This is the third and final post of “Southwest Airlines 101”, covering everything you need to know about Southwest. First, I covered the basics of flying Southwest. Next, I looked at the ins and outs of earning and burning Rapid Rewards points. Meanwhile today, I wrap things up with a closer look at elite status on Southwest.
Elite Status on Southwest – The Basics
Southwest Rapid Rewards maintains two elite tiers. These are “A-List” and “A-List Preferred”. While “A-List” requires 25 one-way flights or 35,000 “tier qualifying points” in a calendar year, “A-List Preferred” doubles these requirements. The following graphics show the benefits of each tier.
Note that “tier qualifying points” ONLY include base miles earned on revenue tickets. If you have the Southwest “Premier” personal credit card, you also earn 1,500 qualifying points per $10,000 of spend. There is, however, a 15,000 point maximum, so you can’t earn status only off of card spend. Earning 35,000 base points requires anywhere from $2,917 (on Business Select) and $5,833 (on Wanna Get Away) of base fare purchases. Double those numbers for A-List Preferred. That’s a pretty stout “elite qualifying dollar” requirement. So unless you buy a lot of Business Select or Anytime fares, qualifying on segments is probably easier.
Rapid Rewards Elite Status – Benefits
The primary benefits for Southwest elite status include “A” group boarding, bonus miles, and same-day standby. However, the only real difference between “A-List” and “A-List Preferred” is free Wi-Fi. That, and a 100% mileage bonus instead of 25%. I’d say the two most useful benefits are A-List boarding and same-day standby. An “A” boarding pass pretty much guarantees whatever seat you want.
As for same-day standby, remember that for Wanna Get Away fares, “standby” really doesn’t exist. You must first buy up to an Anytime fare, often at a substantial cost. A-Listers receive a waiver, provided that you standby to an earlier flight, on the same day, to the same destination. Also, in theory, free WiFi is a nice benefit. However, I generally find that Southwest’s WiFi is unusably slow.
Since Southwest offers only one class of service, and maintains no airline partners, Rapid Rewards does not offer benefits like upgrade instruments. In addition, status does not come with lounge access, even at airports that feature lounges. However, Southwest does randomly mail you drink coupons every few flights. This doesn’t appear to require elite status, though. I get them after 3 or so round trips, it seems.
Rapid Rewards Elite Status – Qualifying Periods
As mentioned earlier, like other status programs, Rapid Rewards determines status on a calendar year basis. In other words, flying 25 segments/35,000 tier points in a calendar year earns A-list status. There is a notable difference from other programs when it comes to how long status lasts, though. For most programs, once you attain status, that status is good for the rest of the calendar year, the entire following year, and through the end of February of the year after that. Southwest, though, cuts off benefits at the end of the following calendar year – two fewer months than other programs. Keep that in mind if you end up dropping a tier. You only have until the end of the year, not the following February, to use your benefits.
I talked about the Southwest Companion Pass in part two. Earning a Companion Pass doesn’t actually require elite status. Companion Pass requires either 110,000 “qualifying points”, or 100 one-way flights. It includes elite bonuses, along with credit card spend and bonuses and base points earned from partners such as hotels. You can, in theory, earn the pass through credit card spend and bonuses. Remember, “qualifying points” for Companion Pass are defined more broadly. (I should also mention, Southwest recently increased the bonus on the personal “Premier” card to 50,000 points. That means you can earn the pass by signing up for, and meeting minimum spend on, the Premier and business cards.)
However, if you are a Southwest frequent flyer, Companion Pass is a nice add-on to elite status. If you make it to A-List Preferred, you’re probably pretty close to Companion Pass already, credit card or not. The ability to have a significant other or friend tag along for only taxes is pretty nice.
Rapid Rewards Elite Status – Using Benefits
Though Southwest offers only a handful of benefits, they do make them easy enough to use. Southwest provides a useful FAQ on how to use all benefits. However, I’ll cover some of the more important ones below.
“A” Group Boarding
All elite members receive “A” group boarding automatically on check-in. (So whatever you do, don’t spend $15 for Early Bird check-in.) If for some reason you don’t receive an “A” card – a late flight change due to IRROPS, for example – A-listers may board between the A and B groups. Scott and reader mogando did raise a valid point, though. An A boarding pass only works if you line up with the A group. Show up late, whether due to a late connection or out of personal choice, and you’re SOL.
Southwest does not process stand-by requests online or at a kiosk. You must see a customer service agent at the airport. A-listers do receive access to priority service lines, but for what it’s worth, I usually find it easier to approach the gate agent for the flight I want to switch to. A-list Preferred receives priority on the standby list compared to regular A-list.
Designating Companion Pass Companion
Once you qualify for Companion Pass, you can designate your companion through the “My Account” section of Rapid Rewards. Note that this only applies for your initial designation for the year, however. You can change your companion up to 3 times per year. But, you have to call Southwest to do so. One word of caution: when changing companions, any reservations already made for your old companion are canceled. You probably want to wait until those reservations are completed before changing. Well, unless you don’t like your companion anymore…
Free WiFi (A-List Preferred Only)
When launching WiFi onboard, you should see an option called “A-List Preferred Login”. Enter your Rapid Rewards username and password to activate your free internet. Again, it’s a nice benefit in theory, if only it weren’t so laughably slow.
Rapid Rewards Elite Status – Final Thoughts
Frankly, Rapid Rewards elite status is pretty lame compared to other programs. Benefits are pretty light, since Southwest doesn’t have any partner airlines or lounges for reciprocal benefits. It’s really not a program worth “mileage running” just to achieve status. After all, if it’s A group boarding you want, it might be cheaper just to pay the $15 a pop for Early Bird. Companion Pass is a pretty solid perk, though surprisingly, you can earn it independent of elite status.