — regardless of current status -- by offering double TQPs on all flights from Sept. 3 through Nov. 30. For example, an Oct. 13 flight from San Antonio International Airport (SAT) to Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) would normally earn 718 Rapid Rewards points. Double TPQs would make that 1,436 points.

What that flight and some other trips that are now back on the books, it means I have a fighting chance to earn A-List status in the next three months through the double TQPs promotion. And while I still have a chance to make status based on flight segments alone, it's always good to have a plan B, so this promotion is good news for me. With a flight to Los Angeles, a one-way and round-trip flight to San Antonio, I should earn A-List status by the skin of my teeth on my final segment on Dec. 30.

If that weren't enough incentive, Southwest has brought back its mini-Companion Pass valid for travel in early 2022 that I'll also earn by flying at least one round-trip this fall, since I registered for that promo in time.

Related: 13 lessons from 13 years’ worth of Southwest Companion Passes

Elite status qualification and benefits

You may be wondering -- why do I even think Southwest A-List status is worth the effort? It doesn't come with legacy airline perks such as seat upgrades or airport lounges, so why bother?

First, unlike with the legacy U.S. carriers, earning Rapid Rewards points that go toward A-List or A-List Preferred status is relatively easy, based entirely on either segments flown or points earned.

Base Rapid Rewards members earn 6 points per dollar spent on the lowest "Wanna Get Away?" fares, 10 points per dollar for Anytime fares and 12 points per dollar 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.

(Screenshot courtesy of Southwest Airlines)

A-List status comes with the following perks:

  • A 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.
(Screenshot courtesy of Southwest Airlines)

At the A-List Preferred level life gets sweeter as it includes all the A-List benefits, but also comes with a generous 100% points bonus and free inflight Wi-Fi, which usually costs $8 a day on the airline.

(Screenshot courtesy of Southwest Airlines)

Then there’s Southwest’s famous Companion Pass, which allows 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 135,000 qualifying points in a calendar year, starting on Jan. 1, 2023, so that's separate from A-List or A-List Preferred.

Related: How to quickly earn the Southwest Companion Pass

Why A-List perks matter

Remember that $398 I paid in December 2018 for three BWI-BOS flights? It might sound crazy, but having A-List status in 2019 more than paid for my investment. Here's the math.

Thanks to my status, I no longer had to pay between $15 and $25 one-way for EarlyBird Check-In to get a better boarding group. If we assume I flew 12 round-trip flights, paying $40 for EarlyBird on each one, I would have paid $480 in 2019. 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.

(Screenshot courtesy of Southwest Airlines)

If I have to make a last-minute change on a flight and end up with the dreaded C group boarding pass, I’m still covered, since Southwest allows A-Listers to board right after the A group.

One time, a mechanical issue caused my flight to be canceled. Instead of standing in a long line to speak with the gate check-in or at the 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 still standing in line for help.

And while the airline famously has no change fees, 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 2019, 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 home, which at that point cost $534. Without status, I would have had to shell out $383 to take that one flight. So that $398 investment saved me at least $863 in 2019 and an untold amount of stress and hassle.

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

Last-minute earning strategies

With around three months left to hit Southwest A-List status, it’s time to get serious.

If you want to do it the old-fashioned way — flying short hops to get those one-way segment numbers up — you can. In 2018, I used Southwest's monthly low-fare calendar to find several bargain fares between Baltimore and Boston in December.

(Screenshot courtesy of Southwest Airlines)

I was desperate to make this work, so I called 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 (especially during the pandemic), check your wallet for Southwest Airlines cobranded credit cards.

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

You’ll receive 1,500 TQPs for every $10,000 in purchases on your Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card or Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card.

If you’re new to the airline, you can also 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 may be able to fly three round-trips (or six one-ways) within 90 days of confirmation of your enrollment to 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 jealous 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 for passengers to get and maintain their 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 or 35,000 TPQs.

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 image by A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 parked at Las Vegas's Harry Reid International Airport (LAS). (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.