Is Southwest A-List worth it?

Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Travel Tales 31

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Southwest is my favorite airline, and I just renewed my A-List status for 2017.  That got me thinking whether or not the money spent to earn Southwest A-List status is worth it.  Let’s discuss the pros and cons.

Southwest A-List and Companion Pass qualified for 2017

I’ve barely qualified for A-List status, and I don’t have enough paid flights planned the rest of 2016 to earn A-List Preferred.  Most importantly, through paid flights, credit card spend, and earning 50,000 bonus points on the Southwest Visa business card I got during my March 2016 App Party, I’ve already earned the Companion Pass… the best airline loyalty benefit from any airline!

How do you earn Southwest “tier qualified points”?

Southwest Airlines is a revenue-based model, with extra incentives built-in to encourage flyers to purchase more expensive tickets.  If you buy a base fare (aka “Wanna Get Away”), you will earn 6 points for every dollar you spend.  When you buy the more flexible “Anytime” fare, you will spend more, but you’ll also receive 10 points for every dollar.  The Business Select fares are the most expensive tickets and earn 12 points per dollar.  Additionally, with the Business Select ticket, you will be 1 of the first 15 people on the plane and you get a free drink coupon.

Southwest how to earn points

All of the points earned from Wanna Get Away, Anytime, and Business Select count towards qualification of A-List status and earning the Companion Pass.

You can also earn tier qualifying points from some of Southwest’s partners, but that’s for another day.

How much are Southwest points worth?

Southwest has performed a few devaluations the last couple of years, so their points are not as lucrative as they used to be.  One recent devaluation increased the price of Wanna Get Away fares from 60 points per $1 to 70 points per $1 — an increase of almost 17%, which means your points are now worth 17% less than they were before.

If you wanted to book a $100 flight, you would have needed 6000 points.  After that devaluation, you would need to spend 7000 points.

The most recent devaluation now makes redemptions even less valuable because points to $1 ratios can fluctuate based on the time of the year and the destination.  Essentially, Southwest is making high-demand tickets cost even more in points.  You wouldn’t think this was necessary with a revenue-based model, where the higher the ticket price, the higher the points required to book the ticket.

In this scenario, that $100 flight above, could cost you more than 7000 points, depending on your destination and time of year.

Much like Delta’s decision to do away with a fixed award chart leaving SkyMiles members unsure of how much a redemption will cost, this move is doing the same to Southwest Rapid Rewards members.  Even though Southwest is my favorite airline, I’m definitely not feeling the LUV with this move!

If you’re looking to earn Southwest points, consider getting the Chase Southwest Visa.  I was approved for the business version in March 2016 and earned 50,000 bonus points.  I cannot link directly to the personal or business version, but you can apply using my referral link or by clicking on the banner below.

What is Southwest A-List status?

Southwest A-List status is the first level of status beyond the basic status earned when opening a Southwest Rapid Rewards loyalty membership.  You earn A-List status when you have flown 25 one-way paid flights or have earned 35,000 “tier qualifying points” in a calendar year.

Southwest A-List status

Once you’ve earned Southwest A-List status, you get to keep it for the rest of the year in which you earned it and all of the following year.  For example, if you earned A-List status in June 2016, you would have the status all the way through December 31, 2017.

The benefits of A-List status are:

  • 25% Earning Bonus on Paid Flights
  • Priority Boarding (you are automatically checked into your flights before the 24 hour window opens)
  • Standby Priority
  • Priority Check-in and Security Lane Access (not needed if you have TSA PreCheck)
  • Dedicated A-List Member Phone Line

These benefits are nice, but nothing that makes you go “wow!”

What is Southwest A-List Preferred status?

Southwest A-List Preferred is the highest status that Southwest offers and is earned after you have flown 50 one-way paid flights or have earned 70,000 tier qualifying points in a calendar year.

Southwest A-List Preferred status

Just like A-List status, you will keep your A-List Preferred status through the end of the following year in which you’ve earned it.

