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Program Score Card: AirTran A+ Rewards

Aug. 12, 2010
4 min read
Program Score Card: AirTran A+ Rewards
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If you live in the Southeast corner of the US, you are probably familiar with AirTran. If you live anywhere else, you are probably more familiar with ValuJet and it's infamous 1996 crash in the Florida Everglades. Before the crash, ValuJet was cited many times for safety violations, so the negative publicity wave after the crash was enough to tarnish the brand forever.

Since then, ValuJet has become AirTran- moving its home from Atlanta to Orlando, but still operating hubs in Atlanta and Orlando. AirTran operates over 1,000 flights to a day to destinations in the US, Caribbean and Mexico and is the world's largest operator of the Boeing 717 aircraft. All AirTran flights have a coach and business class cabin and are outfitted with on-demand XM radio and WiFi.

Currency= A+ Reward Credits (Sign up link here)


Flights: One credit for each one way flight. 1.5 credits for business class.

Credit Card: A+ Visa. Two options- No annual fee (application link): 2 credit sign up, 1 credit per $2,000 spend (double credit for AirTran purchases) and $49 fee (application link): 10 credit sign-up, 2 $50 AirTran gift certificates each year, 1 credit per $1,000 spend (double credit for AirTran purchases). All cardholders get double the redemption period for awards.

Parners: AirTran Mall. Hertz. American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner (1,500 points= 1 credit),

Redeeming: Since AirTran only flies domestically and to the Caribbean/Cancun, they only have domestic awards.
8 credits for one-way coach
16 credits for one-way business
4 credits for business class upgrade (great value since you earn 2 credits per flight)
50 credits for any airline coach domestic ticket
100 credits for any airline coach domestic ticket to anywhere in the world (can be a great value if you go somewhere exotic- plus you earn miles on the ticket)
100 credits for a year-long coach companion pass

Expiration: Points expire after one year (two years for elite and credit card holders)

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+Generous earning- free domestic flight for every 8 (similar to Southwest)
+ Good amount of points-earning partners
+ Companion awards and cash and miles (unique)
+ Companion pass- although they charge 100 credits for it (unlike Southwest who gives it for free once you accrue 100 credits in a year), its still a unique option not offered by many other airlines

- Horrible expiration policy. Every credit expires one year from the date earned? Seriously?
- Limited partners- no hotel earning, for example

Elite Status:
One level, achieved by flying 10 or more A+ credits within any 90-day period or flying 25 or more A+ creditswithin any 365-day period.
Benefits: free space available upgrades to business class 40 minutes before departure, free upgrades from full-fare coach at time of purchase, 2 year expiration policy for earned credits, 2 free bags, ability to transfer points to other members.

Overall Summary:
AirTran has a decent program, but it is flawed a couple bad decision. For example, for an elite upgrade, you have to approach the gate agent at 40 minutes or less to departure. SERIOUSLY? They encourage all Elite members to bombard the gate agent for a free upgrade? That stresses me out even thinking about it. It is a generous policy (especially since Elite status is relatively easy to attain), but the implementation is harebrained.

I find the earning and redeeming ratios to be generous as well and based on anecdotal evidence, award inventory seems to be decent- but obviously harder to get to key vacation destinations like Las Vegas and Cancun (no surprise there). However, the expiration policy is shameful. One year until your credit expires? Who has time to worry and track every credit earned? I know I am obsessive about my miles and generally don't let them sit around for long, but a lot of people need more than one year to earn an award- especially when you have limited partners (like no hotel earning options).

I think a couple customer friendly changes and some investment in IT could really make A+ Rewards an industry leading program.

Overall scores:

Points: B
Elite Program: B
Overall Grade: B

First steps for A+ Rewards to get the overall score moving towards an A:
1) Change expiration policy to something sane- like 2 years and they stay active with any activity
2) Partner with a large airline that will allow international redemptions
3) Implement a higher elite status level with 2+ day automatic confirmed upgrades
4) Get more hotel and travel partners
5) Give more detail on the companion pass and any airline awards- they are unique and not marketed appropriately

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