Why Transfering Southwest Points to Air Tran (& Vice Versa) is NOT as Great As it Seems

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Southwest Airlines is acquiring Air Tran, and Southwest Airline points can now be converted to Air Tran and Air Tran credit can be converted to Southwest airlines credits.

I’ve been waiting for this for a long time because Emily applied for the Air Tran credit card and has 36 Air Tran credits which we can now transfer to Southwest and make use of with our Southwest Companion Pass.

But Air Tran credits do not transfer to Southwest points, but instead transfer to Southwest credits which are very restrictive (read = awful), so this isn’t as good as it seems.

Southwest Points & Credits vs. Air Tran Credits

Southwest currently has a point based rewards program where you redeem points for award travel.  For example, 1 Southwest point is worth 1.67 cents towards Wanna Get Away fares.

Air Tran has a credit based rewards program where 16 credits equals 1 round trip award.  Air Tran also has business class awards and awards to Mexico and the Caribbean.

To complicate matters, you can transfer Southwest POINTS to Air Tran Credits, but you can NOT transfer Air Tran credits to Southwest points.

Instead, you transfer Air Tran credits to Southwest credits (in increments of 0.25 credits).  You need 16 Southwest credits for 1 round-trip US award or two 1-way awards.

But unfortunately, Southwest credits are very restrictive and have very limited award availability, unlike Southwest points which can be used to purchase any seat on a Southwest flights.

So What?

1.   Travel to Mexico & Caribbean.   At first glance, this seems wonderful because you can transfer your Southwest Airline points to Air Tran and travel to the Caribbean and Mexico because Southwest doesn’t fly to those destinations.

This can be a great deal because it costs only 8 credits or 9,600 Southwest points for a 1-way award, and tickets to Mexico or the Caribbean are at least $200 or more each way.

But, Air Tran award availability isn’t that great for the few destinations which I checked.  For example, I couldn’t find ANY coach awards from Kansas City to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic in June, July or August.

Southwest to Air Tran

Limited international availability on Air Tran

Also, I expect Air Tran award availability to get worse as Southwest continues to integrate Air Tran.   That’s because Southwest is slowly integrating Air Tran aircraft into the Southwest fleet which means that Air Tran awards and flight availability (especially international) is bound to get worse because Southwest doesn’t fly to Mexico, Central America, or the Caribbean.

But this could be a great use of Southwest points if you can find award seats on Air Tran.

The good news is that you can check Air Tran award availability BEFORE transferring Southwest points to Air Tran even if you have no Air Tran+ credits in your account.   You just need to sign-up for a free Air Tran rewards account.

Here’s a link to Air Tran’s route map and destinations.

2.   Get More Value from Southwest Points.   You can transfer Southwest points to Air Tran credit and then back to Southwest and get a higher value.

For example, 1,200 Southwest Airlines points transfers to 1 Air Tran+ credit.  You need 16 Air Tran credits for a round-trip coach award, so you can transfer 19,200 Southwest points to get 16 Air Tran+ credits.

Now each Southwest point is worth 1.67 cents, so 19,200 Southwest Points is worth $321 (19,200 Southwest X 1.67 cents per point).

This means that if you have to book a Southwest award which costs more than $321 or 19,200 points (say Kansas City to New York and back which costs ~$500), you can transfer 19,200 Southwest points to 16 Air Tran+ credits, and then transfer them back to 16 Southwest credits (which is equal to 1 return-trip award) and book your award.

This sounds great in theory, but Southwest credits have VERY restrictive award availability.  So while you get access to ANY seat on the flight when you use Southwest points, you get access to very FEW seats when using Southwest credits.

For example, there are only 2 days in June when I can use my Southwest credit to book a flight from Kansas City to New York.

Southwest to Air Tran 1

I can use Southwest credits for only 2 days in June!

Contrast this to regular award availability using Southwest points when I can book a flight on ANY day from Kansas City to New York in June.

Southwest to Air Tran 2-001

I can use Southwest points on ANY day in June

Be very careful when you transfer Southwest points to Air Tran credits and then back to Southwest credits, because you will be very limited with award flights.

3.  Companion Pass.   You can’t transfer Air Tran+ credits to Southwest and have them count towards the Southwest Companion Pass.

But you can transfer 120,000 Southwest points to 100 Air Tran+ credits which will give you access to the Air Tran Companion Pass.

However, Air Tran availability on both paid and award flights is bound to decrease because Southwest is converting Air Tran aircraft to Southwest planes and then flying them on mostly Southwest routes.

4.  Extend Expiration of Air Tran/Southwest Credits.  You may be able to transfer 16 Air Tran credits to Southwest which will create an award with an expiration date 1 year away.  You can then transfer these credits back to Air Tran and extend the expiration date of your credits (assuming they were going to expire in less than 1 year).

