Additive transparency is a way to calculate the color behind a transparent object, using the Additive Color Model.
In general, wherever the object is more opaque, the brighter the background. If you use an alpha channel to change the transparency, the white areas get brighter, and the black areas have no effect on the background. This works well for flames, explosions, lens flares, etc., because it makes them look cleaner and hotter.
If you use material opacity, it makes the whole background behind the object the same brightness level: the more opaque the object, the brighter the background, and the lower the opacity, the less bright the background. This works well for things like water or prisms or holograms.