New Chase Airtran Credit Card – 1 round-trip or 2 (targeted)

This week’s been a good one for watching my email! Both my wife and I received a solicitations from Chase to apply for the Airtran credit card which is offering an excellent 32 credits (4 one-ways) and 2 business class upgrades after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months (vs. 16 credits on $1000 spending for the public offer). Remember that these can be transferred to Southwest where they are treated as old Southwest Rapid Rewards credits (aka RR 1.0). This is double what the old Barclay’s Airtran cards offered. (Update) Like Barclays old Airtran Visa, it appears that holding card extends the expiration of the credits to two years.

This is a really surprising development. You may recall that there was an Airtran card from Barclays bank. That ceased being offered some time ago and we just closed the last of ours about a month ago. With Airtran (very) slowly folding into Southwest, I really didn’t expect any card to come on the market so this is truly a surprise, moreso that it’s such a strong offer. There’s a flyertalk thread here covering it. One point I was remiss in making but the more recent post from View From the Wing covered is that if you churn cards pretty heavily, applying for products that are useful but which are likely to leave the market is a good practice since so many of the long-standing products have limits on how often you can return to them after having had them once.

Some things to remember:

  • Airtran credits can be transferred to old-style Southwest Rapid-rewards (aka RR 1.0) credits and back to Airtran credits as well. So 16 credits gets you a round-trip on either carrier. These are capacity controlled however, unlike the new Southwest points system (aka RR 2.0).
  • Flights booked with Southwest credits may be used with your Southwest Companion Pass, should you have one.
  • Airtran business class upgrade certificates may only be used on Airtran flights. See UPDATE below.
  • Annual fee waived the first year, $69 thereafter.
  • You also receive 2 credits on your anniversary, much like the Chase issued Southwest cards.
  • Base earnings are 1 credit per $1,200 in un-bonused spending and 1 credit per $600 spent on Airtran or Southwest. In short, not a compelling return on spending. This card’s about the sign-up.
    • Minor thing to consider: Spending up to the threshold for a credit is probably a wise thing to do. If you spend nothing at Airtran/Southwest itself, you may want to pass the $2,000 spending requirement and reach $2,400 so that you trigger the 2nd credit. Both my wife and I are trying to bring our remaining credits at Southwest up to at least increments of 8 or 16 credits where they become useful. 2 more will help us.
  • UPDATES: From the newly released public offer of 16 credits (don’t apply with this link if you have the 32 credit offer), there are some interesting bits that I’m sure apply to the targeted 32-credit offer:
    • Airtran credits expire after 1 year. The old Barclay’s card would extend the credits to a 2 year expiration however there’s nothing in the T&C that addresses this. I hope it’s just an omission but I’ve not found anything about this anywhere yet so best to assume the 1 year expiration.  Holding this card appears to extend expiration to two years. “Airtran Airways will issue a roundtrip flight for every 16 A+ Rewards Credits accumulated during any consecutive 24-month period.”
    • “One Business Class upgrade certificate can be redeemed for an upgrade to Business Class on one AirTran Airways one-way flight. Upgrades to Business Class are not guaranteed, are subject to seat capacity controls and blackout dates, and are only awarded if space is available. To reserve your upgrade to Business Class, call the A+ Rewards Travel Department at 1-888-327-5878 beginning midnight the day prior to your departure.” Bolding mine – I’d guess you can only redeem for a single segment based on the wording here.
  • From the T&C :
    • “This one-time bonus offer is valid only for first-time AirTran Airways A+ Rewards personal Credit Card from Chase Cardmembers with new accounts. Previous and existing AirTran Airways A+ Rewards personal Credit Card from Chase Cardmembers/accounts are not eligible for this bonus offer.” – Yeah, not a problem since it’s a new product! Proven through experience.
    • “Cardmembers who currently have an AirTran Airways credit card may not be eligible for a second AirTran Airways credit card.” – Not sure if this means 2 chase Airtran cards or a Barclays + a Chase Airtran card though I suspect Chase is probably happy to give you a card even if you have a Barclay’s open.
    • “You will also earn 1 A+ Rewards Dollar for each $1 of balance transfers (up to a maximum of $9,600 ) for the first 90 days from your enrollment date in the program.” Barclays often would cap the balance transfer fee, making a large balance transfer an effective way to buy Airtran credits. Chase does not and at a 3% transaction fee on balance transfers, that’s not an effective strategy with the rare exception of when you’re sitting at the edge of an award threshold.
  • ADDITIONAL UPDATES RE. BUSINESS CLASS UPGRADES AND CREDIT EXPIRATION IN THIS POST from Dec 5, 2012.

Read a bit more about Airtran credits in the post I wrote after the ability to transfer them to Southwest became available and as the Barclays Airtran card renewal approached. Applying the same concept covered in that post to credit expiration, I have to wonder if you could transfer a Southwest credit with a 1 year expiration to a Airtran and bump them to 2 years and then back to Southwest.

My Valuation

I tend to say that you shouldn’t apply for a card unless you’re receiving $500 in value or better. Does this meet the test?

