Update 6/8/13: This trick is still active!
Southwest Airlines and Airtran Airways are merging. This week the airlines announced that for the time being, transfers will be allowed between Southwest’s Rapid Rewards loyalty program and Airtran’s A+ loyalty program.
This presents an arbitrage opportunity similar to the one I detailed last week, which involved converting Rapid Rewards points to Rapid Rewards credits to save a bundle when booking expensive Southwest flights.
First let’s look at the the mechanics of 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 oneways) to 16 A+ credits
1 A+ credit converts to 1 Rapid Rewards credit
16 A+ credits can be used to fly two oneways on Airtran, and 16 Rapid Rewards credits can be used to fly two oneways on Southwest.
So what does all this mean, and how can we exploit 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 oneway trips on either airline.
19,200 Rapid Rewards points are worth $324, so if you can find two oneways 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 oneways that cost more than that is pretty easy, especially since Airtran flies internationally to Mexico and the Caribbean.
Let’s go through some examples to show how to determine whether you can exploit the transfer options.
LAX-MDW-LAX for the dates I want costs $408, and I value it at that price because I need to get to Chicago, and there are no cheaper options. In Rapid Rewards points it costs 23,160 and $5. This is a prime example of a fare where exploiting the transfer options saves money!
Instead of paying cash or 23,160 points, I can transfer 19,200 Rapid Rewards points to A+ credits. The transfer is instantaneous. I can then immediately transfer 16 A+ credits to 16 Rapid Rewards credits. After that instantaneous transfer, I now have two free oneways on Southwest that I can use to fly LAX-MDW-LAX for just the same $5 in taxes.
So I got an itinerary for 19,200 Rapid Rewards points that should have cost me 23,160 Rapid Rewards points. Exploiting the transfers saved 3,960 Rapid Rewards points with a value of $63.54! Awesome!
Here’s an easy example of when not to transfer. I want to fly LAX-LAS-LAX, and the flights I want cost $114 or 5,520 Rapid Rewards points and $5. Transferring 19,200 Rapid Rewards points to 16 A+ Credits to 16 Rapid Rewards credits would be folly. Instead I would just book with 5,520 points and $5.
Now that you know when to transfer, here’s how to transfer. It’s incredibly easy.
- Log in to your Southwest account on the right side of southwest.com
- Click on the My Account link that appears where you typed your password.
- 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.
I hope everyone seriously looks into these transfers for their ability to use up orphaned Rapid Rewards credits, use up orphaned A+ credits, and save a bundle on expensive Airtran and Southwest flights.