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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

Utilize Alaska award availability to take a first class trip to Alaska.
The companion fare perk could have you and a friend or family member on an Alaska plane at a very reasonable price.

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:

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 10.05.33 PM

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:

Alaska flight results

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:

Nick

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:

Alaska receipt

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:

Alaska double stopover

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.

metal amex platinum card
The newly enhanced Amex Platinum could be a great option for booking the companion fare benefit.

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:

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:

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 10.50.04 PM

They were able to save roughly $500 on relatively last-minute tickets to Hawaii, all through a simple credit card perk.

Bottom Line

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?

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card

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.

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More Things to Know
  • 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! That's right, annually for $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.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
16.24% - 24.24% Variable APR on purchases and balance transfers
Annual Fee
$75
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $10 or 3% of the amount of each transaction, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.