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A select group 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, and they are often provided on a yearly basis for renewing the applicable card. But are these perks really as great as they seem?
Today I want to focus on one popular card and share some strategies to help you make the most of the companion fare perk offered on the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card and the Alaska Airlines Visa Business 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). While the card has offered an enhanced, “limited-time” sign-up bonus in the past, where the $99 “base fare” is waived for the first year, that’s not currently available. Regardless of whether your companion’s ticket is $0 or $99, however, 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-operated flights, though this has included the legacy Virgin America network since March 2017. 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 benefit also carries 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.
- You do not have to be one of the travelers to use your companion fare. However, you must use a credit card in your name to pay for the tickets — and for those issued on or after October 1, 2019, you must use your Alaska card for the ticket. (See point #5 below for additional details.)
If you’re still waiting for the catch, let me save you some time. There isn’t one; this perk truly is a terrific option to save money every year on an Alaska Airlines flight.
As far as timing goes, the terms indicate that the first year’s companion fare will post to your Mileage Plan account 6 to 8 weeks after qualifying for the sign-up bonus (by spending $1,000 or more on net purchases within 90 days from account opening). However, mine arrived just six days after my statement period in which I surpassed $1,000 closed, so you hopefully won’t be stuck waiting.
After year one, you’ll receive the companion code within 2 billing cycles after your anniversary date, which (for some reason) “will fall approximately 6 to 8 weeks after the date on which you originally open[ed] your credit card account.” Once again, it should post faster than that, but be aware that it could take longer than expected.
In both cases, you won’t receive notification of its arrival, so you’ll need to periodically check on your own.
Booking a Ticket
When it comes time to actually use the companion fare you’ve earned on the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card or the Alaska Airlines Visa Business credit card, the booking process is relatively straightforward. For starters, it’s important to note that the benefit takes the form of a discount code that is automatically deposited into your account. 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 (which I have blurred out in the picture below):
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 or companion fare code field:
(Aside: I have no idea why the site defaults to the above cities for my flight search, as I’ve never looked at flying to McGrath, Alaska. Never. Not once.)
From there, enter your search criteria and click “Find Flights.” It’s worth noting that the online search engine only allows you to search for two passengers, so if you’re traveling with more than that, you’ll either need to book separate tickets for the other travelers or call to see if an agent can override it. On the results page, you’ll notice that eligible itineraries have a red icon next to the price:
Find the flight you want and click “Add to Card.” 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 a code from the old offer):
Expect to pay at least $22 more to cover additional taxes and fees for your companion, including:
- US flight segment tax
- US passenger facility charge
- US September 11 security fee
- Any state or country-specific fees (e.g., US Alaska/Hawaii departure tax)
Maximizing the Companion Fare
So how do you make the most of this companion ticket benefit on the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card? Well, it’s almost impossible not to get a lot of value from it. The card carries a $75 annual fee, and your companion ticket costs $99. As a result, you’ll need to book a ticket with a base fare of more than $174 to get more value than you’re paying. This may be harder on short hops up and down the West Coast, but if you’re looking to fly further — potentially even to Hawaii — it’s quite easy to find a ticket at this level to come out ahead.
However, there are a few ways to stretch the value of this even further:
1. Include an open jaw
In the above example, I was looking at a simple round-trip flight between New York (JFK) and Seattle (SEA). However, the companion ticket doesn’t have to be used in this fashion, giving you added flexibility that most other similar perks do not have. While you could (as a last resort) use it on a one-way ticket, you’d probably get the most value by using it in other ways. The first valuable alternative is to build in an open jaw, whereby you fly into one city and back out of a different one, giving you to ability to see two destinations on a single ticket. This ticket would still be eligible for the companion fare benefit.
To accomplish this, follow the same instructions above: login to your account, go to the Discount and companion fare codes section and click Shop. From the search page, change from Round-trip to Multi-city and enter in your search criteria. The results will again show you that your companion benefit is being applied.
Let’s adjust the above example to fly into Portland (PDX) but then back out of Seattle (SEA). When I enter those parameters into the search fields, it allows me to combine these two flights into a single itinerary and leverage the companion fare benefit:
To get between the two cities, I could then rent a car, take Amtrak or consider using my second strategy for maximizing this perk …
2. Include a stopover
Instead of being forced to “fill” the open jaw between the two cities in the above example, you could fill it with a flight and include a stopover. In this case, your itinerary becomes a flight from New York to Seattle with a stopover in Portland. While you do have to pay for your ticket and any additional taxes and fees for the companion’s added flight, you’re extending the value of the benefit even further.
Here’s what the combined itinerary would look like:
If you removed the companion code, the price for this itinerary jumps to $1,322.00, giving you $619 worth of value on a single ticket!
Of course, you could also combine an open jaw and a stopover to extend the value even further. For example, let’s say you were flying out of Orlando (MCO) and wanted to visit Hawaii and then stop in Portland on your way back home. Since the Aloha State is such a trek from Florida, you want to visit both Maui and Oahu, and you find a cheap one-way flight between the two islands.
