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What is Southwest Airlines elite status worth in 2022?

April 27, 2022
15 min read
Southwest plane
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.


Airline elite status benefits can make your travel experience more seamless and enjoyable. But if you’re new to the points and miles hobby, you may be wondering just how valuable these perks can be. Is it worth devoting yourself to earning status with a specific airline?

I’ll continue to answer this question by quantifying the value you can get from the major U.S. airlines’ elite status programs. This particular analysis will go through the Southwest Rapid Rewards program in depth to try and answer a simple question: Is it worth pursuing Southwest elite status in 2022?

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

Be sure to check out other airlines for a full breakdown of their elite benefits:

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Methodology

Before diving into the Rapid Rewards program, I want to remind you that my valuations below represent a singular way to identify what elite status is worth to a potential traveler. You should adjust any assumptions I make to fit your travel situation. For example, if you rarely fly with a companion, you’ll value the Southwest Companion Pass less than a family or group traveler.

It’s also important to note that my analysis is based on earning status and traveling a comparable amount in 2022. However, I do include a link to an Excel spreadsheet toward the end of the post for those starting from scratch and planning to earn Southwest elite status for the first time during the year. This should help you figure out your personal valuation.

(Photo by Angel DiBilio/Shutterstock)

This brings me to the third part of this analysis: the underlying assumptions I’m making. To really hit a value for benefits, I have to assume a certain amount of flying and a corresponding amount of spending. Southwest awards elite status a bit differently than most other airlines — instead of earning status by miles flown, you’ll earn Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs). Here’s how:

  • Wanna Get Away fares: 6 TQPs per dollar spent on base fares (excluding taxes and fees).
  • Anytime fares: 10 TQPs per dollar spent.
  • Business Select fares: 12 TQPs per dollar spent.

Related: Southwest’s new fare type is here. What to know about ‘Wanna Get Away Plus’

This analysis assumes that you earn 20% more TQPs than the minimum required for the given level. I’ll then assume that you spend an average of 7 cents per TQP, which is what you’d average across the year if 10% of your purchases are Business Select tickets, 10% are Anytime fares and the remaining 80% are Wanna Get Away.

You should always modify these details based on how much you’re planning to travel in 2022 and what types of Southwest tickets you most frequently purchase.

Three final pieces of information: First, since you’ll earn bonus points as an elite member with Southwest, I’m using TPG’s most recent valuations to calculate their value (1.5 cents apiece). Second, I’m rounding all numbers to the nearest $5 to make the calculations easier.

Related: Everything you need to know about the best seats on Southwest Airlines

Southwest elite status tiers

(Photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy)

Southwest Airlines has one of the simplest status charts by offering only two elite tiers and the Companion Pass. Here’s a quick overview:

A-ListA-List PreferredCompanion Pass
Qualifications35,000 TQPs or 25 flights.70,000 TQPs or 50 flights.125,000 CPQPs or 100 flights.
Elite mileage bonus25%.100%.N/A.
Priority check-in, security and boarding
Free checked bags2 bags.2 bags.2 bags.
Complimentary same-day flight changes
A-List boarding pass at the time of booking
Same-day standby
Dedicated phone line
Free inflight Wi-Fi

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

A-List: $660

A-List status will make your airport experience smoother. (Photo by Andrew Kunesh/The Points Guy)

The lowest tier in Southwest’s program is A-List, which requires 25 qualifying one-way flights or 35,000 TQPs in a calendar year. For this analysis, I’ll base my numbers on earning 42,000 TQPs at the cost of 7 cents per TQP (so total spending of $2,940).

Benefit detailsValue
25% mileage bonus42,000 base points equal an extra 10,500 points over a year.$160.
Priority BoardingAutomatically have a boarding position reserved 36 hours before a flight, giving you a better shot at your preferred seat.$250.
Priority check-in and security
Separate priority check-in and Fly-By Priority security lanes (where available).$150.
Free same-day standbyStandby on an earlier flight at no charge on flights between the same cities before your originally scheduled departure time and on the same date of travel.$75.
Dedicated phone lineA priority phone line for elite members is a nice perk when major weather or cancellation/delay events hit.

