How to Earn Tier Qualifying Points for A-List on Southwest Airlines

Earlier this year, I discovered a special promotion in my account for an upgrade to A-List if I flew a certain amount of times within the next two months.

As it happens, my flights were already booked and I actually discovered the promotion during the last few days it was active! I was a little disappointed at first because I thought I wouldn’t qualify. I didn’t activate the promotion before I booked my flights (many of which already happened) but it turns out Southwest gave it to me anyway.

(always check your Promotions tab!)

For the last few months, and the remainder of this year, I’ve been enjoying the benefits of A-List. I already have TSA PreCheck so the Security Lane Access perk isn’t a game-changer but earning 25% more on flights and Priority Boarding has been nice.

It also pushed me to try to figure out how the A-List program worked and what I could do to simplify earning it (like I do for Southwest Companion Pass).

A-List Benefits

There are two A-List tiers, regular A-List and A-List Preferred.

The three big benefits of A-List are 25% earning bonus, Priority Boarding, and Priority Check-in and Security Lane Access. Priority boarding means you are assigned a boarding order before you check-in, usually a low A after the Business Select (1-15). Priority Check-in is a separate line, for those heavy traffic periods, and Security Lane Access (Fly By) is like TSA Pre-Check.

The benefits of A-List Preferred are a little sexier. The earning bonus is 100% plus you get free inflight wi-fi.

Earning A-List & Preferred

If you travel a lot (such as for work), it’s not hard to earn A-List.

If you don’t travel a ton, it’s challenging because the program is based heavily on flights.

A-List requires 25 one-way qualifying flights or 35,000 Tier Qualifying Points.

A-List Preferred requires twice as much of both, 50 one-way qualifying flights or 70,000 Tier Qualifying Points!

Much like Companion Pass, you get the benefit once you satisfy the requirements. Once you’ve flown your 25th one-way qualifying flight, you’ll be A-List for the remainder of the year and the following year.

My feeling is that earning A-List through flying is going to be easier than earning it through TQPs. 25 one-way is one round trip flight a month plus a one-way thrown in. A-List Preferred flying is much harder and those are probably earned by folks who do quite a bit of travel for work.

How to Earn Tier Qualifying Points

Tier Qualifying Points are Rapid Rewards points you’ve earned that also accrue towards A-List and A-List Preferred. The rule of thumb is that all flying based Rapid Reward points you earn will count plus a subset of your credit card earned points. You won’t get it from partners, transfers, or any other means. It’s a far more restrictive rule than the 110,000 points you need to earn Companion Pass.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier credit card gives you 1,500 Tier Qualifying points for every $10,000 you spend, up to 15,000 tier qualifying points. If you were to earn the maximum of 15,000 TQPs, you’re still 20,000 TQP short to reach A-List. It’s the only card that will give you TQPs. (we have it and the business card, only the Premier gives us TQPs).

Learn more about the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier credit card

When you first get the card, the Rapid Rewards bonus points aren’t TQPs. You do, however, get 1,500 TQPs from that initial bump.

The only other way to earn TQPs is through flights, earning them on this schedule (same as Rapid Rewards earning rate):

  • Wanna Get Away Fares: 6 points per dollar of base
  • Anytime Fares: 10 points per dollar of base
  • Business Select Fares: 12 points per dollar of base

35,000 TQP at 6 points per dollar of base is $5833.33 in fares. $3,500 in fares at Anytime rates and $2,916.66 in fares at Business Select rates.

Optimizing Fare Price vs. TQP Earning

Depending on the flight, sometimes the price between a Wanna Get Away and an Anytime is close enough that you make it back up with points. Sometimes that decision exists between Business Select and Anytime. Sometimes there is no decision.

bwi-las-outbound-fares

For example, I checked some flights from BWI (Baltimore) to LAS (Las Vegas) and they looked like this:

The Wanna Get Aaway fare is significantly cheaper, so we opted for that. If, however, there were no Wanna Get Away fares then you might be put to a decision.

On an Anytime fare you would earn 5757 points and on the Business Select you’d earn 7221, a difference of 1464 for only $28. That values the Rapid Reward points at 1.91 cents each, which is higher than most valuation estimates. (if you wanted to book the Wanna Get Away fare of $214 in points, it would cost you 14131 and values each point at 1.51 cents each)

(Business Select also lets you board A1-15 and gives you a free drink and Fly By Priority Lane if you don’t already have it – just icing on the cake)

Why don’t you earn 10x or 12x the fare listed? Southwest shows you the all-in price, including fees and taxes, but you only earn points on the base fare.