Here are your search parameters:
- Orlando (MCO) to Kahului (OGG)
- Honolulu (HNL) to Portland (PDX)
- Portland (PDX) to Orlando (MCO)
And here’s a sample of the itinerary you would have:
In this example, removing the companion code would cause the price to jump to $2,906.80 from $1,517.20, giving you an astonishing value of $1,389.60!
Now, I know full well that this itinerary may not be a realistic comparison, but spending the equivalent of $750 per person for flights from Florida to Hawaii and back with a stopover in Portland isn’t too shabby.
When I first had this card back in 2015, I actually booked a similar itinerary. We flew from Orlando to Maui (with an overnight layover in San Diego), spent four nights at the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort, flew back to San Diego, spent four nights at the Andaz San Diego, and then flew home to Orlando. The companion fare in that case saved us well over $750.
Now, it’s worth noting that the terms & conditions of the companion fare state the following: “multiple stopovers not allowed.” However, I was able to price out an itinerary with two stopovers: Orlando to San Diego (stopover 1) to Portland (destination) to Seattle (stopover 2) back to Orlando. The summary page indicated that the companion fare applied to the entire itinerary:
Just be aware that this routing is technically against the terms of the companion fare.
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 to offer an outright status match (rather than a status challenge). If you’re a higher-tier member of another airline’s loyalty program, 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) if there are seats available in the U fare bucket. Fortunately, Alaska upgrade space is viewable on ExpertFlyer, which allows you to set alerts for this availability.
I did this very thing for our Hawaii trip back in 2016, inspired by my fellow Editor-at-Large Zach Honig. He previously used this strategy to upgrade his friends on a trip to Hawaii back in 2015. Since I was able to match to MVP Gold 75K, and since our flights to Maui were booked in eligible fare classes, we were able to fly across the country in much greater comfort by applying these upgrades.
Expert tip: Wait until after October 1 to request the match, since Alaska will typically grant you status for the rest of the year and the following year if your request is received on or after Oct. 1.
4. Pay with the right credit card (until October 1, 2019)
For the time being, you don’t need to actually use the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card to pay for the ticket — though this will change for companion fares issued on or after October 1, 2019. Even though it’s a great option, given that you’ll earn 3x Mileage Plan miles per dollar spent on Alaska purchases (a solid 5.4% return based on TPG’s most recent valuations), there are a few other options as well:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: 5x Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on airfare, a return of 10%
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on all travel purchases, a return of 6% (and also eligible for the card’s $300 annual travel credit)
For additional suggestions, be sure to check out our guide for the best cards for airfare purchases.
5. Book for friends or family members
This next suggestion is something I didn’t initially realize when I opened the Alaska Visa the first time around, but it can really help if it looks like you won’t be able to use this perk in a given year. 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 back in 2017, 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.
6. Open two Alaska cards in your household
A final way to make the most of this perk is if you have multiple yearly trips on Alaska or are booking a single trip for four or more travelers. If you and your spouse/partner/significant other both open the card, you’ll each have your own companion tickets to use each year, and you don’t even need to travel when using it! Here are some examples of when this could work well:
- Family of four: A single companion fare for a family of four would cut the price of the ticket by roughly 25% in the first year; if both parents have one, the price will be slashed nearly in half.
- Family of three plus a friend: If you’re a family of three (like me), you could use a second companion fare to take a trip with your kid and allow him/her to bring along a friend.
- Weekend with the girls/guys: Maybe you’re planning a bachelor or bachelorette party in the next year or two. By having multiple companion fares spread across the group, you can save some serious cash for the trip itself.
- Two trips as a couple: If you typically take at least two round-trip flights on Alaska as a couple, you can leverage two companion fares, where one pays for the first ticket and the other pays for the second. We have retired friends who travel to Seattle from Florida multiple times per year, and they each have an Alaska card for this very reason.
There are (of course) many other ways you can make the most of this perk for groups of travelers, so feel free to share your strategies below.
Keep in mind too that the companion fare benefit is just one reason to get this card. In addition to the companion fare, new cardholders will receive 40,000 miles after making purchases of $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account. The card also just added new perks, including 50% off Alaska Lounge day passes and 20% off in-flight purchases. You and up to six guests on the same reservation can also check a bag for free on Alaska-operated flights.
For complete details, check out our full Alaska Airlines Visa review.
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, though you are restricted to flights on Alaska metal. 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 40,000 bonus miles plus the companion fare benefit from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) after you make purchases of $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account. However, you may be able to find a better offer (that includes a statement credit) during the process of purchasing an Alaska Airlines flight.
Featured photo by By Johnnyw3 / Wikipedia
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Alaska miles are extremely valuable because you can book awards on partners like Emirates, Icelandair, Korean Air and Japan Airlines. The current bonus of 40,000 miles can book you a roundtrip ticket on Alaska Airlines from Boston to San Diego or New York to Seattle, for example.
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