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Yesterday I posted about British Airways’ 3-day business class fare sale and I got a bunch of Tweets and emails about whether the fare would qualify for the American Express Platinum Companion Ticket benefit. Unfortunately, the answer is no, but it made me want to dig deeper into this benefit since I am a Platinum cardholder and have never taken advantage of this feature.
There is no limit to the number of Companion Tickets cardholders are eligible for through the program, and there are no blackout dates—if you can buy a ticket on an eligible flight and there is space, you can get a Companion Ticket. The big caveat is that only refundable tickets are eligible for Companion Tickets. Generally refundable tickets are the most expensive out there, but this could still be an okay deal in certain situations depending on the ticket you purchase. International Business and First class tickets are among the most expensive out there, so getting a second ticket for free—even with taxes and fuel surcharges—can equate to a lot of value. Still, after pricing out a few options, this perk isn’t for the light of wallet.

How To Book
In order to score a Companion Ticket, you must book through Amex’s Platinum Travel Service by calling 1-800-443-7672 or 1-800-525-3355. You cannot earn a companion ticket by booking anywhere else–and remember they can only quote you refundable ticket prices if you are going for the Companion Ticket.

In addition, the companion must be flying on the exact same itinerary as the cardholder. If your travel plans change—either the cardholder or the companion—the ticket must be canceled, refunded and rebooked.

Eligible Routes
Not all routes and tickets qualify, and the only way to find out whether your prospective trip does is to call the PTS line and run it past them, or to parse out this route map. All flights must originate either in the US or from one of seven Canadian gateways (Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax).

I actually think the easiest way to use this tool is to look at the destination you would like to travel to, and then see which gateways in the US and which airlines you’re eligible to fly.

Example Scenarios
So for instance, when I clicked on Auckland, New Zealand, I found out that I could fly from Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco or Vancouver on Air New Zealand Business Class; from New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Honolulu or Vancouver on China Airlines in First or Business; or Emirates from New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Seattle, or Dallas in First or Business Class.

Just taking that example, a roundtrip business class itinerary on Air New Zealand from San Francisco in May is going for around $5,548 plus $89 in taxes on the Air New Zealand site for a refundable ticket (minus a $500 cancellation fee). So for two people to fly this itinerary would be $11,274. When I called the PTS line, they found a refundable fare of $9,265 plus $788 in taxes for a total of $10,053. If I were to add on a companion, I’d just have to pay the taxes of $788, and my new total would be $10,841. So it would be cheaper, but only by about $430.

To test out another example, I priced out a business class ticket from JFK-London Heathrow on British Airways at $3,877 plus $1,096 in taxes on PTS quoted me the same in taxes and $8,318 for a refundable fare. So in this case, two travelers booking on would pay $9,946 while an Amex Platinum cardholder would get their business class ticket and a companion fare for $10,510. More than booking two separate tickets! That’s because the Amex tickets are refundable, but still – hardly a bargain. Where this might make sense is getting a first class ticket for $10,331 plus $1,096 in taxes plus a second first class ticket for just the $1,096, bringing your total to $12,523. The best price I could find on was actually the same, so if you were able to pay the full price for a first class ticket, you’d just be paying the $1,096 in taxes and essentially saving over $10,000.

For a third and final example, Emirates flies direct from DFW-Dubai, so I thought I’d price out that flight since I’d like to try out the airline myself. On the Emirates website, I found a business class ticket for $8,390 plus $80 in taxes–so two tickets would be $16,940. A first class ticket for $14,944 plus $80 in taxes, so two would be $30,048. Amex priced out a business class ticket for $13,909 plus $1,109 in taxes for a total of $15,018–almost $2,00 in savings. The first class ticket according to Amex would be $20,782 plus $1,109 in taxes for a total of $21,891. With a companion ticket (so just taxes) that total would $23,000–over $7,000 in savings.

Obviously this kind of spending and these amounts of money aren’t for everyone, but if you do have a splurge coming up or your work is sending you somewhere on a full-fare refundable ticket, this is a great way to cut your expenses down by a fair amount. And it seems like the higher the ticket price, the more the savings. So fingers crossed for Emirates first class!

Just remember, the “free” companion tickets are also subject to taxes and fees ranging from $50-$500, a September 11 security fee of up to $10, as well as airline fuel surcharges. So you could be looking at $1,300 in fees if you pick the most tax and surcharge-heavy ticket out there like BA flights through London.

Also as a reminder, here is a list of the 23 participating airline partners: Aer Lingus, AeroMexico, Air Canada, Air France, Air New Zealand, Alitalia, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Japan Airlines, Jet Airways, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, LAN, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, South African Airways, Swiss International Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic.

Your Experiences
Have any of you used Platinum Travel Services to book a Companion Ticket? How was the experience? What did you learn? Share your stories with us in the comments below!

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