The benefits of A-List Preferred status are:

  • 100% Earning Bonus on Paid Flights
  • Free In-Flight Wi-Fi
  • Priority Boarding (you are automatically checked into your flights before the 24 hour window opens)
  • Standby Priority
  • Priority Check-in and Security Lane Access (not needed if you have TSA PreCheck)
  • Dedicated A-List Member Phone Line

So, for the extra 35,000 points needed to upgrade from A-List to A-List Preferred, the big changes are increasing the paid flight bonus from 25% to 100% and free Wi-Fi.

The lack of 2x bonus promotions

A few years ago, Southwest offered promotions to earn 2x (or even 3x sometimes) promotions where you could earn double tier qualifying points.  This made it so much easier to earn A-List status!  For example, in 2013, I flew to Puerto Rico for about 24 hours to make a quick visit and earn almost 90,000 tier qualifying points.  Based on the value of points earned , Southwest actually paid me $22 to fly to Puerto Rico due to the 2x nationwide promo and 3x Puerto Rico promo that were stackable!

San Juan Southwest points

Unfortunately, I have not seen any promotions to earn 2x or 3x tier qualifying points in 2015 or 2016.  And with the way the economy is going and with airplanes being so full, they don’t have much incentive to throw points at travelers to encourage them to fly more right now.

Without these types of promotions, the justification for spending extra money to earn A-List benefits is much tougher.

But is it worth it to earn A-List or A-List Preferred?

Let’s calculate how much the benefits are worth for each level against the cost of flights needed to achieve these status levels.

For my calculations, I’m using the fares shown above from the Southwest website for a one-way Wanna Get Away flight that costs $100, the Anytime fare that costs $200, and the Business Select fare that costs $220.

Southwest A-List qualification example

By my calculations, you would need to fly 14 Business Select flights to earn A-List status and 27 flights to earn A-List Preferred.  The total of flights would cost $3,080 for A-List and $5,940 and A-List Preferred.

As a comparison, if you were to fly those same 14 and 27 flights on Wanna Get Away Fares, you would have paid only $1,400 and $2,700, respectively.

Southwest A-List qualification comparison

So, you have to ask yourself, are the A-List benefits worth the extra money you spent to earn A-List or A-List Preferred status?  For A-List, you would have spent $1,680 more for those 14 flights.  For A-List Preferred, you would have spent $3,240 more for those 27 flights.  In both cases, it would have been an average cost of $120 more per flight.

When you think of the value of boarding early and getting free Wi-Fi (for A-List Preferred members), you’re totally overpaying, right?  You can pay $15 for Early Bird Check-In for each flight, which checks you into your flight 36 hours in advance of your departure time… which is 12 hours prior to the 24-hour window when everyone else can check in.  Inflight Wi-Fi costs $8 for all day access, so you will continue to have internet access even when you make a connection to another Southwest flight that day.  And Business Select receives a free drink, which is valued at an average of $5 for beer, wine, or a mixed drink.

Southwest Early Bird Check-In

This means that the primary benefits are worth $28 per flight compared to the extra $120 you’re paying for Business Select over a Wanna Get Away fare.  Your net cost is $92 extra per flight.

But, that’s the whole story…

What about the points that you earn?

When you fly Wanna Get Away, you earn 6 points per $1, while Anytime earns 10 points per $1 and Business Select earns 12 points per $1.  For evaluation purposes, we will assume that you’re redeeming for Wanna Get Away fares for 70 points per $1 of airfare.

Southwest A-List qualification value of points

If you were to fly Business Select instead of Wanna Get Away, you would have earned 28,560 more points while earning A-List status.  Those points would have a value of $528, which is $408 more in value than the 8,400 Wanna Get Away you would have earned.

For A-List Preferred status, you would have earned 55,080 more points than you would have if you only bought Wanna Get Away fares.  The Business Select points would have been worth $1,018, which is $787 more than the Wanna Get Away fares.

Southwest A-List qualification net cost

However, remember that you paid $1,680 extra ($3,080 – $1,400) to achieve A-List status and $3,240 more ($5,940 – $2,700) for A-List Preferred status.  Your net cost additional cost for Business Select vs Wanna Get Away after the value of the points would be $1,272 ($2552 – $1,280) for A-List and $2,453 ($4,922 – $2,469) for A-List Preferred.

