This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here: Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card
Alaska Airlines offers quality service and a lucrative frequent flyer programs; today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen explains how you can also get exceptional value out of Alaska’s co-branded credit card.
Many airline credit cards tout companion certificate benefits. Generally speaking, these certificates allow you to bring a friend or family member along for free (or at a steep discount) when you book a qualifying ticket. I wrote about the soon-to-disappear US Airways companion certificate back in April, and TPG has covered Delta’s similar benefit in the past. In this post, I want to share some strategies to help you make the most of the companion benefit offered by a card I just opened myself: the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card.
Alaska Companion Fare Overview
Here’s how the companion benefit is initially described on the card landing page:
“Receive an annual coach Companion Fare from $121 ($99 base fare plus taxes & fees depending on your Alaska Airlines flight itinerary).”
Right off the bat, this indicates one of the restrictions on the companion certificate: It can only be used on Alaska-operated flights. While Alaska has some terrific airline partners that give you access to some fantastic award redemptions, you can’t utilize the companion discount on those other carriers.
When you reach the card application page, the Terms & Conditions provide some more information:
- Both you and your companion must be booked on the same itinerary at the same time.
- The certificate is valid for coach travel only (though the tickets are eligible for upgrades).
- The companion fare must be redeemed within 12 months of the issue date (though travel can take place after the expiration date).
- Both travelers accrue miles on the tickets.
Booking a ticket
On Alaska, the companion fare takes the form of a discount code that is automatically deposited into your account after you’re approved for the card (and each subsequent year after your account anniversary). The application page indicates that it takes 2-3 weeks from account approval to see the code, but mine showed up exactly one week after I was approved for the card. I didn’t receive notification that it had arrived, so you’ll need to manually check your online account until it appears.
To find it, simply log into your Mileage Plan account, find the Discount Codes section on the profile homepage and see if you have a Valid code. The actual code will be a series of letters and numbers directly underneath the Shop icon:
To start the search process, simply click the Shop icon to go directly to Alaska’s search engine. The companion fare code should be automatically copied into the Discount Code field:
Once you search for flights, you’ll notice that eligible itineraries have an icon next to the price:
When you select a flight, the summary page will indicate that your base fare is the regular price but your companion fare is just $99. Expect to pay at least $21.53 more to cover additional taxes and fees including:
- US flight segment tax
- US passenger facility charge
- US September 11th security fee
- US transportation tax
- Any state or country-specific fees (e.g., US Alaska/Hawaii departure tax)
One of the main reasons I applied for this card (in addition to the 25,000-mile sign-up bonus) was the companion ticket. My wife and I are planning a trip to the West Coast next May, and Alaska offers nonstop service from Orlando to both San Diego and Seattle. I wanted to see if it was possible to include a stopover when using the companion ticket, so I selected the Multi-city option from the search page and looked for flights from Orlando to Seattle (5 nights), Seattle to San Diego (4 nights) and then San Diego back to Orlando.
Sure enough, all three nonstop flights appeared with the icon indicating that they were eligible for the companion fare. Here’s my final itinerary:
Because I wasn’t booking a simple one-way flight (like the example above), the taxes and fees were a bit higher. Here’s a more detailed breakdown of the costs associated with this three-flight itinerary:
I paid a total of $777.83 out of pocket, though I’ll be getting a $250 statement credit since I used my brand-new Citi Prestige Card to pay for the purchase. Had I paid the regular price at the time of booking, the same flights would’ve set me back $1,269.40, a savings of $491.57! When you factor in the value of the sign-up bonus for the Alaska card ($500 based on TPG’s most recent valuations), I’ve already received almost $1,000 of value on a credit card with an annual fee of just $75.
Maximizing Your Own Companion Ticket
So how can you make the most of your own Companion Ticket on the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card? Here are some of my suggestions:
1. Try to stay away from one-way flights. Value is in the eye of the beholder, and if your only use of the companion ticket is on a one-way flight, that’ll still save you money. However, the savings increase dramatically as you add additional fights, since the $99 base fare is consistent.
2. Add in stopovers. As you can see in my example above, my wife and I essentially booked a round-trip ticket from Orlando to Seattle with a stopover in San Diego on the way home. This added some taxes and fees to my wife’s ticket, but her base fare of $99 remained the same. In fact, the online search engine allows you to add two stopovers and still use the companion benefit.
For example, lets say you wanted to fly from Orlando to Seattle, Seattle to Hawaii, Hawaii to San Diego and San Diego back to Orlando, with stopovers in each city. You could easily find this availability online:
This results in a savings of over 40%!
3. Consider a status match. A third way to maximize the companion ticket is through a status match, since Alaska is one of the few airlines left that offer an outright status match (rather than a status challenge). All Mileage Plan elite members enjoy complimentary upgrades on all paid tickets, and since you and your companion book into a regular paid fare class, both tickets should be eligible for complimentary upgrades.
However, this gets even better if you’re a higher-tier members of another airline’s loyalty program, as you’ll likely match to either MVP Gold or MVP Gold 75K. These levels include four Gold Guest Upgrades, which allow you to immediately confirm an upgrade to first class on most fares (excluding G, T and R). You’ll also need to find U inventory; fortunately, Alaska upgrade space is viewable on ExpertFlyer, which allows you to set alerts for this availability.
TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig recently utilized this strategy to upgrade his friends on a trip to Hawaii. In fact, their tickets were booked using this very companion fare benefit! Both of our cross-country flights are booked in an eligible fare class for these Gold Guest Upgrades, so I plan on using the exact same strategy this fall.
4. Pay with the right credit card. One of the nice things about this benefit is that you don’t need to actually use the Alaska Visa to pay for the ticket. As I indicated above, I chose to pay with my Citi Prestige Card to take advantage of the $250 statement credit offered each calendar year. The card also earns 3 ThankYou points per dollar spent on airfare, giving me a 4.8% return on my purchase (based on TPG’s valuations). You could also use the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card (which earns 3x Membership Rewards points) and increase your return to 6%.
However, the Alaska Visa is still a great option, as you’ll earn 3x Mileage Plan miles on Alaska purchases. This equals the return of the Premier Rewards Gold Card (6%), and helps boost your account balance for award redemptions like first class on Emirates’ A380.
For additional suggestions, be sure to check out TPG’s recent post on maximizing airfare purchases in 2015.
Many airline credit card companion benefits carry restrictions or come with booking quirks that make them impractical. However, the companion fare benefit on the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card is incredibly easy to use, and the flexibility to redeem on any Alaska-operated flight (including stopovers) makes this an incredibly valuable card.
Note that the current sign-up bonus on the Alaska Visa is 25,000 bonus miles upon approval. However, you may be able to find a better offer (that includes a statement credit) during the process of purchasing an Alaska Airlines flight.
How have you used the Alaska Visa companion fare benefit?