Attention AirTran A+ Rewards members: Your frequent flyer program is going to change. Big time.
This week Southwest Airlines announced a complete revamp of Rapid Rewards, its frequent flyer program. With the impending takeover of AirTran by Southwest, we’ll all be Rapid Rewards members late this year or in early 2012.
Let’s take a look at some key components of the new Rapid Rewards program and compare them to the current A+ Rewards plan and speculate a bit on how the transition from A-Plus to Rapid Rewards might play out.
On March 1, Rapid Rewards is changing from a flight-credit based program very similar to that of AirTran to a points-based program. Points earned are based more on how much you spend than how often or far you fly.
The new program is more appealing to business travelers, who typically pay more for less restrictive fares. It’s less appealing to those who typically fly on very low discounted fares.
So if you are a frequent business traveler who tends to fly more at the last minute and pays higher fares, you will probably like Rapid Rewards. If you are a bargain-hunter and stick to the lowest fare categories, the new Rapid Rewards program is probably going to have less appeal than AirTran’s A+ Rewards.
>EARNING. With AirTran’s A+, members earn one flight credit per segment no matter how much it costs. 16 segments equal one free roundtrip. With the new Rapid Rewards, members earn points based on fare paid. For example, on a Southwest deeply discounted $100 “Wanna Get Away” one-way fare you’ll earn 600 points– six points per dollar. If you choose to pay the $200 “Anytime” fare, you’ll earn 2000 points– 10 points per dollar. And if you choose the most expensive “Business Select” fare of $220, you’ll earn 2,640 points– 12 points per dollar.
>REDEEMING. With AirTran’s A+, you redeem your credits for an award certificate. When you book your award flight using that certificate, you are subject to availability and blackout dates. With the new Rapid Rewards program, you use your points like currency to “buy” any available seat listed on Southwest.com—there are no blackouts or availability issues. So if you find and book the least expensive “Wanna Get Away” one-way fare that normally sells for $100, it will cost 6000 points. The less restrictive $200 “Anytime” fare will cost 20,000 points. Business Select fares ($220) would cost 26,400 points. TIP: AirTran members should go ahead and redeem credits for long-distance and/or business class awards this year while the going is good.
>EXPIRATION. One of the most frustrating features of AirTran’s A+ program is the short shelf life of flight credits— one year for regular members or two years for elites and those holding the A+ Visa card. With the new Rapid Rewards program, points expire only if you don’t have any earning activity within a 24-month time period.
>INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS. Just like AirTran’s A+ Rewards program, Southwest has teamed up with a third party travel agent allowing members to use their points to “buy” tickets on other carriers. (Details are somewhat sketchy here, but if the program is similar to that of AirTran, tickets for international flights will require a hefty redemption of points . . . but at least it’s an option for members who’ve banked lots of points.) The option differs from AirTran’s by requiring those who want to take advantage of it to hold a $59/year Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card.
>ELITE LEVELS. AirTran offers just one level of elite status to those who earn at least 25 flight credits in a rolling calendar year or 10 credits in a 90-day window. To maintain elite status, A+ members only have to earn 12 credits in a rolling 12 month period. The new Southwest program will offer two elite levels: A-List, A-List Preferred, plus the popular Companion Pass. Members have to fly 25 one-way segments or earn 35,000 “tier qualifying points” to qualify for the A-List. For the A-List Preferred tier, you must fly 50 one-way segments or earn 70,000 tier qualifying points. To help build point banks faster, A-List members get a 25 percent booking bonus; Preferred members get a 100 percent bonus. (AirTran does not offer any flight credit bonuses to elite members.) Members who fly at last 100 one-way segments or earn 110,000 points (even if they are just standard points from Southwest credit card purchases, not the “tier qualifying” points needed for A-List or Preferred) get a “Companion Pass,” allowing one designated person to fly free with the member for a year.
>UPGRADES. AirTran A+ Elite members can use their credits and status to upgrade to business class. Southwest has stated that it will replace AirTran’s business class with its all coach product. While Rapid Rewards elites won’t be able to upgrade to a big business class seat, they do get other perks such as access to special lines at check-in and airport security, early boarding and standby priority.
>FREE WI-FI. With the new Rapid Reward program, those near top of the heap, A-List Preferred and Companion Pass members, will get free Wi-Fi access on all Southwest flights. Currently Southwest has close to 100 planes with Wi-Fi with plans to have it fleet wide within two years. As TICKET reader know, all of AirTran’s planes are equipped with Wi-Fi, but with a different system (Gogo) than the one Southwest has chosen. Time will tell how that part of the transition works!
>TRANSITION. Southwest is hesitant to address transition to the new program until the transaction to buy AirTran closes. I assume that it will offer AirTran A+ members the same deal it’s offering Rapid Rewards members: current banked flight credits will retain their value until they are used or expire. If you don’t have enough credits for a free flight, you’ll be able to “buy” them for 1200 points. Fair enough. I also assume that Southwest will honor AirTran elite status, but the jury’s out on how it will determine which level of Rapid Rewards elite they’ll get.
For a peek and more details of the NEW Rapid Rewards program, check out the new site here: www.newrapidrewards.com
So, what do you think? Is this good or bad news for A+ Reward members?
Don’t Forget! BOOK ALL YOUR ONLINE TRAVEL VIA LINKS FROM THE TICKET! It helps us help you!
Just click here: