Southwest Merger: AirTran’s Final Flight & End of A+ Rewards

May 27, 2014

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It’s official: AirTran is finally coming to an end after what must be one of the longest mergers in airline history. The carrier will operate its final flight as AirTran on December 28, retracing its original Atlanta-Tampa route from October 1993 when it was called ValuJet (it purchased AirTran and took the name in 1997).

This must be one of the slowest mergers in history.
This must have been one of the slowest mergers in history.

Southwest bought AirTran way back in 2011 for $1.4 billion with the intention of combining fleets and operating the newly merged airline under the Southwest brand, but it has been a long, slow process. Even the two frequent flyer programs are not yet fully merged, though you can earn and redeem on flights by both airlines and transfer points between the two, and they’ve been adding new international routes that go into effect July 1.

Southwest is finally repainting AirTran’s 737s and selling off the smaller jets (Delta flyers get ready to board some 717’s). The airline also plans to exit some of AirTran’s smaller markets while adding services to Dallas Love Field and Washington Dulles and DCA, as well as international routes to the Caribbean and Mexico that it announced last week. As of now, the combined airline serves 97 destinations.

Screen shot 2014-05-23 at 6.40.07 PM

The End of AirTran A+ Rewards

This comes on the heels of the airline’s announcement last week that the AirTran A+ program will finally be folded into Southwest Rapid Rewards on November 1, 2014. You can continue to earn and redeem A+ credits until then, but you must complete award travel using your A+ credits by that date.

Here’s what will happen:

  • On November 1, all AirTran accounts will be closed.
  • Until then, you can transfer AirTran credits and Southwest Rapid Rewards points back and forth.
  • Permanent linking of accounts will be available later this year.
  • If you currently have an account with AirTran but not with Southwest, a Rapid Rewards account will automatically be created for you.
  • All unused A+ credits will be converted into Rapid Rewards points at the current rate: 1 A+ credit = 1,200 Rapid Rewards points.
  • Points will be transferred in increments of 0.5 A+ credits (right now you can still transfer as little as 0.25 A+ credits).
  • Note that you can still earn A+ Credits through partners Hertz, e-Rewards and e-Miles, but only through September 30, 2014, so update any profiles you have that earn A+ Credits on car rentals, etc.
  • One-way A+ Coach Award vouchers that don’t expire by November 1 will be converted into 9,600 Rapid Rewards points.
  • One-way A+ Business Class Awards that don’t expire by November 1 will be converted into 19,200 Rapid Rewards points.
  • A+ Business Class upgrades that haven’t expired by November 1 will be converted into 4,800 Rapid Rewards points.
No need for confusing conversions on these new codeshare options.
Think about converting your points ahead of time.

Elite Status

If you have A+ Rewards Elite status that hasn’t expired as of November 1, 2014, you will automatically be given Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards A-List status through December 31, 2015 – so that’s another year’s worth of status for you A-Listers. Your Rapid Rewards tier status in 2015 will be based on your combined Southwest and AirTran activity from the 2014 calendar year as follows:

  • Members with 25–49 revenue flights in 2014 on Southwest and AirTran combined will receive Rapid Rewards A-List status.
  • Members with 50 or more revenue flights in 2014 on Southwest and AirTran combined will receive Rapid Rewards A-List Preferred status.
  • Members with 100 or more revenue flights in 2014 on Southwest and AirTran combined will receive a Companion Pass.
  • Tier Qualifying Points will not be awarded for A+ Rewards Credits transferred to Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards.
The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the most valuable frequent flyer benefits out there.
This could be a great opportunity to earn the Southwest Companion Pass.

Companion Pass

You might not know this, but like Southwest, AirTran offers a Companion Pass that you can get by redeeming 100 AirTran A+ credits. So if you’ve been sitting on a bunch of A+ credits and thought you’d just convert them to Rapid Rewards points with the merger, you should consider redeeming them now because…

If your A+ Companion Pass status lasts beyond November 1, you’ll be given a Southwest Companion Pass valid through December 31, 2015. That means you could potentially extend your companion pass for a year. But if you don’t have an AirTran Companion Pass currently, you must redeem your A+ credits for one by November 1 in order to be granted the extension.

There is an opportunity for a workaround here as well: you can transfer 120,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (equivalent to the current sign-up bonuses of both the Ink Bold and Ink Pluseach is 60,000 points when you spend $5,000 in 3 months) and then convert them to 100 AirTran A+ Credits (enough for a Companion Pass). That’s a lot of points, but worth considering because transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Southwest do not count toward Southwest Companion Pass qualification. The big downside is that you actually have to redeem your points for the pass rather than just accruing them like you do with Southwest.

Just note that on the flip side, A+ credits transferred to Southwest Rapid Rewards do not count toward Companion Pass qualification and the same goes for Chase points transferred into Southwest.

Credit Card

Existing AirTran credit card holders will start earning Rapid Rewards points on their purchases in late October (no specific date), and will then have their card replaced by a Southwest credit card at some later point (details from Chase also to come in October). If you don’t currently have a Southwest credit card, now might be the right time to get in on the them before you’re simply offered a replacement (and likely no sign-up bonus), since the Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards are currently offering 50,000 points when you spend $2,000 in 3 months.

My Thoughts

This news has been a long time coming, but the extra time has given Southwest and AirTran a while to think through all aspects of their merger. The transition appears to be smooth and relatively free of the headaches that have plagued other recent mergers, such as the messy United/Continental merger, which continues to have repercussions for flyers of both airlines.

While it was possible to maximize Southwest Rapid Rewards points by transferring to A+ credits and then back to old-school Southwest credits, the process was fairly arduous and didn’t have much upside except in a few rare cases, so I’m not too sad to see that go.

On the other hand, it looks like Southwest is being very generous with AirTran elites by extending status through December 31, 2015, and by transferring the AirTran Companion Pass to a Southwest Companion Pass and validating it for an extra year – especially because it gives flyers time to convert Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest and then to AirTran in order to qualify (though the transferred passes will only be good for 13 months at that point).

I don’t tend to fly either of these airlines much, but since I have a stockpile of Ultimate Rewards points, I’ll be taking a careful look at both programs and figuring out the best ways to leverage my points with both Rapid Rewards and the A+ Rewards program while it still exists.

Are you a Southwest and/or AirTran flyer? How do you feel about these coming changes? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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