Last summer/fall, in conversations with a number of you, I encouraged you to pick up a Barclays Airtran personal card and perhaps even a business card. It wasn’t an incredible offer but it was a great opportunity given that they’d likely become Southwest credits and it was a card that was almost certainly likely to leave the market (since Chase has the Southwest card) so why not give it a try. We’re now coming up on our 1 year card anniversary and with the annual fee due soon, it’s time to review these. As background, I’m really happy I picked up somewhere around 59 Airtran credits in the last year through various cards and car rentals.
What to do with the Airtran card
I called Barclay’s last week to discuss options but I may have been a bit premature since my annual fee hasn’t posted yet. Last night, my supremely better half, called in about her personal card. I really wanted to step one of us down to a Choice Visa or Travelocity Amex from Barclays but no can do… It didn’t even seem like they wanted to step down to a no fee Airtran card. The only option they offered was their own rewards program which I’d guess is a 1% value back card with 2% back on gas, grocery, and utilities. Not interested, we passed and cancelled her card. Perhaps things will be different when I call in about my personal and business Airtran cards but I’m not hopeful.
I wouldn’t recommend continuing to use this card unless you’re paying for Airtran flights nor do I intend to pay the annual fee. Even if you are continuing to book paid Airtran tickets, I’d suggest that a Chase Sapphire Preferred with 2UR/$ or an Amex Premier Rewards Gold/Business Rewards Gold card at 3 MR/$ is better.
One redeeming element of this card may be that you get two $50 Airtran discount coupons on renewal. If I paid the $59 annual fee on the personal card, I’d still come out ahead by $41 but that’s not motivating to me if I weren’t already planning to fly Airtran. Some people would take the coupons, use them quickly, and then cancel within a short period after the fee posts as you can usually get it cancelled within 60 days though I’m not familiar with Barclay’s policies here. We all have our limits and that’s not a strategy I employ.
Finally, and this is important, if it’s closed and your credits are a year old, you may have a problem… One benefit of the card is that it extends the expiration date of your Airtran credit from 1 year to 2 years. Closing the card will likely result in these credits being reduced back to one-year and possibly forfeited before you can use them.
What to do with your Airtran credits
First, if you don’t have a Southwest account, sign up via this link and you’ll receive 750 Southwest Points to start.
Unless you have a definite use of these credits on Airtran before expiration, you will almost certainly want to convert them to Southwest credits. Log in to your Southwest account, go to My Account, and then click the drop down as shown here.
You’ll then have to log in to your Airtran account and can convert the credits to Southwest Credits at a .25 : .25 ratio (yep, quarter-credits).
Upon transfer to Southwest, the credits will have the same expiration date as they had at Airtran which would include the 1 year extension because you held the Airtran credit card. To view them, log out and back into the Southwest site. Click the “Where are my old Credits” button. Scroll down to the “View All Expiration Dates” link near the bottom of the screen that’s below the credit tracking bar (you’ll know what I mean when you see it). A pop up will open showing the expiration on the two credits which should match what it was at Airtran, including the 1 year extension courtesy of your now cancelled Barclays Airtran visa. I’d show you our screen but that might be getting a bit personal. 🙂
One more small detail, as soon as it was clear the Barclays Airtran Visa was being cancelled, I initiated the movement of the credits to Southwest. I probably should have done that a day before the call. There’s no harm in doing now because you can always transfer them back to Airtran after card closure.
What are these Southwest credits?
Southwest currently uses a points system where 1 point = $.01666 toward a “Wanna get away” fare (and seemingly ~$.018/pt for “Web Only” fares). The nice thing about the points is that you can always use them, even on the last seat. The unfortunate thing is that they are directly tied to the value of the ticket so as the ticket’s paid price goes up, so does the cost in points. I’m not a fan of fixed value point systems like this but it is what it is and for domestic flights, they can be quite useful.
That’s NOT what these are though. Southwest formerly used a credit based system similar to Airtran where credits expired and were capacity controlled but the price was fixed at 16 credits = a standard award = 2 one-way tickets. Once you reach 16 credits, the “standard” award is issued and bookable. The standard award will have a 1 year expiration. A good question you might ask is when should you use a Southwest Standard Award versus points and the answer, expiration issues aside, is when the points equivalent ticket is more than 19,200.
Let’s take a scenario where you have 12 Airtran credits, 2 old Southwest Credits, and 14000 Southwest Points. First, you could convert the 12 Airtran credits to Southwest and you’d have 14 credits which isn’t quite enough for anything. Southwest also allows you to convert 1200 Southwest points to a Southwest credit so you could transfer 2400 points to 2 credits, resulting in 16 Southwest credits which can be converted to a standard award.
As an aside, Chase UR can transfer to Southwest Points at 1:1 and many hotels transfer too (Wyndham’s my favorite). In the example above, if you didn’t have the 2400 Southwest points necessary, these options would make sense.
Alternatively, after you close the credit card, you should be able to transfer these Southwest credits right back to Airtran and the expiration date should match what the credit card had originally.
Airtran people and Southwest Companion Pass people should buddy up
You can’t transfer credits across names unfortunately. You can, however, book a Southwest standard award for anyone. Should that award be booked for someone with a Southwest Companion Pass, they can bring along the companion, effectively doubling the value of those Airtran credits. I used 16 Airtran Credits to transfer to Southwest to book a ticket for my friend who in turn named me his companion and is bringing me along for free. I’m looking forward to seeing some baseball this summer and it was a nice non-stop route which was expensive otherwise. I know a few of you have Southwest Companion Passes and a good number have Airtran credits that have expiration issues. Let’s see if we can maximize the value of those expiring Airtran credits.
While I’ll miss my upgrades on Delta, I like a good deal even more and it eliminated a stop. Now, if only my own ~60k Southwest points pending at the Southwest Mall from a Sears purchase would post to my actual Southwest account, I might move toward picking up my own Companion Pass… I’ve heard it’s slow but I’m starting to get impatient!