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AirTran to Midwest’s Best Customers: We Want YOU!

Ripped from the news release of an airline whose identity will become apparent:

Passengers who donate 50,000 Midwest Miles by June 14, 2010, to one of the program charities—which include the American Heart Association, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, the MACC Fund and others—will receive 32 A+ Rewards credits, or the equivalent of one round-trip Business Class ticket or two coach tickets. Donations of 100,000 Midwest Miles will net travelers 64 A+ Rewards credits, good for two round-trip Business Class tickets or four coach tickets. These credits are valid anywhere AirTran flies, including: Aruba; Montego Bay, Jamaica; Nassau/Paradise Island, The Bahamas; Cancun, Mexico; and other exciting destinations.

I had to read that three times before I was confident that I comprehended the proposition. And then I had to roll my eyes. Donate your Midwest miles and receive AirTran credits as an award? There’s something peculiar about that picture.

While AirTran is a marketing partner with Frontier, and Frontier and Midwest are being merged, AirTran and Midwest are not otherwise related. In fact, they compete, and particularly vociferously in Milwaukee, Midwest’s hub and AirTran’s second-most-served city after Atlanta.

And therein lies the nub of this odd promotion. It’s a battle for Milwaukee travelers.

Midwest is based in Milwaukee, and historically has enjoyed the hometown advantage. However, now Midwest is but a shell of its former self, and AirTran is making a bold bid to poach Midwest’s best Milwaukee customers, encouraging them to swap their Midwest miles (and relinquish their future allegiance to that airline) for credits in the AirTran program (which gives them a reason to fly AirTran going forward).

It’s a crafty move. And there’s more to it.

In addition to the mileage swap, AirTran will match customers’ Midwest elite status, further easing the loyalty switch from Midwest to AirTran.

Deal or No Deal

This offer is only available to Milwaukee and Northern Illinois residents, so it’s moot if you don’t qualify on that count.

If you meet the geographic requirements, the offer’s value hinges on whether your best interests will be well served by AirTran’s A+ program, or Midwest’s Miles program. AirTran’s program is a known quantity. But because Midwest Miles will be consolidated with the Frontier EarlyReturns program later this year, there’s an element of uncertainty regarding the final form of that program. Indeed, this promotion from AirTran is in part an attempt to leverage that uncertainty to its own advantage.

Still, the merger of Midwest and Frontier will create a larger airline, with more routes eligible for mileage earning and redemption. And Republic, the company that now owns both Midwest and Frontier, has signaled that loyalty marketing will be a priority.

So there’s good reason to believe that the post-merger program will be superior to the current Midwest Miles.

Whether it will be superior to AirTran’s program remains to be seen.

Bottom line: This is an intriguing offer that gives disaffected Midwest customers an easy route to rewards and recognition in an alternative program. But with positive changes on the horizon, there’s some risk in jumping ship now.

Reader Reality Check

Milwaukee residents, what say you? Is this offer enough to sway you, loyalty-wise?

And marketing mavens, is this a brilliant strategy for expanding AirTran’s market share, or just more airline ham-handedness?

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