That equates to spending $91 extra per flight that you’re paying, even after the value of the points.  When you subtract the value of the A-List & A-List Preferred benefits (and Business Select drink), your net cost to qualify for A-List and A-List Preferred is $63 ($91 – $28).

But A-List and A-List Preferred Get Bonuses!

Yes, you cannot forget that A-List receives 25% bonus points on paid flights and A-List Preferred receives a 100% bonus.

Southwest A-List qualification net cost with bonus

However, those bonuses are not worth enough to justify paying extra to upgrade to Business Select or to pay extra to qualify for A-List status.  When you factor in the 25% A-List bonus, the net additional cost is reduced to $54 ($173 – $91 – $28) and the 100% bonus for A-List Preferred members results in a net additional cost of $26 ($145 – $91 – $28).

The Bottom Line

The thing to remember with Southwest is that every seat on the plane is economy.  There are no options to get upgraded to Business or First Class because those seats don’t exist on Southwest’s planes.  Your benefits of status are based on earning power and perks.

I used to work hard towards earning A-List status.  There were times where I would pay extra out of pocket to upgrade a work ticket to Business Select so that I would earn enough points to qualify for A-List or A-List Preferred.  Unless you fly a lot for work, my findings show that you cannot justify paying the additional amounts for Business Select fares to qualify more easily for A-List or A-List Preferred.  To me, paying for the upgrade to Business Select is a net loser even after factoring in the benefits and bonuses.

Do you have status with Southwest?  When you fly with Southwest, which fare do you purchase – Wanna Get Away, Anytime, or Business Select?

The opinions expressed here are the author's alone and have not been reviewed or endorsed by any company or third-party, unless clearly stated otherwise. The comments on this page are not provided, reviewed, or otherwise approved by the advertiser. It is not the advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


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About the author / 

Lee Huffman

Lee grew up loving to travel with his parents. Now he explores the world with his wife, Anna and his two children Timothy and Scarlett. He enjoys being spoiled as a Kimpton Inner Circle Member and taking full advantage of Southwest's Companion Pass. Lee wants to teach his readers how to 'Travel More. Spend Less. Live Better.' using miles, points, tips and tricks.

31 Comments

  1. Nathan August 8, 2016 at 5:45 am -  Reply

    Yea, I’m in the same boat as you. Requalifying for Alist this week. Already have my companion pass. Also, Platinum on American. I like to throw business at both these airlines. For family travel exclusively Southwest with some business. But lounge access with American really tips the scale for me when it comes to business travel. I wish SW would invest in some Priority Pass lounges or the like.

    • Lee Huffman August 9, 2016 at 11:20 pm -  Reply

      Congrats on both of your statuses, Nathan! Other than the Southwest Companion Pass, I’m pretty agnostic to which airline I fly. Basically, it boils down to whatever miles I have and what the best opportunity is to redeem (preferably for Business Class). I used to have access to AA lounges with the AA Exec card, but I just canceled in June. I hear you on the lack of lounges with Southwest, but many of the airports they fly to are so basic (aka Oakland) to keep fares down. I’ll stick with Priority Pass and Lounge Club memberships that I get from my credit cards to fill the void.

  2. David October 19, 2016 at 7:54 am -  Reply

    I need about 15K more miles/points to go from A-List to A-List Preferred. Right now there’s a 50% bonus and it would cost me $240 or so to meet the status for the rest of this year and throughout 2017. Do you think its worth it? Only other benefits are Wi-Fi and getting in the A 1-15 group. I usually get around A 16-20. Or is there something else I’m missing that would make the $240 worth the price? Thanks –

    • Lee Huffman October 19, 2016 at 9:58 am -  Reply

      David, your best bet is if you could find a Business Select ticket to purchase so that you’ll earn 12x points for the normal fare, plus another 12x points for this promo offer. To earn 15,000 points, you’ll need to book a ticket that would earn a little over 7500 points with double credit. So, that means you’d need to buy about $750-$800 in airfare. The points you’d earn would be worth about $125 in Wanna Get Away fares, so your net cost would be about $625-$675.