 

$25.
Total:$660.

A-List Preferred: $2,785

Southwest's IFE provided several channels of live TV as well as other info pertaining to the flight.
As an A-List Preferred Member, you’ll enjoy complimentary Wi-Fi on board, now available on all of Southwest’s planes. (Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

The second tier in Southwest’s program is A-List Preferred, which requires 50 qualifying one-way flights or 70,000 TQPs in a calendar year. For this analysis, I’ll base my numbers on earning 84,000 TQPs for 7 cents per TQP (a total spend of $5,880).

Benefit detailsValue
100% mileage bonusEarn 100% more points than flyers without status.$1,260.
Priority BoardingAutomatically assigned a boarding position 36 hours before departure; prioritized over A-List members.$600.
Priority check-in and security
Same benefit as A-List, more frequent utilization.$300.
Free same-day standbyStandby on an earlier flight at no charge on flights between the same cities before your originally scheduled departure time and on the same travel date.$175.
Free inflight Wi-FiIt costs $8 a day for passengers.$400.
Dedicated phone lineSame benefit as A-List, more frequent utilization.

 

$50.
Total:$2,785.

Related: How to get the best seats on Southwest Airlines

Companion Pass with flying and partner activity: $4,420

The Companion Pass is one of the world’s most valuable travel perks. (Photo by John Gress Media Inc/Shutterstock)

The next tier in the Southwest program isn’t an elite status tier but is still worth valuing: the Companion Pass, one of the most lucrative and rewarding benefits in the travel industry.

It gives you a buy one, get one free on all Southwest flights, including paid and award tickets. You’ll earn it by taking 100 qualifying one-way flights or earning 125,000 Companion Pass-qualifying points in a calendar year.

These are slightly different from the Tier Qualifying Points identified above, generally earned only through flying. However, you can earn points toward the Companion Pass in a variety of additional ways:

  • Flying on Southwest.
  • Doing business with travel partners like hotels and car rental agencies.
  • Dining through the Rapid Rewards Dining program.
  • Opening and/or using a Southwest credit card (like the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card), including sign-up bonuses.

The latter three will not count toward A-List or A-List Preferred status but will count toward earning the Companion Pass each year.

I’ll assume that you surpass the point threshold by earning 130,000 points for this analysis. However, for this first part, I’ll assume that your points originate from flying and partners equally, earning 65,000 points from each (a total spend of $4,550). This will give you A-List Preferred status (and the benefits it confers) plus the Companion Pass perk.

Benefit detailsValue
Companion PassDepends entirely on how frequently you can bring your designated companion on a flight. This valuation is based on bringing a companion along on 12 round-trip flights at a value of $250 apiece, although you should adjust it if you plan to utilize it more (or less) frequently.$3,000.
100% mileage bonusEarn 65,000 points on flights in a year and take home 16,250 bonus points as an A-List member.$245.
Priority BoardingYour A-List status gives you priority boarding (outline above), although, with 65,000 base points, you’ll be able to utilize it roughly 50% more frequently.$375.
Priority check-in and security
Same benefit, more frequent utilization.$225.
Free same-day standbySame benefit as A-List, more frequent utilization.$100.
Free inflight Wi-FiIt costs $8 a day for passengers.$400.
Dedicated phone lineSame benefit as A-List, more frequent utilization.

 

$75.
Total:$4,420.

Related: The best Southwest Airlines credit cards in 2022

Companion Pass through flying alone: $8,250

Use your Companion Pass to bring a friend on your next Southwest trip. (Photo by JordiRamisa/Getty Images)

For this final part of the analysis, I’ll assume that you earn the Companion Pass solely through flying and surpass the qualification threshold by the same amount as the prior scenario, spending the same 7 cents per point.

You would have earned 130,000 base points by spending $9,100 in the year, granting you both the Companion Pass and the perks of A-List Preferred status. You’re thus traveling roughly 50% more than a “regular” A-List Preferred member outlined above, and the following values reflect that.