Rarely, you will see the Anytime and Wanna Get Away fares get close… but not often based on my experience.

How much is A-List and A-List Preferred Worth?

It depends on your flying patterns but I will pay for Priority Boarding on any flights longer than a 2 hours – I take about 3 of those flights a year. That’s $90 ($15 each way).

On those flights I’ll usually pay for Wi-Fi too, that’s another $48. $138 in benefits each year.

Next, you’ll want to calculate how many miles you estimate you’re flying each year to calculate the benefit of the 25% and 100% bonus. Last year, I earned 18,000 RR points on flights. 25% of that in points valued at 1.6 cents is $72. 100% bonus would be $288 in value.

Personally, A-List would be worth $162 a year and A-List Preferred would be worth $426.

It’s not nearly as valuable as our Companion Pass, which is easily worth thousands of dollars each year, but a nice perk.

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About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a thirty-something father of three who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and a farm in Illinois via AcreTrader.

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  1. Susan Macary says

    “A flight segment is defined as a one-way trip booked through Southwest Airlines from an origin city to a destination city, including any intermediate stops and/or connections on Southwest Airlines.” So, does this mean if I go from Baltimore to San diego and have 2 stops, that I will earn 3 flight segments?

    • Jim Wang says

      No, the wording is awkward in their explanation but those intermediate stops don’t count. They’re “included” in the original segment – which really isn’t how people talk (lawyers might!). Layovers don’t add segments, it’s still one.

  2. Kyle says

    Hello
    Currently at the A-list preferred status and booked and completed a business select flight. I was under the impression that both the base points and 100% earning bonus..i.e. 5600 base points + 5600 earning bonus(11200 total) would increase my companion pass points by 11200. Apparently looking at my recent activity the TQP’s increased by 5600 points and the CQP’s increased by 5600. Is this correct?

    Thanks in advance!

  3. Grisel says

    Hi there!
    We have this vey same issue. Flights had been book and in some cases flown before registering for the promotion. In our case however, we have now spoken with two people at Southwest and they do not want to budge on the matter. Did you have to escalate or was there anything specifically that you said that you believe might make a difference in them deciding to give it to us anyway?

    • Jim Wang says

      I can’t be of much help I’m afraid, I didn’t ask anyone and they gave us credit for it anyway. I wish you the best of luck!

  4. John Lloyd says

    not sure I understand how to earn TQP. So if I book a flight and it shows 1400 points earned for Wanna Get Away flight and 6,100 earned for Business Select flight when I am looking at the fares, do all of those points go toward my TQP total? I know they go to my total Rapid Reward Points but was not sure if that total amount also applies to my TQP. I am only 11,000 points shy of getting A List for 2018 and have two flights booked before end of year. I was thinking of changing my flights to Business Select from Wanna Get Away to get to the 11,000 needed points before end of the year if they counted toward TQP. It would costs an extra $425 total for change the two flights to Business Select but I would have A List for all of 2019 if I understand it correctly.

    Thanks

    • Jim Wang says

      Yes, all those points go towards your TQP total. Tier Qualifying Points are the same as Rapid Reward points that count toward A-List and A-List Preferred. You can only earn them on revenue flights or at a rate of 1,500 points per $10,000 spent on the cards (with a max of 15,000 points per year).

  5. KM says

    Hi Jim, instead of buying a roundtrip fare, would there be a benefit in buying 2 one-way fares to earn TQP at a faster rate or would the 2 one-way be the same as a roundtrip fare?

  6. Hayes says

    Hi. Excellent summary. When comparing the cost of the 3 fare types, as in your BWI example, only the full fare is shown, but the points are based only on the base fare (not shown). So do you use a short cut to guess at the base when making the analysis, because otherwise one would have to click through each fare to learn the base. Right?

  7. David G says

    When do the Tier One Qualifying points accrue and counted for a year (I) the day you purchase the ticket; or (2) the date you actually fly? Thus, if you book at ticket on December 1, 2019 for a flight January 5, 2020, due the points accrue on the date you fly (i.e.; January 5)?

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