Southwest and AirTran Combine Networks

The Southwest and AirTran relationship is getting serious. Flyers can now book itineraries including flights on AirTran and Southwest within a single transaction. And for the first time ever, the Southwest website offers the option to book international travel (thanks to AirTran's service to Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean).

According to a press release from AirTran, the carriers' networks are now entirely connected, for service from April 14 onward. This is a big step toward full integration of the two airlines. The Southwest/AirTran merger was first approved in 2011, and only relatively recently have we had the option to purchase one ticket for travel on both carriers. Limited connected itineraries were first offered in January and February of this year.

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Bob Jordan, CCO of Southwest and President of AirTran, had this to say: "We began rolling out shared itineraries in January in a handful of markets, and we've gradually ramped up the initiative where we now connect our entire network across both Southwest and AirTran. With a connected network, we can offer Customers more itineraries, more destinations, more low fares, and a taste of what's to come once the integration is complete."

You can book your connected itinerary via any of the usual channels: over either airline's website, at a ticket counter, or over the phone. However, Southwest's system isn't quite fully integrated, so you'll be kicked over to the AirTran website if you try to book an international trip to Bermuda, Mexico, or destinations in the Caribbean.

The airlines' frequent-flyer programs are still separate. When you fly with either carrier, you'll still earn miles with one of the airlines—but not both. According to the press release, "The [frequent-flyer] currency a customer earns is determined by the carrier from which they buy their ticket, even if flying on a shared itinerary." So until Southwest upgrades its system, your international flights will generate AirTran miles only. But with a more robust route network, AirTran and Southwest flyers now have more opportunities to earn miles with either airline; so this is good news.

If things go as planned, the airlines will finally become a single low-cost carrier by the end of 2014.

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