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AirTran Launches New Travel Rewards Credit Card

Does the world really need another travel-rewards credit card?

AirTran thinks it does. Rather, since AirTran is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Southwest, Southwest thinks it does.

The new card is the AirTran A+ Rewards Visa from Chase.

It’s actually a replacement for the old AirTran A+ Rewards credit card from Barclays, which hasn’t been offered to new customers in more than a year.

The new card’s particulars:

  • Earning: Two A+ Rewards Dollars per $1 spent on AirTran and Southwest purchases and A+ Rewards and Rapid Rewards Hotel and Rental Car Partner purchases; one A+ Rewards Dollar per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Bonuses: Two business-class upgrades after first purchase; 16 A+ Rewards credits after spending $1,000 within three months; two bonus credits on anniversary
  • Annual fee: $69

In the AirTran program, 1,200 Rewards Dollars convert to one A+ Rewards credit, and a round-trip award flight requires 16 credits. So for most purchases, you’ll have to spend $19,200 to earn a free flight.

That compares favorably with the value proposition of comparable rewards credit cards from airlines such as American, Delta, and United, which typically award enough miles for a free domestic award ticket after $25,000 in charges.

And as sign-up bonuses go, the upgrades and bonus credits are certainly worthwhile value-adds for AirTran partisans.

Which raises the question: What’s the point of being an AirTran loyalist when the airline’s operations and its loyalty program are destined to be merged into Southwest’s?

In a pre-launch briefing for the card, I put that question to Jonathan Clarkson, Southwest’s Rapid Rewards director. He pointed out that the programs may not be merged until 2015, so A+ Rewards could have another two years before its phase-out. And in the meantime, credit may be transferred back and forth between the two programs.

What I didn’t ask, and should have, was why Southwest is taking so long to integrate AirTran into Rapid Rewards.

Having to move A+ credits to a Rapid Rewards account in order to redeem for Southwest awards is cumbersome at best. Clearly the best case for both Southwest and AirTran customers is a single program which allows for earning and redemption on both carriers.

In that context, launching a new credit card, whatever its virtues, seems like a misguided investment of energy and resources.

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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