My favorite airline is probably Southwest Airlines. They service so many of the airports I like traveling to, from my home airport at BWI to places like Las Vegas, Orlando, and the airports of my home state, New York. I’ve also been the beneficiary of their participation in the American Express Membership Rewards program, as I can convert my points into Southwest Rapid Rewards points at a very favorable rate. Recently, however, Southwest pulled out and I’ve been looking at alternatives in the catalog. That’s how I found Airtran.
Earning & Spending A+ Rewards
Airtran’s A+ Rewards Program, their frequent flyer program, works a lot like Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program. You earn 1 A+ Rewards credit per one-way coach flight, with a 0.5 bonus point for Business Class. You also earn one point for a one-way Frontier Airlines flight. You redeem the A+ Rewards credits at the same rate as Southwest Rapid Rewards, 16 credits it worth a round trip coach ticket (sold in one-way increments). Points expire one year after they post to your account.
A+ Visa Signature Card
Airtran also has a A+ Visa Signature credit card that gives you 10 credits after you spend more than $750 in 90 days and 1 point per $1,000 spent, 2 per $1,000 spent at AirTran Airways. There is a $49 annual fee but you receive two $50 Discount Certificates valid for round-trip travel on AirTran Airways. It’s a Visa Signature card so it comes with all the benefits of Visa Signature, including complimentary concierge service.
The Airtran A+ Visa Signature card offer is better than Southwest’s Visa Signature card offer. Southwest’s only offers 8 bonus credits and 1 Rapid Rewards credit per $1,200 spent, a rate that is 20% higher than Airtran’s point accumulation rate. Southwest’s Visa Signature card has a $59 annual fee.
American Express Membership Rewards
As I mentioned earlier, the change in AMEX’s Membership Rewards catalog prompted my search for an alternative and I discovered Airtran. Whereas a Rapid Rewards point cost 1,500 reward points, an A+ Reward point only cost 1,200 Membership Rewards. They both convert to a free flight at the same rate (16 points), but A+ Rewards are much cheaper! Plus, when you convert Southwest points, you have to pay a small fee – I didn’t see a similar fee with AirTran points.
If you earn 10+ A+ credits within a 90 day period or 25+ within a year, you qualify for Elite Membership. Elite Membership offers the following benefits:
- Complimentary Business Class upgrades from all coach fares available at the gate 40 minutes prior to departure
- Complimentary Business Class upgrades from Y and B fares at time of booking
- Higher priority stand-by status
- 2-year redemption period for all A+ Rewards credits earned after Elite status is attained
- Complimentary seat assignments at time of booking on all fare classes
- Dedicated customer service phone number, check-in lines and security entrances at select airports
- Guaranteed full fare coach seat on any flight
- First and second bag fees waived
- Complimentary transfer of A+ Rewards credits to other accounts
- Change and cancellation fees waived for Y, B, and M fares
- EarlyReturns® Summit benefits when traveling on Frontier Airlines
- Complimentary one-year fee-waived Hertz #1 Club Gold® membership
A+ Rewards Partners
Unlike some other reward programs, the A+ program doesn’t have a litany of partners you need to keep track of. The only one listed is Hertz and you earn half a reward if you rent a car for 4 days or less, a full credit if it’s 5 days or more. Normally, if you rent through a partner, there’s a small fee tacked onto your rental. Ask about the fee. If it’s marginal, and worth the half a point or full point, then it makes sense to tap that reward relationship. If it’s substantial, ask if you can book it outside the affiliation to avoid the fee.
I haven’t earned enough points for a free flight yet, so it remains to be seen how easy it is to book one, but right now it appears that the AirTran A+ rewards program is slightly better than Southwest’s Rapid Rewards.