Requiem for AirTran A+ Rewards, the Program That Ends Today

Southwest acquired AirTran, and it’s been a long time in process but finally the A+ Rewards program closes down today.

Many folks have already linked their accounts and transferred points. Those that didn’t have their points automatically moved over to the Rapid Rewards program.

No doubt at the margins there will be some confusion, folks who did not have Rapid Rewards accounts surprised (after all the emails Southwest has been sending, no less) that they can’t access their accounts and don’t know where their points are. And with any large data migration project there will be mistakes, mostly folks that do have Southwest Rapid Rewards accounts but where addresses don’t match and so have new accounts created. No doubt some time on the phone will get that sorted.

But what I want to do for a moment is lament the passing of A+ Rewards. It was an innovative program in its own way.

I joined AirTran’s program in December 2003 when they were offering a status match. Back then, AirTran status was for life — once you earned status, you kept it. So I had it, and I kept it. Until lifetime no longer meant lifetime, years later.

I only flew AirTran on a single trip, in July 2004. They had non-stop service to South Florida from my home airport of Washington National so I booked it. They cancelled the service, and offered me a refund if I wished but at that point everyone else was more expensive. I kept my AirTran tickets and connected through Atlanta.

Since Airtran offered business class, and I was an elite, I took two approaches to my upgrade:

  • Elites could upgrade in advance into unsold seats for $35 per segment. I tried that on the outbound without any difficulty.
  • There were no space available upgrades, but on the return I walked up to the gate each time, identified myself as an elite member (subtley, and politely) and asked if any upgrades were possible? Though not a benefit of the program, I was accommodated again.. both times.

This was a friendly program, less about the rules, and perhaps elites were uncommon enough even flying through Atlanta that agents were helpful — in my limited set of data points.

Airtran was also innovative in another way — for twice the number of credits as a free flight on Airtran, years ago they used to be willing to buy you a ticket on one of their competitors. In this way you could go beyond their route network.

They also offered reciprocal earn and burn with Frontier Airlines, a relationship that ended in the summer of 2010.

This was a small, scrappy airline that succeeded and managed to escape its history as ValuJet. They found innovative ways to reward loyalty. And now they’ve been swallowed up into what was once itself a small, scrappy, and innovative airline. Full circle, if you will.

My AirTran flight credits were gone a long time ago, along with my lifetime elite status. I’ve not set foot on a Southwest plane much longer than an AirTran one even. I haven’t linked my accounts with either, so soon enough I’ll see if I’m one of the data problems.

AirTran A+ Rewards, may she rest in peace.


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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