Usually when loyalty programs announce changes, frequent fliers prepare for the worst. However, Southwest’s recently announced changes to its loyalty program, Rapid Rewards, are all for the best.
Rapid Rewards is different from other frequent flier programs in that members accrue qualifying flight segments for both elite status (called A-List) and Southwest’s coveted Companion Pass, essentially a free ticket for a travel companion on every flight.
Come 2024, it will become easier to earn A-List and A-List Preferred elite status through new qualifications as well as credit card bonuses. Moreover, Rapid Rewards members will be able to pay for flights with a combination of cash and points. Furthermore, Southwest will continue a new perk, which debuted quietly earlier this year for holders of its cobranded credit cards: an automatic 10,000-point boost for the Companion Pass annually.
Here, everything you need to know about the recent changes to Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program.
Pay for Southwest flights with cash and points
In spring 2024 (an exact date has yet to be revealed), Rapid Rewards members will be able to pay for their own tickets (as well as others) with a combination of cash and points, starting with as few as 1,000 points. Currently, members can pay for flights with either points or money, not both. When using points as the sole method of payment, each point is worth between 1.3 to 1.45 cents when redeemed for Southwest’s cheapest “Wanna Get Away” fares. Though it’s unclear if this will be the same valuation used for calculating combo points and miles fare, there are no indications yet that it won’t be.
Cash and points bookings will not earn Rapid Rewards points, tier qualifying points for A-List or A-List Preferred status, or Companion Pass qualifying points. However, these bookings will qualify toward flight segment tallies required for A-List, A-List Preferred, or Companion Pass status.
Achieve elite status with fewer flight segments
Southwest’s two elite statuses, A-List and A-List Preferred, will become easier to achieve starting January 1, 2024. Currently, reaching A-List status requires 25 one-way qualifying flights or earning 35,000 Tier Qualifying Points (TQP), which are earned based on the price and fare type purchased. In the new year, the number of one-way qualifying flights to achieve A-list will be lowered to 20. Similarly, top-tier A-List Preferred will require 40 one-way qualifying flights, down from a current 50 flights. (Members can still achieve A-List Preferred by accruing 70,000 TQP, the same requirement as 2023.)
The principal perks of A-List and A-List Preferred Status are listed below.
Earn TQP bonuses from credit card spending
One way of achieving elite status is by amassing flight segments. The other way is by earning Tier Qualifying Points (TQP). These are always earned from flying, with one exception: TQP boosts from spending on certain Southwest cobranded credit cards, specifically Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business, Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority, or the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card. Starting January 1, 2024, with these cards, you’ll get 1,500 TQP toward A-List and A-List Preferred with every $5,000 spent. This marks an impressive doubling of the current rule, which allows 1,500 TQP per $10,000 spent.
Drink up on flights
Beginning November 6, 2023, members with A-List Preferred status will see another perk included in their elite package. They can look forward to receiving up to two complimentary premium drinks per flight in addition to all their previous elite benefits.
Get a Companion Pass boost
Southwest’s Companion Pass allows pass holders to fly Southwest with a companion for free (besides mandatory taxes). In summer 2023, Southwest quietly added a major benefit to its entire suite of cobranded consumer cards. Those with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, or Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card receive an annual boost of 10,000 Companion Pass qualifying points each calendar year. This benefit will continue in 2024 and credit cardholders will see the boost reflect in their account balances at the start of the year.
Typically, it requires accruing 135,000 Companion Pass qualifying points (or taking 100 one-way qualifying flights) in one calendar year to land Southwest’s Companion Pass for the rest of that year, plus the next. But thanks to an annual Companion Pass boost as a cardholder, the threshold for Companion Pass qualifying points is lowered to 125,000 points.
Note that Companion Pass qualifying points can be different from Tier Qualifying Points required for elite status. While points earned from actual flying count toward both, bonus points awarded through credit card welcome offers don’t count as TQP. However, they do qualify toward the Companion Pass. This means it’s entirely possible to score a Companion Pass simply with credit card welcome offers and then work your way to elite status through paid flights, award flights, and credit card spending.