Southwest Offers Quick Route to Elite Status

Between April 2 and June 15, members of Southwest's Rapid Rewards program can earn A-List elite status by flying five round-trips on Southwest. Normally, A-List status is earned by flying 16 round-trips within a 12-month period.

Southwest's promotion is in response to double elite-qualifying mileage bonuses on offer from American, Continental, Delta, United, and US Airways. Earning elite status with those airlines entitles travelers to significant perks, including upgrades, expedited security lines, priority boarding, waived fees, and so on.

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Southwest has no first-class cabins, so upgrades aren't an option. And because Southwest is refreshingly fee-free, there aren't any nuisance fees to waive. So what special benefits can Southwest bestow upon its best customers? Elite benefits on Southwest are limited to "most likely" (in the airline's own words) receiving an "A" boarding pass, which allows A-List members to be among the first to board the aircraft, and access to "Fly By" airport security lanes, where available.

So on any given day, for any given flight, an A-List member might get through security faster, and might get on the plane earlier in the boarding process. Or not. That's hardly a compelling value proposition.

This elite promotion shines a light on Southwest's identity crisis. While fundamentally a leisure carrier, the airline is trying to increase its average ticket price by appealing to business travelers, who are accustomed to paying more for unrestricted tickets. But the airline was simply not designed to deliver the extra service road warriors have come to expect.

Southwest has great fares. If you're looking for premium service, look elsewhere.

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