Bottom Line:  You can transfer points and credits between Southwest and Air Tran, but it isn’t very useful because Southwest credits are very restrictive and have very few awards seats available.

However, this could be useful if you want to fly to Mexico or the Caribbean on Air Tran, but be careful of the limited award availability.

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33 responses to “Why Transfering Southwest Points to Air Tran (& Vice Versa) is NOT as Great As it Seems

  1. Southwest points are worth a bit more than 1.67 cents because award tickets don’t charge a Passenger Facility Charge, and the points needed doesn’t factor in the PFC either, just the base fare.

    I found availability every flight I wanted with the credits. I think it varies by market, but it’s definitely best practice to call up or check the space before transferring Southwest points to A+ Credits to Southwest credits.

  2. I agree that capacity controls & black-out dates take a lot of the value out of this transfer. However, given that transfers have (in my experience) occurred instantly, there is essentially no risk if you wait to transfer your rewards until you 100% have plans for them.

    My personal bias toward loving this conversion is that I had about 3600 Southwest points, but they don’t fly to/from my airport, so now I have useful AirTran credits vs. wasted Southwest points. I’m sure there are people in the exact opposite scenario as well, or as you mentioned, someone eyeing a destination served by only one airline.

    Overall, I think options make miles/points more valuable, though wish all these airlines would loosen the strings a little on availability!

  3. Excellent post! You’ve brought up and excellent point that I’ve come across first hand when recently booking some flights to Las Vegas – on two trips with somewhat flexible dates in may and June, I was unable to find reward flights in either direction from either of the 2 home Airports I use for AirTran – I ended up booking SW Wanna Get Away fare tickets for about 30k Rapid Rewards points a piece – flights to Vegas have really gone up in the past couple of years.

  4. There is another advantage of SWA credits vs. points. WGA fares are often unavailable for travel booked less than a week ahead. Using points for a AT fare is at the 100 points/$ rate. I use my credits to book last minute tickets that have award availability. This may not work on popular routes like to Vegas or NYC but it comes in very handy for my DAL-ABQ.

    • @milevalue – The PFC is capped at $4.50, so each point is just a very small bit more than 1.67 cents. I wasn’t able to find availability on most flights from Kansas City using credits. Nothing to New York, Boston, Detroit, Denver etc. when I wanted to go. For which flights did you find availability?

      @New Girl in the Air
      – The only risk is that you won’t find availability once you convert Southwest points to credits and then you’re stuck with the credits. But the transfer is certainly useful for folks who were served by only 1 of the carriers since they have more options.

      @PointsCashMiles
      – I couldn’t find seats using credits on most flights, but as you point out, Wanna Get Away fares are usually available.

      @P Silberman – Very interesting! I couldn’t find award availability using credits to many destinations from Kansas City. But it is a good deal if you can find availability using the credits.

  5. I think Kansas City might be the problem 😉

    Living in the northeast, I’m lucky enough to have three different Southwest airports (BOS, MAN, PVD) all within driving distance for me. Looking over the next couple of months for flights to MCO for example, I see some weekend availability, and solid availability nearly every weekday.

    I have a trip back from the west coast coming up next month, and although I wasn’t able to get a Sunday return that would have been ideal, I did get a Monday flight when I booked a couple of weeks ago. Tough to beat getting a one-way flight for the equivalent of 9600 points (currently going for 18180 if using points directly). Having said that, it’s interesting to look now at award availability for that flight, because for SJC–>BOS I now see *no* availability in June, and only two days in July (considerably less than a couple of weeks ago!). I wonder if a lot of people are jumping on the SW–>AT–>SW transfer trick and using up a lot more award space now, or maybe this is just the typical pattern of award usage.

  6. Yeah – I have been waiting for this – hoping that SW would do something more along the lines of when the integrated the old RR program into the new – pricing credits at 1200 points/credit. But I did not expect SW to just pull over AirTran credits back in to SW standard reward offerings. Yes, Std Awards very limiting. So – what I have been doing – for any flights I had already booked on SW points for rest of 2012, I have been checking on Standard Award availability, and if available, I have been transferring the AirTran credits to a SW Standard Award and rebooking the flight. And recovering my SW points for future use. In other words – use my AirTran credits up first when I can as SW standard awards, then use my SW points later.

  7. @NewGirlIntheAir – be careful about transferring A+ credits to SWA until ready to use them. SWA starts a 12 month clock on Standard Award created with transfer of 16 credits – and it cannot be extended. Now if you have A+ credits that are going to expire, then transferring to SWA can extended them awhile longer.

  8. Sorry to be a dope, but I am unable to find how to search for flights using SW credits on southwest.com.
    ps. Thanks for all your helpful info- I just received my CP!

