Free checked bags now on nearly every AirTran flight

This week Southwest announced a rather significant milestone related to their integration with subsidiary AirTran. All flights on both carriers can now be booked as a single itinerary. There are a few limitations – most notably that international routes cannot be booked on the Southwest site – but overall the change means great news for AirTran passengers who don’t like bag fees.

Despite the merger there are a few policies where Southwest is rather more customer friendly which have not migrated to the AirTran side of the operations. Things like bag fees, for example, still exist on AirTran and they were recently raised. Similarly, change fees and re-fare policies on AirTran aren’t nearly as generous to the customer as they are on the Southwest side of things. Up until this past Monday you had to book on the AirTran site to get access to many AirTran routes and destinations. And that meant you had to accept the less customer-friendly policies. Today, however, other than the 8 international destinations served by AirTran, that is no longer the case.

As an example, take a trip from New York to Pensacola. Service into Pensacola is only offered on AirTran flights but they can now be booked using the Southwest site and the prices are identical.



Mixed carrier itineraries look similar on the systems:



Booking these itineraries on the AirTran site means you’re stuck with the AirTran policies. The press release states that any booking which includes a Southwest-operated segment should be exempt from bag fees but the other restrictive rules will still apply:

…[A]ny itinerary with a Southwest segment or that is purchased through a Southwest point-of-sale channel will not have bag fees for the first or second checked bag (weight and size restrictions apply.)

Also worth noting that points earning is dictated by the booking channel. If you book through AirTran you earn A+ rewards, regardless of who operates the segments. There are scenarios where that might be beneficial to the passenger to switch the booking channel depending on whether you want A+ credits or RapidRewards points.

Customers will continue to earn and redeem currency through the frequent flyer loyalty programs of their Marketing Carrier, regardless of the Operating Carrier they travel on.  Customers should be enrolled in both Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards and AirTran Airways A+ Rewards programs in order to earn currency from whichever airline they purchase a ticket.

Lots of decisions to make depending on which earns you the best points and has the best policies.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. So does booking a Business Select fare on on a flight operated by AirTran guarantee you a seat in Business Class?

  2. Seth, it does not matter which site the customer books on for checked bags. If they book on AirTran or Southwest the customer still gets two free bags as long as there is a Southwest segment in the reservation. All we do out of SMF is SMF-SNA-MEX/SDJ and it’s two bags free since you can only book international on AirTran. The standby and change policy is with which airline site you book thru still though. And if you book business select with an AirTran segment you get a seat in business class. 🙂

    1. There are still some itineraries being sold which have no WN-operated segments, Adam, which means there area a few which might have bag fees. But they are getting harder to find.

      The BizSelect->Business Class is nice, though the pricing is the same so it isn’t like you’re getting a discount.

  3. I purchased a roundtrip SFO-ATL specifically so I would get free bags on southwest, and the flight numbers are southwest but “operated by airtran” and I have to check in at airtran. Will I still get free bags?

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