Valuing the Credits

Since Airtran credits are readily convertible to Southwest credits (and vice versa), one valuation strategy is to weigh these against Southwest points. I’ve got quite a few of these credits already and have been trying to hold to a valuation where I would use Southwest points when a one-way is less than 9,600 points and a one-way “standard award” when it’s over 9,600. That said, the expiration issue is slowly creeping forward and I’ve been very successful getting Southwest tickets at less than 9,600 one-way points while on the few occasions that one-ways are over 9,600, I don’t find Southwest Standard Award availability. Given that, I recently decided I needed to lower my equivalency threshold and have been thinking that 7200 Southwest points should be the new cutoff (and with that, I just rebooked our New Orleans to Denver flight in a few weeks to a Southwest Standard Award). If I assert that 8 Airtran credits are therefore is worth 7200 Southwest RR2.0 points, then each Airtran credit = 900 Southwest points. I value Southwest points at $.018 each therefore an Airtran credit is worth $16.20. By this calculus, the 32 Airtran credits are worth $518.40.

Another approach to valuing them is to view them simply as Airtran credits. As I note below, I have the Southwest Companion Pass (and thus every SW ticket I fly allows my wife to fly along for free) so that’s pulled me away from Airtran which is too bad because I really like the airline and am sad to see it merge into Southwest generally. That said, I have done a few awards with them and looked quite a few times. Both Southwest and Airtran credits are capacity controlled (while Southwest points are not) and availability has been kind of poor though I seem to have had better luck as I get within 2-3 weeks of the trip. Normally I’d value a domestic round-trip at $350 but with the issues I’ve run into when booking Airtran awards, I think it’s a bit less, perhaps $275. Since 32 credits allows for 2 round-trips on Airtran, that’s $550 in value.

There’s an air of precision with the numbers above but I think it’s just simpler to say that this is reasonably a $500-$600 card. You might do better but, so long as you don’t let them expire, you probably won’t do much worse.

Valuing the Upgrades to Business Class

Upgrades on Airtran go for 4 credits and many see them as quite the bargain. Of course, I can’t combine these with my Southwest companion pass but if I added even more Airtran credits to my existing pile, I think I need to broaden my flying to include Airtran otherwise I really don’t think I’ll use them up quickly enough. In that case, I’ll really enjoy picking up a business class upgrade as long as I’m flying Airtran!

I tend not to assign monetary values to fringe benefits like this because I’d likely not pay out-of-pocket (though the upgrades are really a great bargain on Airtran). Upgrades start at $69/segment while 4 credits may be used for an upgrade of the entire one-way itinerary. I’m not certain whether the upgrade certificates issued by Chase (on first spend no less) are one-segment or one-way but I suspect the latter. With the updates noted above, it appears that it’s best to assume any upgrade will be a single segment. Given that these resemble the paid upgrades more than the credit-based upgrades, one could argue that it’s worth $138 but I’ve never paid that much, it’d be hard for me to argue that. Personally, I’d consider this just a nice fringe benefit.

If it’s fair to add that into the value of the card, then this is definitely across the $500 mark by a good distance.

Conclusion

The existence of this card is a total shock and it offers a compelling value, IMO, if you’re interested at all in Southwest or Airtran. At a minimum, it’s fair to say it’s one round-trip business class flight on Airtran and one economy flight on Southwest or Airtran with only $2,000 in spending and no fee for the first year.

If you happen to have the Southwest Companion Pass, as I do, it just gets better.

The only reasons I can see not applying for it are if you just ardently avoid Southwest/Airtran, are totally maxed out on Chase cards, or are concerned this will somehow affect your ability to pick up a Southwest card later (where 50k Southwest points are likely more valuable – particularly when combined with the Companion Pass play).

If you’ve got the offer, this gets a big thumbs up from me. I’ve applied and been approved (despite having had the Barclays Airtran personal and business visa less than 4 months ago). Now that we see the expiration is 2 years, I’ll pick one up for my wife as well today (before the targeted offer expires).

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9 comments

  1. So if you apply for the card and get the credits. You have one year from the opening of the account to use the credits to fly or lose them?

    1. Best to assume they expire 1yr after chase credits then to your account, at least for now. Hopefully they extend to two years like the barclays card did.

  2. Can you use the credits to purchase flight tickets even if the flight tickets are not within the one year limit? For example, I get the credit card in 10/12. I use the credits in 9/13 for a flight in 3/14. Would that work? I am interested in this offer, but not sure I will be flying in the next twelve months.

    1. The t&c indicate you have to redeem them before expiration which I interpret as booking, not flying. While reading the t&c, I also noticed that the extension to 2 yrs refers just to having an airtran visa, not which issuer which at least doesn’t preclude the possibility that its two years. T&c: http://www.aplusrewards.com/a_terms_conditions.aspx

  3. My guess is you can transfer between SW and AirTran to reset the expiration clock.

    1. In my experience, referenced in this post, the expiration date assigned to a credit at Airtran carries over to Southwest during the transfer. I haven’t tried the reverse but believe I’ve read it follows when going that direction too. If your experience differs or there’s something I don’t know, please share! The expiration issue is one of the big downsides to this offer, especially if it is just 1 year though I personally bet it’ll be a 2 year extension but suggest planning as though it isn’t. Applied for mine today, pending, more coming on it.

  4. [...] my wife and I were targeted for this a few days ago and this is what motivated my churn. Who knew this card would ever [...]

  5. [...] I’ll dive right in though with some updates on the finer details of the Chase Airtran card I covered when it first came out about 10 weeks [...]

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