  9. I currently have 6 SW credits in the old system along with ~53k in current miles with SW. How can I use my old 6 credits for a flight? Would it be better to transfer miles to AT and then back to SW to combine with the 6 credits I already have? Or, is it better to just convert the miles to credits and go that route? I’m doing DEN-FLL for Xmas so flights will likely be more expensive anyways where a credit based award might be beneficial.

  10. To piggy back on Caroline’s question, is it possible to search for SW award availability (for redemption of credits) BEFORE transferring Rapid Rewards points to Airtran and then back to SW as credits? Or do you need to already have SW credits in your account in order to search for credit redemption availability?

  11. @Caroline and @B-Rad, unfortunately it does seem like you need to have an award in your SW account before you can search award availability. The main page is http://www.southwest.com/account/rapidrewards/certificates and on my account, I have an available award, so I see a link for “Find Seat Availability”. But on my daughter’s account, without any awards, there is no such link. I tried doing a quick Google search, but couldn’t find any way to search for availability without an award.

    @Ken, I might be missing something, but I think it’s the same either way. You can use SW’s standard calculation for the transition from credits/awards to points, 1200 SW points per SW credit (so you would use 12000 SW points to get 10 SW credits, along with your 6 SW credits, to get your Standard Award). Or you can use 1200 SW points per A+ credit, and convert your 6 SW credits to A+ credits, and again that would total a cost of 6 credits and 12000 points to get a Standard Award.

    • @Keith – You have a lot more availability than I do! I can find virtually nothing over the weekend and either the 1st or last flight during the week. Thanks for helping out!

      @Christopher
      – That’s a great strategy – to use award credits first and save the points for later. I tried doing the same thing, but couldn’t find any awards.

      @Caroline @Ken @B-Rad
      – What Keith said!

  12. @Keith – Thanks 🙂

  13. I found availability for BUR-TPA, TPA-PIT, and LAX-MDW for the exact flights I had highlighted as the ones I wanted before calling. I still have one oneway unclaimed.

    Where did you search credit-award availability on southwest.com? I can’t find that page.

    It’s not just the PFC that is not charged on awards, but also the $3.8 segment fee. On cheap flights like LAX-LAS, these add up to a large percentage of the ticket price, so you can get a bit higher than 1.7 cents per Southwest point.

  14. @milevalue, if you log into your SW account, you can either click the “Where are my old awards?” graphic (near your name and miles on the right), or you can just go directly to http://www.southwest.com/account/rapidrewards/certificates. You’ll see a link named “Find Seat Availability” (but only if you have a SW award to use).

  15. I was wondering if someone with some awards could check an availability for me?
    I am looking to fly to New Orleans from Chicago on August 3rd and fly back august 5th.

    I would really appreciate it and thanks in advance.

  16. Thanks for all of this helpful information.
    If I earn the Southwest Companion pass then convert those points for the AirTran companion pass, do I lose those points on Airtran or do I get to keep them like Southwest?

  17. I have earned the Southwest companion pass. If I transfer 32,000 points to Air Tran for my next trip, will I lose the companion pass with Southwest? Thanks!

  18. Does extending the expiration date for one-way SW standard awards for 8 credits to AirTran and back to Southwest, or is this only for 16 credit rt awards?

  19. Cardinalandgoldfan

    How do you search for flights using Southwest credits? I can’t seem to find that option on the website. Thanks!

    • @Cardinalandgoldfan – Sign into your account and click the link which says “Where are my old awards” and you will be able to search for flights if you have a credit. If you don’t have a credit you will have to call to find out availability.

  20. I just wanted to comment on the travel to Mexico & the Caribbean.

    I just noticed there is a lot of availability to redeem A+ Rewards on direct flights to these areas. From Denver, I easily found flights to Cancun and Cabo but not to Punta Cana. There are no direct flights to these areas from Kansas City so that may be why you didn’t find any. Try Atlanta or Baltimore for Punta Cana.

  21. If you have southwest points, how do you use on AirTran? I called southwest and they said cannot book AirTran with SW points?

    • @LJC – I’ll give it a shot.

      @kim – You can’t book directly with Air Tran and you can’t use the Companion Pass for Air Tran flights. But, you can transfer Southwest points to Air Tran credits and book the flight if there is availability.

  22. I poked around on SW’s website but didn’t see a way to check SW credits redemption availability. I see point redemption availability easily enough. Can you point me to the credits redemption?

  23. I am trying to use Air Tran credits for award travel on Southwest. The Air Tran credits only convert to Southwest credits (and not Southwest points), which convert to a Southwest Standard award, which I find is useless. So I find it is impossible to use Air Tran credits on Southwest. Is this indeed the case? Am I missing something?

    Thanks in advance for everything!!

  24. WN finally makes it available to check on standard award availability even if you have no credits. The page: http://www.southwest.com/account/rapidrewards/certificates. now has a standard awards availability button whether you have credits or not.