      It all depends on how much flying you do throughout the year. If you buy a lot of tickets for personal or business use, then the 100% bonus on paid flights makes the A-List Preferred pretty valuable. Certainly a lot more valuable than the 25% bonus from A-List status.

      The 100% bonus and the free wi-fi are the best perks of A-List Preferred status. You get free same-day standby with both A-List status levels, so there’s no added benefit there. The other benefits don’t matter so much. Priority boarding can be bought for $12.50 each way (which is way cheaper than buying another ticket to earn A-List Preferred) and you have a better airport security experience if you have TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry vs. using the A-List lane.

      My advice, if you’ll be flying a lot on paid tickets the next 15 months, the 100% point bonus and free wi-fi are worth the short-term expense. What do you think you’ll do?

      • David October 19, 2016 at 11:46 am -  Reply

        Thanks for all the feedback. I have over 750,000 points accumulated through the SW Visa card (both business and personal). Easy to get companion pass and eventually A-List. Definitely spent a lot more this year on card thus having 55,000 points for 2016 and also went on about 5 R/T paid flights which would be the max most likely.

        I probably will get another 5,000 or so points through the Visa card so will be short about 10,000 to become A-List preferred. Have 2 more trips planned but think they were purchased with miles. And just read the fine print that purchasing miles now does not count toward status. So gonna stay A-List and be happy with that!

        • Lee Huffman October 19, 2016 at 12:00 pm -  Reply

          David, as you saw, unfortunately, credit card spend does not count towards A-List or A-List Preferred qualification, only for the Companion Pass. That is why I wrote this post. I used to spend a little here and there on Southwest flights (including coming out of pocket to upgrade from WGA to BizSelect for some work flights) just so that I could receive A-List status.

          I kept wondering if the benefits were worth the extra spend, so I did the math and analyzed the results to make the judgment call that it wasn’t.

          On the bright side, you have a TON of SW points, so you can fly with SW on any route at any time. Do you have any favorite destinations? We live in SoCal, so one of our favorite long weekend getaways is flying down to Cabo. Definitely intrigued with doing a Cuba and Aruba trip sometime soon though!

          • Nathan October 19, 2016 at 9:10 pm - 

            Couple things.

            You do get with the SW Premier card 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points towards A-List and A-List Perferred status for every $10,000 spent, up to $100,000.

            Lee, yea I am excited about Aruba too and have a week trip booked in February, very comfortable flight times too out of MCO. Cuba though, seems like a solo deal and maybe just for a few days.

          • Lee Huffman October 19, 2016 at 9:20 pm - 

            Nathan, I agree. David could possible earn 15,000 SW points through credit card spend, but with his point balance at 750k SW points, there’s a strong likelihood that he’s already blown through that threshold and maxed out that benefit.

            That’s great that you’ll be checking out Aruba. I don’t think there are any easy itineraries from here in SoCal for either Aruba or Cuba. I’d have to book one trip to position into Florida, then grab another reservation from FL to either.

            Wish there were easier ways to reach the Caribbean from the West Coast. Have conversations with East Coast friends a lot about how there are so many amazing flight deals from East Coast to Caribbean, while we only have good deals to Mexico and sometimes Hawaii.

    • Nathan October 19, 2016 at 10:21 am -  Reply

      If you fly a lot on paid flights. I think the double points would be good. And those points count towards next years status too.

      • Lee Huffman October 19, 2016 at 10:27 am -  Reply

        Nathan, that’s my opinion as well… especially if your work (reimbursement) or business (tax write-offs) pays for them. I don’t buy many Southwest tickets any longer. Instead, I rely on earning SW points from my credit card spend, which also helps me earn the Companion Pass.

  3. Bill R. October 25, 2016 at 11:24 am -  Reply

    Great post!

    Literally earned A-List today, but totally agree with how you lay out the numbers!

