Reader
Question

Why Can’t I Use My Southwest Companion Pass On An Airtran Flight?

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Today we have a special guest answering one of our Sunday Reader Questions. TPG contributor Jason Steele takes on a question about the Southwest/Airtran merger and the limitations it imposes on maximizing the Southwest Companion Pass in the case of this reader.

TPG reader Jake wants to book a flight Airtran flight using Southwest Rapid Rewards points so his girlfriend can join him using his Southwest Companion Pass.

“I’m noticing there’s a red-eye that I want to take from SFO-ATL that’s offered on Airtran, but not the Southwest website. My girlfriend and I have a Companion Pass and a bunch of points on Southwest. Is there a way to book this Airtran flight using Southwest points and my Companion Pass?”

This must be one of the slowest mergers in history.
Although the airlines have been merging for 3 years, some of their reservations still aren’t integrated.

Back in January, I discovered that Southwest began offering some Airtran flights on its website, a process that the airline industry calls codesharing. This was important not just because it was the first time that you could use Southwest Rapid Rewards points to book flights operated by Airtran, but you could also apply your Southwest Companion Pass privileges to those flights as well.

At that time, Southwest’s public relations team assured me that they expected the codeshare to be fully rolled out on all Airtran domestic flights by April 2013, while international flights would have to wait until some as-yet undisclosed time. It looked like everything was on schedule but Jake seems to have discovered an anomaly regarding domestic Airtran flights that cannot be booked on Southwest.

A Glitch

I did a little searching and found the flight he was talking about. Airtran flight 710 is scheduled to depart San Francisco each night at 11:59 PM and arrive in Atlanta at 7:39AM the next day.

Airtran flight listings
These flights from SFO-ATL are bookable on Airtran.com.

Yet this flight does not appear to be bookable on Southwest.com.

Southwest
But they don’t show up on Southwest.com.

The same is true of overnight Airtran flight 39 LAX-ATL…

Flights from Los Angeles to Atlanta that don't show up on Southwest.
Flight 39 from Los Angeles to Atlanta doesn’t show up on Southwest.

Which doesn’t appear on Southwest’s site:

LAX-ATL SW

Neither does flight 41/641 SNA-ATL…

SNA-ATLWhich Southwest.com is missing entirely:

SNA-ATL SW

In addition, there are numerous instances of overnight connecting flight options that appear on Airtran’s web site, but not on Southwest.

I reached out to the Southwest public relations team for comment and was told that the reader has “found an example which shows that Southwest and Airtran are still operating as two separate carriers with separate reservation systems. As you noted, this itinerary is one that is available for sale on Airtran but not on Southwest. Once we are one system, this will no longer be the case.”

So the issue appears to be on overnight flights and connections that haven’t been fully integrated between the two reservations systems, which means you can’t book them at all through Southwest – either online or by calling in – so you also can’t use a Companion Pass on them.

Like the ability to codeshare international flights, this capability appears to elude Southwest’s IT department nearly three years after the merger was announced. When I asked for an update on international flights being codeshared, I was told that, “Southwest will begin selling international itineraries in 2014.”

So unfortunately for Jake – and anyone else who wants to take one of these non-codeshared flights – the options are to transfer Rapid Rewards points to Airtran A+ Credits to book an award flight on Airtran, or just to book the tickets through Airtran with cash. Unfortunately, there is no way at this time to utilize a Companion Pass when booking Airtran overnight flights.

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