Alaska Downgrades Companion Fares For Coach Only Starting August

by on July 9, 2012 · 21 comments

in Alaska

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Alaska Airlines recently sent a letter to cardholders of the Alaska Airlines Visa stating:

All new companion fares issued beginning August 1, 2012, may be used for coach class bookings only. If you currently have a companion fare code in your Alaska Airlines ‘My Account’, you can apply it to a first class booking until its expiration date.”

The Alaska Airlines Visa still bestows a companion fare upon cardholders, just “depending on your flight itinerary”…ie, for coach tickets only.

What set the Alaska Visa’s companion fare apart from other carrier companion tickets, like the Platinum Amex, Delta Reserve and the British Airways Visa, was that, rather than having to initially buy a full-fare ticket, or reach a certain spend threshold, Alaska cardholders are given a certificate code for a $99 companion fare (plus taxes, usually putting the total at around $110) within 1-2 weeks of their initial approval and then on every subsequent anniversary of cardmembership. The only restrictions for using this companion ticket are that two seats must be available, and the flights must be wholly operated by Alaska Airlines. The cardholder and their travel companion could use it for any fare class on any flight…until now.

In the past, the companion pass could be used for lucrative redemptions such as purchasing a first class ticket to Hawaii (one of Alaska’s major markets) and getting the second one for just $99 plus taxes, essentially getting two half-price first class tickets to Hawaii and saving well over $1,000.

Now that option will no longer be possible. This is going to make it a lot harder for cardholders to squeeze real value out of the card. Though I have found some routes where it might still make sense, such as from the West Coast to Mexico where Alaska flies a lot of non-stop flights whose fares can range up to about $600.

Cardholders can still get some value out of the benefit on expensive routes like this one.

For instance take a look at the itinerary above for a flight from San Francisco to Puerto Vallarta on Alaska Airline in September. That fare is about $445. A cardholder could use their companion pass for $110 for a second ticket, saving $335 on a ticket. It’s not as good as not having to pay for a first-class airfare to Hawaii, but it still isn’t terrible. It would not, however, be an attractive enough benefit to make me consider getting the card.

No More 1,000 Mile Booking Bonuses
However, the downgrade to the companion fare wasn’t the only recent piece of bad news from the Alaska Airlines Visa team. It turns out that also starting August 1, cardholders will be stripped of another highly valuable benefit: they will no longer receive a 1,000-mile bonus on bookings made on using the Alaska Airlines Visa. This was a potentially huge benefit to cardholders because Alaska’s fares book out per segment, meaning you don’t pay more for one-ways than for roundtrips. So if you were flying a roundtrip, you could purchase two separate one-way tickets for the same price as a roundtrip, and earn two 1,000-mile bonuses as described in this post.

I’m not sure why Alaska is pulling the major value propositions out of its co-branded credit card, but it can’t be good, and I, for one, won’t be considering it for any of my future applications now that these benefits are gone.

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  • SeattleTrick

    FYI, Add another ~$75 “fees” for roundtrips to mexico (or just PVR?) – I think it is an airport tax on departures from mexico. so, for a $445 fare, you end up paying around $185 for the second ticket. I tried pricing SEA-PVR using my As companion pass last week.

  • maximizer

    This analysis is incomplete at best. Sure during non-peak times the SFO-PVR route is $445 (and could be even lower with limited sales and what not). But consider flying around Christmas – I just checked Dec 22-29, and it is over $1000. I am actually expecting to fly this route during winter holidays, and I plan on getting the card (actually 2 cards, for a total of 4 tickets). I couldn’t care less for first class on the 3-hour flight, but the certificates should allow us to take this trip for an average of ~$600/person after various fees instead of $1000+ per person. That’s at least $1500 savings for our family of 4.

  • thepointsguy

    Never meant to imply the analysis was final- there will always be outliers that may make this benefit super valuable or worthless. As always do the math for yourself – I was just showing how the new restrictions are more negative than positive

  • RobertnSMF

    I loved this card for First Class companion purchases. Between the Mrs. and myself we have 3 cards. We will really have to evaluate keeping these cards with the annual cost involved. We just used it for flights in F for OAK-LIH-OAK last month. Bummer.

  • Jason

    The one unique situation you use as an example hardly redeems this change from being a massive downgrade in a card that was only situational at best. I had considered picking one up for travel to Hawaii in the future (and worst case scenario flying to SEA at a slight discount to visit family). Now, with the coach restriction, it makes little sense to pick this card up instead of picking up new and better sign up bonuses. Obviously works for you, but no longer works for me.

  • Christian

    Maybe they’ve removed the 1000-mile booking bonus because too many people have caught on to the fact that they don’t remove the bonus when you cancel a ticket?

  • maximizer

    > instead of picking up new and better sign up bonuses

    That’s a false dichotomy :)

    I can’t imagine my situation is unique, I’m sure tons of folks fly to Mexico or Hawaii regularly once a year at peak times. I don’t cherish taking vacations at when everyone else does, but many of us have limited choice in the matter. I expect to use this card annually, precisely how I described it. This especially makes sense because that’s exactly when saver awards are the hardest to come by.

    Also, I’m going to save my signup bonuses for full-flat long-haul business seats on foreign partners. I’ve flown domestic “First”, including AS. Not worth the price IMHO.

    Clearly this is a downgrade for some, but a non-issue for others.

