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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