Benefit detailsValue
Companion PassUnder this scenario, you’re traveling twice as much in the example above. This valuation is based on taking 16 round-trip flights, but your utilization may differ.$4,000.
100% mileage bonusTake home 130,000 bonus points based on the assumed flying above.$1,950.
Priority BoardingSame A-List benefit, more frequent utilization.$900.
Priority check-in and security
Same benefit as A-List, more frequent utilization.$450.
Free same-day standbySame benefit as A-List, more frequent utilization.$250.
Free inflight Wi-FiSame benefit as A-List Preferred, more frequent utilization.$600.
Dedicated phone lineSame benefit as A-List, more frequent utilization.

 

$100.
Total:$8,250.

Related: Guide to airline companion tickets

What if I’m starting from scratch?

You may have many flights at the back of the plane until you reach the qualification threshold for A-List status. (Photo by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy)

As I mentioned initially, these numbers are based on the benefits you’d enjoy by spending a full year with the given status. However, if you’re starting from scratch, the calculations become a bit more complicated, since you won’t start to enjoy any benefits until you hit the 35,000-point mark and earn A-List status.

To help modify the analysis for those individuals, I’ve taken the above valuations and converted them to a value per Tier Qualifying Point, excluding the combination Companion Pass category:

  • A-List: $660/42,000 TQPs = 1.57 cents per TQP.
  • A-List Preferred: $2,785/84,000 TQPs = 3.31 cents per TQP.
  • Companion Pass (solely travel): $8,250/130,000 TQPs = 6.35 cents per TQP.

For example, say you plan to earn 80,000 TQPs this year and start from scratch. At this rate, you’d get no benefits from the first 35,000 points, then enjoy A-List benefits for the next 35,000 points (at a rate of 1.57 cents per TQP) and then enjoy A-List Preferred benefits for the final 10,000 points (at a rate of 3.31 cents per TQP). This means that if you’re starting from scratch and estimate that you’ll earn 80,000 TQPs in 2022, you’d be able to get $880.50 worth of perks from the Rapid Rewards program.

Is it worth pursuing Southwest elite status?

(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

Given these values, is it worth pursuing elite status (or the next tier of elite status) with Southwest? Like any analysis we undertake here at TPG, there isn’t an easy answer to this, as it depends entirely on your situation. However, here are a few over-arching questions that can help you arrive at a decision:

How much will you travel in the future?

If you earned Southwest elite status in 2021, it’s valid through Dec. 31, 2022, and if you qualify in 2022, your status will last until Dec. 31, 2023. As discussed earlier, it’s critical to think about how much you’ll be traveling in the future. If you push hard to earn A-List Preferred, the valuable perks outlined above only apply when you travel.

What’s the incremental value of one tier over another?

Many of you may wind up within striking distance of the next tier, so consider whether the benefits are worth pushing for it. There’s no sense in going out of your way for perks that don’t matter to you.

How well does Southwest’s route map match your typical travel patterns?

There’s no point in pursuing elite status with an airline if you can’t feasibly fly it regularly. Consider Southwest’s service from your home airport(s) and how easy it is to get to your desired destination(s).

How sensitive are you to price and convenience?

There are many tradeoffs in this hobby, and one of the most common is deciding whether to use your preferred airline or hotel chain when it’s not the most convenient or cheapest. Would you book a one-stop Southwest flight if Delta had a cheaper nonstop option? If the answer is no, it may not be worth going out of your way to earn status with Southwest (or elite status with any airline, for that matter).

These questions are also difficult to answer, as many factors come into play. Nevertheless, it’s a worthwhile exercise to evaluate your situation as you determine if Southwest elite status is for you.

Related: 13 lessons from having a Southwest Companion Pass for 13 years

Bottom line

Southwest is an interesting case study in loyalty, as some travelers won’t even consider flying on another airline, whereas others would rather take Greyhound than set foot on a Southwest plane (that’s only a mild exaggeration). Even though the Rapid Rewards program is revenue-based, the overall value proposition of flying Southwest, especially its “fun” atmosphere, is appealing to many.

When you add valuable perks like the Companion Pass and the carrier’s no-fee change policy, it’s easy to see why Southwest has such loyal fans. If you’re considering pursuing elite status with Southwest this year, I hope this analysis has helped you come to a decision.

Additional reporting by Benét J. Wilson.

Featured image by David Slotnick
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.