  • Homerica7

    So if you order the card right now, and they issue a companion certificate in 1-2 week (likely before August 1st), you would still get to redeem the companion certificate for first class airfare? That is how I am reading the post. I was seriously considering getting this card, but am not so sure now. It might be worth it to jump on it now, if everything processed before August 1st.

  • seawatir

    I have to disagree with your description of maximizer as an outlier. For Presidents Week in February, I paid $1,136 for a full fare COACH ticket for SEA-HNL. Using the companion benefit cut my son’s coach ticket down to $137. That’s a big savings! Instead of paying $4,540 for COACH seats for our family of four to escape to someplace sunny for the mid-winter break, we paid half that amount.

    There are another 40,000 Seattle families locked into the same school schedule that we are, and the surrounding districts and private schools use the same schedule we do. The airlines that serve SEA know this and price their fares accordingly. Not all of us can just pack our bags any old time to take advantage of $430 RT tickets to Hawaii.

    Just like with the new Avios, there’s still value in the BOA Visa card, you just have to know to which situations to apply it.

  • Akrach

    I completely agree, losing the 1000 mile bonus on each ticket purchased is a major hit-and reason enough to dump the card. I’m not concerned about the first class benefit, but any take away at this point removes Alaska as my carrier of choice. Bad move Alaska Air Group.

  • Schilder1

    they should fix the issue instead of killnig the benefit

  • jer

    the BoA Alaska Visa was on my list for my next churn, but with the reduced benefits, I’m not sure how I feel about that anymore. Darn!

  • Sean

    I know that the companion pass from Delta Platinum is good on L/U/T economy fare and will assume that Delta Reserve’s will be good on first class A fare. Could you confirm that?

  • thepointsguy

    Correct- reserve companion tickets are good in A,l,u,t

  • PJ

    oops; I paid $75(?) to get their 40K miles. When it came down to book where I (my family) want to go: alaska has very lousy coast to coast schedules with higher miles and insane / long layovers . When I finally found SFO-SJD Non stop flight to my surprise, I passed on 35K to book with AS and went for 20K Avios ( out of amex MR’s 50% bonus transfer) to fly the Alaska’s identical flights.

    HOwever if Alaska can get you where you want to go at competitive requred miles.. then 40K for $75 and a companion LAST CLASS ticket for $99 is still a deal

  • Kswartz26

    Your analysis rings strongly with me.

    My wife and I just signed up for the Alaska card last month, specifically because the $99 companion fare could be used on first class tickets. I’m a scrooge with my miles saving them for upgrades, but mileage upgrades are really hard to come by on Alaska these days, and DEFINITELY impossible when traveling as a family of four. (I think they never have more than two upgradeable seats available at one time.)

    So we used both our companion fares last night on first class tickets to Hawaii and saved over $2700. It’s hard not to say it was worth getting the card just for that.

    But with that perk gone, and the constant accrual of miles not likely to be usable for upgrades, I see a lot less benefit in having the card. I’d rather pay the same annual fee for a Diners Club or Capital One, where my points can be used on ANY airline.

    However, as the difference between coach and first class fares decreases, I question the wisdom of the change. That same first class ticket I bought for $1400 was an eye-popping $1050 if booked through coach. (The lowest I could get by adding a connection was $875 — still mind-boggling.) There are other first-class fares less than that coach fare, so why not just put a cap on the amount, rather than make it “coach fares only”? If the companion fare was, say, good for up to $800 off, I would still book in first class and pay gladly the difference.

  • Kswartz26

    What REALLY ticks me off is that I discovered this change by accident. I have e-billing, but was looking for the address to send payments so I could set up payments through my bank, rather than BofA. So I had to look at a paper statement. Only there, at the bottom, did I find these changes.

    They were still advertising “any class, any fare” for the companion ticket as of last week. Even now, I don’t see this disclaimer anywhere in the terms and conditions on the application form. If someone just applied for a card, they will have literally just days to make good on that claim. That smells of false advertising to me.

  • Deej-chris

    Yet another reason to start looking at the Capitol One card. So disappointed that Alaska is taking away the one perk we used every year as a treat. It has been getting harder and harder every year to even use your miles. Time for a change

  • Gary Smith

    It is disturbing when an airline chooses to downgrade their loyal customers! We have been with Alaska for years and very seldom, if ever, considered an other airline. If we did use a competing service it was because Alaska did not fly there or did not have a pardner agreement with any airline that did.

    We used the companion award to book resonable cost first class tickets and it was really appreciated and enjoyed. Made us feel the company appreciated our busness and loyality.

    To Bad…may have to look else where.

  • Rick H.

    I signed up for the BofA Alaska Airlines Credit Card in December because I still thought and was told when signing up that the companion ticket can be used for any class ticket. When I finally received my companion ticket a few weeks later it clearly stated coach only. I immediately called BofA who put me through to Alaskan Airlines. They stated that the first class part was taken off based on the negotiations between BofA and Alaskan Airlines, where BofA no longer wanted to pay the difference of the fare for first class. So I am not sure if it is Alaskan Airlines or BofA who dropped this. I then called BofA back and told them how I felt misled and cancelled by card. The only reason I was getting it was for the companion ticket to use for first class – we only travel first class now from DC to Seattle because of the distance of the flight. With this perk taken away I did not see a reason to have another credit card that chanrged a $75 annual fee.

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