How to Exploit the Southwest-Airtran Merger

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Deal originally posted April 22, 2012. Deal ends November 1, 2014. Post updated 10/13/14:

Southwest Airlines and Airtran Airways’ three-year merger is almost complete. For over two years, transfers have been allowed between Southwest’s Rapid Rewards loyalty program and Airtran’s A+ loyalty program.

These transfers present an arbitrage opportunity that caps roundtrip award flights at 19,200 Southwest points (the normal cost of a $274 award.)

This is a cool trick that can save you major Rapid Rewards. You can use this trick in conjunction with your Southwest Companion Pass (the best deal in travel).

  • How does this 19,200-cap trick work for the next few weeks?
  • How far in advance can you book Southwest flights?

Transfers Between Rapid Rewards and A+

Southwest and Airtran have two different loyalty systems. Southwest awards 6 points per dollar of your airfare (Rapid Rewards points). Airtran awards one credit per paid flight (A+ credits). Southwest used to have that system, and its credits still exist in parallel with its points system (Rapid Rewards credits).

All this means that there are a lot of loyalty currencies floating around between the two airlines, and for the next few weeks, you can continue to freely convert between the currencies.

The now allowable conversions between Rapid Rewards and A+:

  • 1,200 Rapid Rewards points converts to 1 A+ credit
  • 1 Rapid Rewards credit to 1 A+ credit
  • 1 Southwest Standard Award (two one ways) to 16 A+ credits
  • 1 A+ credit converts to 1 Rapid Rewards credit
  • 16 A+ credits can be used to fly two one ways on Airtran, and 16 Rapid Rewards credits can be used to fly two one ways on Southwest.

So what does all this mean, and how can we take advantage of it?

Because there are unlimited transfers between the programs, it means that we can use 19,200 (1,200 * 16) Rapid Rewards points for two free (other than government taxes) one way trips on either airline.

19,200 Rapid Rewards points are worth $274, so if you can find two one ways on either airline that cost more than that, you can profit from transferring.

In today’s environment of sky high fares, finding a roundtrip or two one ways that cost more than $274 is pretty easy, especially since Airtran and Southwest fly internationally to Mexico and the Caribbean.

The Big Restriction

There is one catch. All Southwest flights are bookable with Rapid Rewards at a rate of 70 points per dollar of base fare. Here’s how to book those awards.

Not all flights are bookable as “Southwest Standard Awards,” which is what you can book with Southwest Rapid Rewards credits obtained through these transfers.

Southwest needs to release “Standard” award space on a flight for you to book it with Rapid Rewards credits. (Also, this is a confusing name, since most airlines call this capacity-controlled space “Saver” award space and call the rule-busting award space available for double miles on most or all flights “Standard.”)

Southwest tends to release Standard award space only on the cheapest flights on many routes. You can search for Standard award space on this page. After signing into your Southwest account, click the button that says “Standard Awards Availability.”

I searched for Atlanta to Los Angeles in March to see the Standard award availability picture. There was award space mostly midweek.

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 3.58.17 PMIt’s not a perfect match, but you can see that the days with Standard award availability highly correlate to days with a $165 or $161 flight.

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 3.59.31 PMWhen to Transfer

You should transfer 19,200 Rapid Rewards to 16 A+ credits to 16 Rapid Rewards credits if there are two one way Southwest itineraries (don’t have to be a roundtrip):

  1. that cost more than 19,200 points combined (approximately $274)
  2. that both have Standard award space (search before transferring)

The Atlanta to Los Angeles Standard award space from the last example topped out at 9,246 points one way under the normal Southwest award pricing.

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 4.00.20 PMTwo such one ways would only by 18,500 points under the normal Southwest award pricing. They would cost 19,200 under my trick, making my trick a bad deal for such award space.

How to Transfer

Now that you know when to transfer, here’s how to transfer. It’s incredibly easy.

  • Log in to your Southwest account.
  • Click on the My Account link.
  • Click on the My Rapid Rewards tab.
  • Choose the Transfer Between A+ Rewards and Rapid Rewards button on the left side of the page.
  • Type in your Airtran account information, then follow the instructions to transfer Rapid Rewards points to A+ Credits (then A+ credits to Rapid Rewards credits if you are booking with Southwest)

This transfer option makes Southwest’s program temporarily much more lucrative. For short cheap flights, the normal points price will remain incredibly low, sometimes just a few thousand points for a roundtrip. For longer, more expensive flights, though, a roundtrip is effectively capped at 19,200 points, so we get the best of both worlds: points-cheap short trips and points-cheap long trips.

How Far Out Can You Book Southwest Flights

Right now you can book Southwest flights through April 6, 2015. Southwest opens up its schedule in chunks. A new chunk may open before this trick disappears on November 1.

66 Responses to How to Exploit the Southwest-Airtran Merger

  1. A big question is how easy can we find award availability especially in case of expensive flight?

    • In my experience, very easily. Every Southwest flight I’ve checked has had space. Best practice is to find the flights you want, call 800-435-9792 to see if space is available, then make the transfers.

      Good question. I like the caution.

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  7. Do you know if it’s possible to transfer old Southwest credits to Airtran credits? I have 9 past credits and 626 points so I’m right in the middle of the road to an award. My credits will start expiring in Septermber so I was thinking if it’s possible to transfer them to A+ and extend their expiration this way?

  8. When will this ability to move points between the two programs, or redeem on either program stop? Thanks

  9. Friend is trying to fly LGA – HOU 8/31-9/3. I’ve found flights going there for 6,400 SW and coming back it’s 50,000. Am i right to assume that by transferring (SW – Airtran – SW) that he’d have enough for any 2 one ways no matter what amount of points needed is? So he’d do the transfers and then book the return using one of the one ways but because the flight there is cheap he’d simply use 6,400 and leave the remaining one way for another time??? Please help!

