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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card
A handful of airline credit cards tout companion certificate benefits. Generally speaking, these perks allow you to bring a friend or family member along at a steep discount (or in some cases, nearly free) when you book a qualifying ticket. While one such perk disappeared with the merger of US Airways and American, the companion ticket benefit on the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express is still going strong. Today, however, I want to focus on another popular one and share some strategies to help you make the most of the companion fare perk offered on the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card.
Alaska Companion Fare Overview
The companion benefit on the card typically offers an annual coach ticket for a traveling companion for just $99 plus any taxes and fees on the ticket (which typically start at ~$22 for a round-trip itinerary). However, it’s important to note that the card is currently offering an enhanced, limited-time sign-up bonus whereby the $99 “base fare” is waived for the first year (though future years revert back to the $99 + taxes & fees model). In both the first year and subsequent years, you can get some tremendous value out of this perk that can easily outweigh the $75 annual fee.
Before you get too excited, be sure to note that the companion fare is only valid on Alaska and Virgin America flights (the latter of which was added earlier this year). 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.
The aforementioned overview sounds straightforward enough, but the benefit does carry some additional restrictions and items of note, as laid out on the carrier’s companion fare FAQ page:
- 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 on alaskaair.com within 12 months of the issue date (though travel can take place after the expiration date).
- Both travelers accrue miles on the tickets.
- There are no blackout dates.
Booking a Ticket
When it comes time to actually use the companion fare you’ve earned on the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card, the booking process is relatively straightforward. For starters, the benefit takes the form of a discount code that is automatically deposited into your account after you’re approved for the card and met the requirements for the sign-up bonus (currently $1,000 in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening). Beginning in your second year, the code will appear within two billing cycles of your anniversary date, though note that mine arrived in just a couple of weeks last year. Be aware that you generally don’t receive notification that it has arrived, so you’ll need to manually check your online account until it appears.
To find it, simply log in to your Mileage Plan account, find the discount and companion fare 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 (or $0 if you’re using the current perk). 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 11 security fee
- US transportation tax
- Any state or country-specific fees (e.g., US Alaska/Hawaii departure tax)
My Experience With This Perk
When I first applied for this card back in 2015, the companion ticket was a primary driver behind that decision. My wife and I were planning a trip to the West Coast, and Alaska offered nonstop service from Orlando to both San Diego and Seattle (and has since added daily flights to Portland). 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 was our 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 wound up getting a $250 statement credit since I used my 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 30,000-mile sign-up bonus currently being offered (worth $570 based on TPG’s most recent valuations), you can easily get $1,000 or more of value from 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 Credit Card? Here are some of my suggestions:
1. Stay away from one-way or inexpensive flights. When using the companion fare, the $99 base fare is consistent, regardless of the price and type of ticket you book. As a result, using it on a $200 one-way ticket will only wind up saving you around $80. If that’s the only possible way to redeem the fare before it expires, then go ahead, but I’d strongly recommend utilizing it for more expensive itineraries.
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:
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 member 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 was actually my inspiration for this strategy, as he had previously used it to upgrade his friends on a trip to Hawaii. Since our flights were booked in eligible fare classes, we were able to fly across the country in much greater comfort once I matched to MVP Gold 75K.
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 Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card to pay for the ticket. Even though it’s a great option, given that you’ll earn 3x Mileage Plan miles per dollar spent on Alaska purchases (a solid 5.7% return based on TPG’s most recent valuations), there are a few other options as well:
- The Platinum Card from American Express: now offers 5x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on airfare, a return of 9.5%
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on all travel purchases, a return of 6.6% (also eligible for the card’s $300 annual travel credit)
- Citi Prestige Card: 3x ThankYou points per dollar spent on airfare, a return of 4.8% (also eligible for the card’s $250 annual airfare credit)
For additional suggestions, be sure to check out our guide for the best cards for airfare purchases in 2017.
5. Book for friends or family members. This last suggestion is something I didn’t initially realize when I opened the Alaska Visa. Unlike most companion ticket benefits, you do not need to be one of the travelers to use the benefit. This may seem shady, but it’s actually spelled out on the card’s Companion Fare FAQ page. One of the questions is, “Who can use my companion fare code?” and here’s the answer:
“The Mileage Plan™ member who owns the companion fare code must either be one of the travelers or the purchaser of the reservation. If the member is allowing two travelers to use his or her companion fare code, then the member’s name must match the name on the credit card used to purchase the reservation.”
I actually put this very feature to the test earlier this year, as I had a companion fare that was set to expire (and no way to use it). However, I had a friend who needed a pair of tickets from the West Coast to Hawaii, so I booked a ticket for him and a companion using my credit card with my name:
They were able to save roughly $500 on relatively last-minute tickets to Hawaii, all through a simple credit card perk.
When you hear “free companion ticket” in relation to a credit card, you probably start picturing all of the restrictions that would prevent you from using a benefit that seems valuable on the surface. However, the companion fare benefit on the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card truly is flexible and simple to use on all manner of itineraries, including both Alaska and Virgin America. If you’ve never considered the card before, hopefully this post has shown you just how valuable it can be.
Note that the current sign-up bonus on the Alaska Visa is 30,000 bonus miles plus the waived companion fare benefit after you make $1,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening. 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?
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