Southwest making loyalty program interchangeable with AirTran

A Southwest Airlines jet takes off from McCarran International Airport on Friday, Aug. 26, 2011.

Members of Southwest Airlines’ Rapid Rewards loyalty program got a new benefit today — the ability to use their points on AirTran flights.

One big hitch: Customers have to be members of both programs to convert points, but memberships are free and anyone can sign up for AirTran’s A+Rewards program.

Southwest announced that members of Rapid Rewards and A+ Rewards programs would be able to transfer rewards between the two programs for free travel to 97 destinations.

The big benefit for Southwest customers will be the ability to earn free trips to Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

Southwest acquired AirTran in 2011 and is converting AirTran flying, systems and customer perks to Southwest. While the change stops short of merging the two loyalty programs, it gives more options to the thousands of Rapid Rewards members in Las Vegas.

Southwest doesn’t disclose the number of members in a city, but the numbers are likely to be high in Southern Nevada because McCarran International Airport is Southwest’s third-largest station and Southwest is the busiest commercial operator at the airport with 217 daily flights.

Under the conversion rates announced by Southwest, 1,200 Rapid Rewards points will equal one A+ Rewards credit, one Rapid Rewards credit equals one A+ Rewards credit, one Rapid Rewards standard award equals 16 A+ Rewards credits, and one Rapid Rewards Freedom Award equals 32 A+ Rewards credits.

In addition, 16 AirTran A+ credits equals one round trip coach ticket on AirTran. Moving toward blending the two programs, AirTran and Southwest are making the value of credits the same.

Additional details on the two programs and conversions, including step-by-step instructions and videos, are available at and

AirTran operates as a subsidiary of Southwest, but the airlines gradually are converting to one brand.

AirTran has 37 flights a week between McCarran and Atlanta and Milwaukee. Southwest recently announced it was converting its flights to Des Moines, Iowa, and Dayton and Akron-Canton, Ohio, to Southwest operations.

In addition, AirTran announced plans to fly to Mexico City beginning May 24 and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, on June 3 through Orange County, Calif.