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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about how points and miles have helped them get where they want to go. If you’re interested in sharing your own award travel success story, email it to email@example.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. If we publish it, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure!
Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Bin, who used a credit card benefit to save on a family vacation after a late change of plans. Here’s what he had to say:
I booked a vacation to San Antonio and Austin for my family of four adults and an infant using United miles. We were scheduled to depart from San Francisco on Friday, August 25, but on Wednesday I received a text message from United with a travel warning about Hurricane Harvey. On Thursday it became more serious, and we were able to cancel our flights and get a full refund. However, my wife and I had requested time off from work, and we didn’t want to spend that time sitting at home, so I started looking for an alternative.
Since our baby is just 18 months old, I wanted a destination with a non-stop flight, and preferably somewhere I hadn’t already visited. Hawaii fit the description, as I’d been to three of the Hawaiian islands, but hadn’t seen Kauai. The only problem was that United Airline offered the only non-stop service between San Francisco and Lihue, and the price was $1,349 per person!
Luckily, I expanded my search and found that Alaska Airlines flies non-stop to Lihue from Oakland, and tickets were available for $398 per person. I had applied for both the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card and the business version in June. The personal card came with a free companion ticket (we just had to pay taxes and fees), while the business card companion ticket cost $99 plus tax. That meant I could buy two tickets for $398 each and two more for around $145 total. In total I paid less than $1,000 for four round-trip tickets from Oakland to Lihue purchased less than 24 hours prior to the trip!
Before I started reading TPG about two years ago, I had mostly been focused on earning United miles and Marriott points. Now I’ve started to diversify my rewards and credit cards. This was my first time getting an Alaska Airlines card, and I was able to take full advantage of them less than three months later!
The Alaska Airlines companion fare typically allows co-branded Visa Signature cardholders to book a second passenger for a base fare of $99 (plus about $20 in taxes and fees). That’s a solid deal, but it got even better in April when the base fare was reduced to $0 for the first year. The perk still isn’t on par with the Southwest Companion Pass, which can be used multiple times and is valid on award flights. However, Alaska Airlines doesn’t make you designate a companion ahead of time, so you have greater flexibility in booking last-minute travel like Bin did.
On that note, one underappreciated aspect of the Alaska companion fare is that you can use it for friends and family. So long as the credit card used to purchase the original fare is in your name, you can redeem it even if you’re not traveling. Another is that you can build stopovers into your itinerary; you’ll have to pay taxes on any additional flight segments, but you can get creative with your routing to maximize the value of your companion benefit.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Bin for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you.
Again, if the strategies you’ve learned here have helped you fly in first class, score an amazing suite, reach a far-flung destination or even just save a few dollars, please indulge me and the whole TPG team by emailing us with your own success stories (see instructions at the top of this post). Feel free to also submit stories of your most egregious travel mistakes. In either case, you’ll have our utmost appreciation, along with some extra spending money for your next trip.
Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!
Featured image by @Leomacphoto via Twenty20
Alaska miles are extremely valuable because you can book awards on partners like Emirates, Icelandair, Korean Air and Japan Airlines. The current bonus of 30,000 miles can book you a roundtrip ticket on Alaska Airlines from Boston to San Diego or New York to Seattle, for example.
- Special Introductory Offer: Buy 1 ticket, get 1 for just the taxes and fees with Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ Offer.
- Get 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of your account opening.
- Enjoy another Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ every year from $121 ($99 plus taxes and fees from $22) on your account anniversary valid on Alaska and Virgin America flights booked on alaskaair.com.
- Save with a free checked bag on Alaska and Virgin America flights for you and up to six other passengers on the same reservation.
- Earn 3 miles for every $1 spent directly on Alaska Airlines and Virgin America purchases and 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases. No foreign transaction fees.
- There are two types of cards: the Visa Signature® card and the Platinum Plus® card. The card you receive will be determined by several factors including your income and credit history.
- The benefits and bonus miles above apply to Visa Signature cards only. The Annual Fees, benefits and bonus miles for Platinum Plus® cards are different.
- For more information on the differences, see the Features section accompanying the application.