    I think the Anytime and Business Select tickets are laughable since you will be stuck next to someone on a full or nearly full flight. There is no added comfort from boarding early.

    Also, someone mentioned that you get 1500 points for every $10k spent on the card. That offer is no longer valid, as they did away with it a few years ago. (I spend between 2-4k a month on the card with work expenses and don’t get the 1500 point bonus).

    So, as you said, if you get to fly for work, then SW is great. Otherwise, the rewards aren’t that amazing unless you plan on getting the companion pass and don’t mind economy seating.

    • Lee Huffman October 25, 2016 at 11:37 am -  Reply

      Thanks Bill, and congrats on reaching A-List status! The 1500 TQP are only available on the Premier versions of the cards, not the Plus version. If you have the Plus version, that would be why you’re not getting your extra points. You should be able to call Chase and upgrade your card without an inquiry. You’ll have to pay the difference in annual fees, but you’ll get 6,000 points at renewal instead of 3,000.

      • Bill R. November 2, 2016 at 3:39 pm -  Reply

        I have the Premier version.

        Are the 1500 points added with your normal credit card points each month?

        I thought it would be added separately.

        • Lee Huffman November 2, 2016 at 10:40 pm -  Reply

          You can easily see when these TQPs post to your account by looking at your recent activity and selecting “Tier Qualifying Points” from the dropdown menu. Looking at my account, I’ve earned 10,500 TQPs from credit card spend this year.

          • Bill R. November 3, 2016 at 6:13 am - 

            Thanks, Lee!

            I never realized there was a drop down menu to see TQP.

            It’s somewhat crazy to think I’ve spent that much on a card (I’ve gotten the 1,500 bonus twice so far), and even crazier to think loads of people spend more than me!

            I’m bummed since I think I’ll fall just short of the companion pass and likely won’t ever get it unless I do a ton of referrals next year. Oh well.

            Thanks again, Lee!

    • David October 25, 2016 at 11:40 am -  Reply

      Hi Bill –

      Congrats on earning A-List status again! I received mine for the 2nd year in a row a few months ago. Got mine mostly because of SW Visa (both business and personal). The 1500 points for every $10K in spend is still alive and well if you have the Premier card (https://www.southwest.com/html/rapidrewards/partners/credit-cards/southwest-airlines-rapid-rewards-cards/index.html)

      Trying to get to A-List preferred now, but may fall just short. Keeping fingers crossed though. Love the companion pass as well, which becomes easy with credit card spending!

      • Lee Huffman October 25, 2016 at 12:23 pm -  Reply

        David, thanks for sharing the link. Good luck on achieving A-List Preferred!

      • Bill R. November 3, 2016 at 6:14 am -  Reply

        Thanks, David!

        Lee was able to show me how to see whether or not I’ve gotten the bonus (I have), so thanks for pointing out that link!

  4. Jordan November 16, 2016 at 6:57 pm -  Reply

    Great post! We are at around 30,000 tier qualifying points, and are trying to decide if it’s worth ~$500-600 before the end of the year on business select flights to get the remaining points to get a-list for next year. Does anyone know if the 25% point bonus counts towards companion pass and/or another year’s companion pass?
    Thanks!

    • Lee Huffman November 16, 2016 at 9:53 pm -  Reply

      You have to earn the Companion Pass in a calendar year, and the points don’t carry over, so don’t spend now if you’re far away from earning it. A-List has another benefit, which I didn’t mention in the post, but has value. If you’re A-List, A-List Preferred, or have a Business Select ticket, you have a different line at the Southwest ticket counter, which definitely has some value when the airport is packed!

      If you’re that close, I would consider going for it if you’re going to fly Southwest a lot in 2017. With Business Select tickets earning 12x points per $1 spent, you can probably buy a ticket for around $430 to earn the remaining 5,000 Rapid Rewards points.

      What 25% point bonus are you talking about?

