Maximizing the Alaska Airlines Visa Companion Fare
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with current information and card offers. It was most recently published on Feb. 8, 2020.
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?
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Today I want to focus on one popular card and share exactly how to use the companion fare perk offered on the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card (which currently has a limited-time increased offer) and the Alaska Airlines Visa® Business credit card, including some strategies to make the most of it for your next Alaska flight.
Alaska Companion Fare overview
The companion benefit on these cards currently offers an annual coach ticket for a traveling companion from just $121 ($99 plus any taxes and fees on the ticket which typically start at $22 for a round-trip itinerary). While the card has offered a different version of the 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 card’s $75 annual fee.
Before you get too excited, be sure to note that the companion fare is only valid on Alaska-operated flights. While Alaska has some terrific airline partners that give you access to some fantastic award redemptions like Cathay Pacific first class, 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 by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on the expiration date, which is generally 12 months after being issued (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 your Alaska card to pay for the tickets. (See point #4 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.
If you apply for the Alaska Airlines Visa right now, you’ll even earn your first year’s companion fare as part of the welcome bonus and a statement credit. For a limited time, new cardholders will earn a $100 statement credit, 40,000 bonus miles, plus the Companion Fare from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from just $22) when they make purchases of $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account.
As far as timing goes, the terms indicate that the first year’s companion fare will post to your Mileage Plan account six to eight weeks after qualifying for the sign-up bonus by reaching the minimum spending requirements. However, when I added the card to my wallet in 2018, I received the discount code just six days after my statement where I surpassed the threshold closed, so you hopefully won’t be stuck waiting.
After year one, the terms indicate that you’ll receive the companion code within two billing cycles after your anniversary date, which (for some reason) “will fall approximately six to eight weeks after the date on which you originally open[ed] your credit card account.” However, my recent experience is a bit faster than that timeline. I originally opened my account on July 3, 2018, so I expected my companion fare to arrive in mid- to late-August 2019. However, it posted to my account on July 29, 2019 — less than four weeks after my account anniversary and before the $75 annual fee hit my card.
My experience has also shown that you won’t receive notification of its arrival, so you’ll need to periodically check on your own.
How to use the Alaska Visa companion fare
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:
From there, enter your search criteria and click “Find Flights,” and be sure that you only have two passengers selected. If you try to book for more than that, you’ll get an error message like this:
I learned this when trying to book a flight for me (the cardholder), my wife and my daughter. To get around this limitation, I simply booked me and my daughter together to use the companion fare and then create a separate reservation for my wife.
Once you’ve initiated the search, the results page will flag eligible itineraries with 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.
Expect to pay at least $22 more to cover additional taxes and fees for your companion, including:
- U.S. flight segment tax
- U.S. passenger facility charge
- U.S. September 11 security fee
- Any state or country-specific fees (e.g., U.S. 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 card? Well, it’s actually quite hard to not get a lot of value from it. As noted above, the card carries a $75 annual fee, and your companion ticket will typically cost $121 ($99 + ~$22 in taxes and fees). As a result, you’ll need to book a ticket with a base fare of more than $196 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
One of the best things about the Alaska companion fare is that you’re not restricted to a simple, round-trip itinerary. You can book a one-way ticket (which is actually what I did this year), but 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 say you needed to book a flight from New York-JFK to the West Coast, and you wanted to fly into Portland (PDX) but then back out of Seattle (SEA). When you enter those parameters into the search fields, it allows you to combine these two flights into a single itinerary and leverage the companion fare benefit:
Editor’s note: This screenshot was from a now-expired offer, where the companion fare was $0 in the first year.
To get between the two cities, I could then rent a car, take Amtrak or consider using a 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, 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 multi-city 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:
This trip gives you a one-night layover in San Diego, ten nights in Hawaii — split however you’d like between the islands — and five nights in Portland. In this example, removing the companion code would cause the price to jump from $1,517.20 to $2,906.80, 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 challenge
A third way to maximize the companion ticket is through a status challenge. While Alaska used to provide a straight-up status match for elite travelers from other airlines, the carrier now offers you a three-month trial of the equivalent tier of Mileage Plan MVP status. If you’re a higher-tier member of another loyalty program, you may even enjoy MVP Gold or MVP Gold 75K status, putting you in a great position to snag an upgrade and enjoy other perks on your trip.
However, the most important thing to keep in mind is timing. Once your status challenge is approved, you’ll have temporary status for three months — and you need to fly a certain amount during that time to maintain it:
- MVP: 5,000 miles
- MVP Gold: 10,000 miles
- MVP Gold 75K: 20,000 miles
As a result, be sure to wait until your flight is less than three months away to initiate the challenge. That way you’ll enjoy the corresponding perks on your trip, and the ticket booked with the companion fare will help you meet the requirements to extend your status for the rest of the year.
4. 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 from a previous card 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.
5. Open two Alaska cards in your household
Another 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.
6. Keep it simple
Finally, you may want to consider keeping things simple. You don’t have to add an open jaw, nor do you need to include a stopover. Sometimes it makes the most sense to just book the flight you need and still get some solid value from it.
That’s exactly the position I found myself in this year. We have a two-week trip to Southeast Asia in May and June, and we used miles to book business-class award flights back to the U.S. Unfortunately, due to relative inflexibility in our schedule and limited award availability, we could only get as far as Seattle on the return flight, so we needed to pay for a one-way ticket from there back to Florida.
The flight we needed was pricey — as in, over $350-per-person pricey. I managed to snag my wife a one-way ticket with a $40 off Amex offer (now expired), but I still needed to get me and my daughter home.
Enter the companion fare. When I saw that the one-way ticket had dropped to $344 per person (thanks to price tracking on Google Flights), I sprung into action. I followed the above steps and grabbed the exact flight I wanted:
Paying $232 per person for a one-way, domestic flight hurts, but take a look at what it would’ve been without the discount:
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 has a special limited-time offer: Get a $100 statement credit, 40,000 bonus miles and Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) after you make $2,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.
Featured photo by By Johnnyw3/Wikipedia.
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