Wallet Hacks

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).

compare this card with others

When you first get the card, the 50,000 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):

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.

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.