  5. A-list quandary December 20, 2016 at 8:14 am -  Reply

    I know I have a lot of flying in 2017 and I’m contemplating going for the a list. however that means I must purchase all my flights in 2017 instead of using – 30000 + and climbing reward points…which is hard to swallow. so is a good plan to purchase all my 2017 tickets bank my reward points and get a-list for 2018 and then use my reward points in 2018? or, do I forget delayed gratification and just purchase early bird check-in and go about my business?

    • Lee Huffman December 20, 2016 at 8:33 am -  Reply

      I’m assuming you’d be getting the first tier A-List, not the premium tier. One of the biggest benefits of A-List is the bonus points on paid tickets. If you’re not going to continue to buy tickets, then that benefit is worthless. Essentially, your primary benefit will be the early boarding and priority check-in.

      I’m not gonna lie, the priority check-in has saved us tons of time over the years. It definitely feels great when you can skip any line! But, is it worth spending a bunch of cash vs. points? That’s for you to decide.

      My feeling is that becoming A-List for one year, then going back to points is probably a wasted effort. The real benefit of these programs is when you can sustain it year after year to take advantage of the paid ticket bonus (25% for A-List and 100% for A-List Preferred).

      • A-List Quandary December 20, 2016 at 9:33 am -  Reply

        Thank you. I’m glad I said this out loud. You confirmed what I was thinking. The airports I use, “priority boarding” is no big deal, and I have TSA pre-check already. So, I was only looking at it for the boarding pass and NOT having to get up at 5 in the am to check myself in. I’m thinking paying the $30 bucks on certain flights (early am) for early bird check in is my best bet.

        Thanks for the quick response and Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Festivus, Kwanzaa, or Insert Favorite December Holiday here!

        • Lee Huffman December 20, 2016 at 9:36 am -  Reply

          Merry Christmas to you too! Happy travels.

          The other benefit is priority lines at the airport ticket counter in case you need to check a bag or check in for international flights. I never check bags myself, except when we travel with the kids and need to check their car seats.

  6. Flanny December 21, 2016 at 4:53 am -  Reply

    Can you earn the 15,000 TQP more than once by having multiple SS Premier credit cards, or do they all tie into your Rapid Rewards number? Seems like annual spending on a card should be capped at $100,000 and then a business should switch to using another Premier card so you can earn another 15,000 TQP if allowed.

  7. Seve August 17, 2017 at 3:02 pm -  Reply

    Here’s a flaw with the A-List qualification. If your 25th flight was the first leg of a round-trip ticket, you do not earn A-List until you have completed the trip or on your 26th flight. Pretty lame.

    • Lee Huffman August 17, 2017 at 3:08 pm -  Reply

      That is weird, especially since most people flying are going to book round trips. Thanks for sharing with us Seve. Have you been caught in that situation? Yet another reason why I no longer focus on earning that status.

  8. Seve August 17, 2017 at 3:17 pm -  Reply

    It’s happening as we speak. Next flight, I will earn my much anticipated A-List status. Question: Would I still need to add Early-Bird check-in? Thanks Lee.

    • Lee Huffman August 17, 2017 at 3:19 pm -  Reply

      Bummer for you!!! I would think that A-List benefits kick in immediately, but I’m not sure if there is a lag in the Southwest system for when the benefits start after earning A-List. This is especially true if your next flight is before the 72-hour window upon which A-List checks you into your flight.

  9. Kim September 15, 2017 at 1:00 pm -  Reply

    Hi Lee. I fly so much for business that I finally qualified for the companion pass. Woohoo!
    Question: Since I’m A-list preferred, if I purchase a Wanna Get Away ticket, do I automatically get bumped up to A-List status and get priority boarding?

  10. Mike September 20, 2017 at 8:18 am -  Reply

    Have you considered the benefits of earning A-List Preferred and the points bonus from that making it easier to earn A-List Preferred on a go-forward basis? Meaning, if getting A-List Preferred this year allows me to continue getting it for multiple future years (vs. not getting it at all if I stay on A-List), does the one-time investment in getting A-List Preferred pay for itself? Eventually it would, I assume, if you keep flying Southwest. Interested in your perspective on this.

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