  10. Can I still transfer Southwest Rapid Rewards into AirTran Credits and then back again to maximize my Southwest credits? I tried to follow your instructions on your April 22, 2012 blog post but I don’t see the option to transfer points. Thanks! By the way, I love your blog :)

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  15. Hello,

    My wife has the companion pass. If we do this trick of tranferring to airtran and then back then booking her flight with the credits will I fly for free using the companion pass? Thanks

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  20. Frank had a great question, what’s the answer?

    Also, does this still work?

    Thanks!

  21. Grover's Bathtub

    I saved a total of 27120 points using this last night; thanks so much! Things did get a little iffy with my wife’s ticket (booked using $ on the same itinerary), as it turned out that the standard award seats for my daughter and myself consumed the last WGA space on the outbound leg of our trip. Fortunately, I was able to change everyone’s outbound leg to a flight that had both standard award space and enough WGA fares.

  22. To answer Frank’s question, a companion pass is valid on Southwest flights booked with points or credits. The downside with credits in general is that there are blackout dates and limited availability, and it HAS to be a roundtrip (16 credits=1 Southwest round-trip)

  23. Mile Value-I thought I followed everything above, until you let @Sruti’s comment about “it HAS to be a roundtrip (16 credits=1 Southwest round-trip)” stand without correction. I thought I understood you to say the SW credit could be redeemed for 2 one way tickets?

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  25. How many credits are needed for a business class ticket? Is it also only 16?

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  28. Emil's Pursuits

    I’ve got like a 10% success rate in finding standard award seats on days I want to travel…. and that includes times I “hit “, but the flight schedule I wanted was unavailable.

  29. Hello,
    Is is possible to get the companion pass now, then again a few years later? Assuming there are still 50k card bonuses available. I would really like to get 100k Southwest points now, but have little use for the companion pass. But, would love to get it in the future when I have the need.

    Thanks, Zach

    • You can earn the companion pass every year. The real question is whether credit card bonuses will always count toward the 110k points you need. I doubt that will last long.

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  32. Hi Scott,

    Hope you can help. I have 32 airtran credit to expire nov 2014. Is there a way to extend them to 2016 or beyond? I ready somewhere and it sounded like I could. Greatly appreciate your help.

    • I don’t know of a way. Earning more would work, right?

    • We are nearing the final stages of integration, including the complete transition of all A+ Rewards accounts to Rapid Rewards. This process will begin on November 2, 2014. Rest assured your A+ Rewards Credits are safe and we are committed to making this a smooth transition. Here are a few key dates to know for this transition:
      The last day to earn A+ Rewards Flight Credits will be November 1, 2014.
      The last day to redeem A+ Rewards Credits will be November 1, 2014.
      Existing A+ Rewards Chase Cardmembers will begin earning Rapid Rewards Points in late October. More details about receipt of a replacement for your A+ Rewards Credit Card with a new Southwest Airlines branded credit card will be forthcoming from Chase prior to the end of October.
      The last day to earn credits with Hertz®, e-Miles®, and e-Rewards® will be September 30, 2014.
      Your A+ Rewards account will be closed on November 2, 2014. We will convert your active A+ Rewards Credits to Rapid Rewards Points at a ratio of one A+ Rewards Credit = 1,200 Rapid Rewards Points. We plan to complete this process as quickly as possible.

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  35. The best scenario to maximize value is for last minute flights. Its obvious those flights would be 19,200+ points/$334+ so booking with the credit option you could get up to $1000 in value as I did last week with a trip from CA to OH.

  36. Have we learned yet whether it’s possible to utilize this trick and also use the SW companion pass? I want to use my CP if possible for some upcoming expensive trips. If I understand correctly, I’d transfer RR points to AT credits, then change the AT credits back to RR credits, and then book, right? If that’s the case I would *think* I could use my CP – can’t imagine why my CP wouldn’t work on RR credits.

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  39. Hi, my girlfriend got the AirTran card last year with the 32 credits. She then transferred them to Southwest and now has 2 award tickets. She has yet to find a ticket to match up with her schedule and her award tickets are expiring in August. Can these be transferred back to AirTran and will the expiration be extended? I just got an email today about the AirTran points automatically transferring to Southwest points in November and she would rather have Southwest points, as they are way easier to book. Thanks in advanced for the help!

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  42. Hello,
    I have booked a round trip EWR-DAL w/28,391 RR points, before reading this article. Can I cancel my trip and book the same for 19,200 RR points, so that it can save me 9191 RR points?
    Thanks for your reply

  43. As of June 30, 2014 Southwest Airlines reduced there Bonus points to 25k for new credit card applicants.

    If you are interested email me at patomaha@yahoo.com and I will send you the promo info to still get the 50k.

    I have an offer from Southwest for the Plus Credit Card. You will get 50000 bonus points. The annual fee is $69.00. There is no blackout dates and you can use the points to book someone else a flight if you want. This offer is good till Sept 30, 2014.

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  46. I have thought about doing this – but if my plans change, I am assuming it is not so flexible. i.e. I will end up with Southwest credits (do they have a time limit?). What I love best about SW points is that it is so easy to book and cancel, etc as the points just get refunded to my account.

    • You will end up with a free one way flight to be used when Standard award space exists for 12 months after the award was originally created. At least that’s what you would have ended up with in the past. On Nov 2, I think they’ll convert each one way you have left to 9,600 points as they get rid of all vestiges of the old system.

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