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Update: My links for the 50,000 point Southwest offer are no longer working. You may be able to find working links at Chase.com.
The Southwest Companion Pass is just one of the many reasons to love the Rapid Rewards program and can be a great way to save money and travel the country for half-off, whether you’re using points or cash. However, one downside is that Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to Southwest don’t count towards Companion Pass qualification. So if you can’t swing getting the Southwest pass or if you mostly fly Airtran and you can’t book those flights with the Southwest companion pass, Airtran’s own Companion Pass might make more sense for you.
There might be several reasons you find yourself coming up short of the 110,000 points you’d need to earn in a calendar year in order to score the Companion Pass. They could include everything from the fact that you’ve already had all four Southwest credit cards from Chase (if you haven’t all four are offering limited-time 50,000-point sign-up bonuses, so even one will get you halfway toward Companion Pass qualification) to the fact that you might not qualify for one of those cards. Maybe you just won’t have enough travel coming up in order to earn enough points, or you have mostly A+ Credits and a few spare Southwest points sitting around that you want to put to use.
Whatever the reason, in some cases, it may make more sense to leverage both your Rapid Rewards and Airtran A+ Rewards to redeem for the Airtran Companion Pass instead, even though it costs you 100 Airtran A+ Credits to redeem for the pass (versus getting the Southwest Companion Pass as a perk for achieving a number of qualifying miles). The Airtran companion pass is accessible for those with Chase Ultimate Rewards points, because you can leverage them through transfers to Southwest and then Airtran’s A+ program. 120,000 Ultimate Rewards points = 120,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points = 100 AirTran credits- enough to redeem for a Companion Pass.
Converting Southwest Points and Credits into A+ Credits
While Southwest and Airtran are still in the process of merging (it’s been going on since 2010), you can still turn Southwest points or old credits into A+ Credits credits through this transfer method, and redeem 100 A+ Rewards Credits for an Airtran Companion Pass. The transfer ratio is either one old Southwest Credit or 1,200 Rapid Rewards points to 1 Airtran A+ Credit.
Check out this post for details on how to do so, but the short version is:
1,200 Rapid Rewards Points = 1 Airtran A+ Rewards Credit
1 Airtran A+ Rewards credit = 1 old Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit
16 Southwest Rapid Rewards Credits (for a roundtrip award) = 16 Airtran A+ credits or 19,200 current Southwest Rapid Rewards points
Other Ways To Earn A+ Rewards
Unlike most mileage programs, A+ Rewards earnings are based on how often you fly rather than mileage or spending. You get 1 credit per one-way coach flight and 1.5 credits for flying in business class. You can also earn 0.5 points for Hertz rentals of 4 days or less and 1 credit for Hertz rentals of 5 days or more.
So after 100 coach flights or 67 business class flights, you can earn enough for the Companion Pass.
Right now, you could also get the Airtran credit card from Chase, which currently comes with a sign-up bonus of 32 A+ Rewards credits – almost a third of the total you’d need to redeem for the Companion Pass – when you spend $2,000 in 3 months. That’s a great option especially for people who have already maxed out their Southwest credit card applications. The card also earns 2 A+ Dollars for every $1 you spend on either Airtran or Southwest, and 1 A+ Dollar on everything else. 1,200 A+ Dollars convert to 1 A+ Credit.
You could also leverage Southwest’s hotel partners. For example, you could convert Club Carlson points at a 10:1 ratio (not a very good deal, but still something to consider) to Southwest points, or Hyatt points at a 2.5:1 ratio to Southwest points, while Marriott point conversions range from 5:1 to 2.8:1 depending on how many points you convert. The value of doing so isn’t usually great, but it’s a way to top up your Southwest account so you can convert those Rapid Rewards points into A+ Credits towards the Companion Pass. For more details on converting hotel points to airline miles, see this post.
Southwest also partners with a number of hotel chains through which you can earn Rapid Rewards either instead of or in addition to hotel points during stays. Chains where you can earn Southwest points instead of hotel points – usually at the rate of 600 points per stay – when you stay at hotel partners including Best Western, Club Carlson, Choice Hotels, Hyatt, La Quinta, Marriott, MLife, Starwood and Wyndham.
Differences Between The Southwest and Airtran Companion Passes
What differentiates the Airtran Companion Pass from the Southwest one is that you actually have to redeem your credits for it rather than just earning the points necessary and having it given to you – that’s why it will ultimately cost you more points to earn than the Southwest one.
With the Southwest Companion Pass, once you hit the 110,000-point threshold you can designate a companion that flies for free (just pay 9/11 taxes) on any flight that you are on – whether you pay for your ticket using cash or points. The best part is that there is no award “availability” on Southwest – if there’s a ticket for sale in the same ticket fare that you purchase/used points for, then your companion can fly as well for free.
With the Airtran Companion Pass, your companion must have an A+ Rewards account and the sponsor must designate their companion, and can only change their companion once each quarter. While travel can be booked separately, both have to be flying on the same flight.
Another major difference from a Southwest Companion Pass is that the Airtran option offers Business Class upgrades. Companions that wish to receive a one-way Business Class upgrade can redeem four A+ Rewards credits from their sponsor or may for an upgrade beginning midnight the day prior to the departure date.
I recently flew in Business Class on AirTran from Pittsburgh to Tampa, and although the Boeing 717 was small, I was actually a lot more comfortable than I am on American or Delta’s MD80′s where my knees hit the seat in front of me.
The merger and increase in codeshare flights between Southwest and Airtran means that Southwest Rapid Rewards members can fly on AirTran’s international route network including to destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean that Southwest does not service, which opens up a whole new world of options for you and your travel partner, but if you’re already an Airtran flyer and have the points to prove it, then it could be worth redeeming those for an Airtran Companion Pass and using that to score free tickets for your companion on Southwest’s extensive domestic route network.