Alaska Downgrades Companion Fares For Coach Only Starting August
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
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 alasksair.com 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.