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This card offers a valuable companion fare benefit each year, and earns you a respectable 3x miles on Alaska and Virgin America purchases.
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card
Alaska Airline’s Mileage Plan program has seen some devaluations — including the especially painful price hike for Emirates redemptions — but its award chart still has some sweet spots, including Cathay Pacific first class to Asia and flights from the US to Hawaii. Even if Alaska’s own route network doesn’t align with your travel plans, chances are you’ll find flights that work on one of its partners — which is impressive, considering that the carrier doesn’t belong to one of the three global airline alliances.
Apart from flying with Alaska or crediting American flights to the airline, one of the easiest ways to accumulate Mileage Plan rewards is to use the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card. While this card isn’t new — and we’ve discussed its benefits in various posts over the years — let’s take a step back and give it the full TPG review treatment.
Who Is This Card For?
Obviously, this card only makes sense if you want to earn and burn Alaska miles. That doesn’t mean you’re limited to Alaska Airlines’ route network, but you’ll at least want to make sure its airline partners make sense based on your travel plans. Luckily, Alaska partners with enough carriers to cover your travels across much of the globe, from American Airlines to British Airways to Singapore Airlines to Qantas. Of course, you won’t necessarily get the lowest mileage rate for these partners (depending on the route) when redeeming through Alaska, but by taking advantage of Alaska’s allowance of one stopover on one-way award tickets, you can build some great itineraries.
This card could also make sense for you if you don’t have Alaska Airlines elite status, but want a taste of those elite perks. Cardholders get one piece of free checked luggage (along with up to six other passengers on the same reservation) when traveling on Alaska and Virgin America, saving you $25 per person. You don’t even have to pay for your airfare with the Alaska card in order to enjoy this benefit. Finally, this card has a $75 annual fee, which is on the low end compared to many travel rewards credit cards. Still, not everyone wants to spend money each year to keep a credit card open, so you’ll have to determine whether it’s worth it to you.
Currently the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card is offering a sign-up bonus of 30,000 miles after you spend $1,000 within the first 90 days. $1,000 is a relatively low minimum-spend requirement, and based on TPG’s latest valuations 30,000 Alaska miles are worth $570. You’ll also get a companion fare good for free travel on Alaska (minus taxes and fees starting at $22). This companion fare is actually offered to cardholders each year on their account anniversary, but in subsequent years you’ll need to pay $99 plus taxes and fees from $22, so the first year’s fare is even more valuable. Plus, now that Virgin America is officially part of Alaska Airlines, the companion fare is good for travel on that carrier as well.
One area where this card actually outdoes co-branded offerings from other airlines is its earning rate. While most of the major US carriers’ cards offer 2 miles per dollar on airline purchases, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card gets you 3x miles on spending with Alaska and Virgin America. Especially considering that TPG values Alaska miles at a very respectable 1.9 cents apiece, you’re getting quite a decent return (5.7%) on spending with the airline. If you frequently travel on Alaska for work or pleasure and you want to build up your Mileage Plan balance, this card is an obvious choice for airline purchases, though keep in mind the Platinum Card from American Express offers a superior return on airfare purchased directly from the airlines (5x points), but you can’t transfer those points to Alaska so depending on your travel priorities that may be a moot point.
You can transfer Starpoints from the Starwood Preferred Guest program to Alaska at a 1:1 rate (and get a 5,000-mile bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer), but Alaska doesn’t partner with any of the other three major transferable points programs, so your options for accumulating miles are somewhat limited. That said, you should most likely use another card for non-Alaska purchases, since you can do better than the card’s earning rate of 1 mile per dollar.
The sign-up bonus is definitely on the small side, at least compared to offers we’ve seen for other airline co-branded cards. Still, those 30,000 miles are enough to book a free trip, such as a one-way first-class flight within the US, a round-trip domestic coach flight in the US or a one-way flight to Hawaii.
Obviously, the more Alaska Mileage Plan miles you’re working with, the more options you have for booking award flights, both on Alaska metal and on partners. Highlights include Cathay Pacific from the US to Asia for 70,000 miles one-way in first class, Japan Airlines first class one-way from the US to Asia and Air France business class from the US to Tahiti one-way in business class for 60,000 miles.
The card’s most lucrative benefit is naturally the annual companion fare, which you will earn within the first two billing cycles after your account anniversary. With the companion fare, a friend or family member can travel with you on an Alaska-operated flight. As mentioned before, the first year you only need to pay the taxes and fees starting at $22, and in subsequent years you’ll have to pay a $99 base fare plus taxes and fees starting at $22. The companion fare is only valid for coach travel, but it is eligible for upgrades; TPG Editor-at-Large Zach Honig took advantage of this fact to status-match to Alaska MVP Gold 75k and very generously use some of the four one-way upgrades that come with that status to upgrade my parents to Hawaii (after helping them book discounted airfare thanks to the companion ticket). Suffice it to say, my family was thrilled!
For more info on the companion ticket and how to get the most value out of it, see TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen’s post on the subject. A few quick tips to keep in mind are that round-trip flights will generally offer a better value for this perk, and you don’t have to pay for the ticket with the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card. That means you can choose to use a card that offers an annual travel credit, or simply pick a card that earns you transferable points, ideally with a bonus for airfare.
As previously mentioned, the card also offers a free checked bag for the cardholder and up to six other travelers on the same reservation. Additionally, there are no foreign transaction fees, so you can use the card anywhere around the globe without incurring extra charges.
Thanks to a decent earning rate for Alaska Airlines purchases and the valuable companion ticket you can use once a year, this card can be a great choice. Even if your favorite destinations aren’t served by the airline, Alaska’s partner carriers could have you covered — and redeeming for these awards with Mileage Plan miles is often a great value. Just remember that you can only use the companion fare for flights on Alaska or Virgin America metal.
Featured image by FG/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images.
The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.
- Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
- Up to $200 for Uber rides annually. Credit and Uber VIP status available to Basic Card Member only.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
- 5X Membership Rewards® points on eligible hotels booked on amextravel.com.
- As a Platinum Card Member, you can enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
- Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
- $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees