Airline industry consolidation hit the wallets of some rewards credit card customers this month, with Chase announcing that it would take over servicing AirTran-branded credit cards from previous issuer Barclaycard. Although Southwest Airlines purchased its rival in late 2011, the airlines started linking itineraries earlier this year. According to news reports, Southwest plans to phase out the AirTran brand by the end of 2015.
According to Chase spokeswoman Naney Pandit, eligible customers will receive replacement AirTran credit cards by the end of April. Although balances and benefits will transfer automatically, Pandit warned customers to update their automatic bill payment services with new account information to avoid late or misdirected payments. In a statement to reporters, Pandit also noted that the new servicing agreement and the airlines' merger would allow cardholders to earn free travel faster with Chase's new card than under Barclaycard's previous reward structure.
Chase's addition of AirTran to its lineup of airline credit cards comes on the heels of the recently completed merger of United and Continental. Chase offered affinity cards with both brands before the merger, consolidating its offerings after the airlines combined their frequent flier programs.
However, Barclaycard could come out the bigger winner after dust clears from the airline industry's next major merger. Barclaycard currently offers travel rewards credit cards branded under the US Airways Dividend Miles program. In a deal announced in February, US Airways would merge with bankrupt competitor American Airlines, keeping the latter's name but with US Airways' leadership team in place.
Although court documents show that American Airlines' deal with current issuer Citi Cards doesn't end until 2017, the combined airline could use the same tactic that US Airways employed with Bank of America during the previous merger. Both Barclaycard and Bank of America offered affinity cards bearing US Airways' branding, but the airline directed its promotion and marketing toward its partnership with Barclaycard. Ultimately, Bank of America severed its ties with the airline and converted eligible cardholders to comparable rewards credit card accounts.