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This card offers a valuable companion fare benefit each year, and earns you a respectable 3x miles on Alaska purchases.
Alaska Airline’s Mileage Plan program has seen some devaluations in recent years — including the especially painful price hike for Emirates redemptions — but its award chart still has some sweet spots, including Cathay Pacific first class to Asia and flights from the US to Hawaii. Even if Alaska’s own route network doesn’t align with your travel plans, chances are you’ll find flights that work on one of its partners — which is impressive, considering that the carrier doesn’t belong to any of the three global airline alliances.
Apart from flying with Alaska or regularly using the airline’s shopping portal, one of the easiest ways to accumulate Mileage Plan rewards is to use the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card. While this card isn’t new — and we’ve discussed its benefits in various stories over the years — let’s take a step back and give it the full TPG review treatment.
Currently the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature is offering a sign-up bonus of 30,000 miles after you spend $1,000 within the first 90 days. $1,000 is a relatively low minimum-spend requirement, and based on TPG’s latest point valuations, 30,000 Alaska miles are worth $570.
You’ll also get a companion fare good for free travel on Alaska (minus taxes and fees starting at $22). This companion fare is actually offered to cardholders each year on their account anniversary, but in subsequent years (when it’s not tied to spending $1,000 in the first three months) you’ll need to pay $99 plus the taxes and fees, so the first year’s fare is even more valuable. Plus, now that Virgin America is officially part of Alaska Airlines, the companion fare is good for travel on that carrier as well.
One area where this card actually outdoes co-branded offerings from other airlines is its earning rate. While most of the major US carriers’ cards offer 2 miles per dollar on airline purchases, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card gets you 3x miles on spending directly on Alaska Airlines purchases. Especially considering that TPG values Alaska miles at a very respectable 1.9 cents apiece, you’re getting quite a decent return (5.7%) on spending with the airline.
If you frequently travel on Alaska for work or pleasure and you want to build up your Mileage Plan balance, this card is an obvious choice for airline purchases, though keep in mind the Platinum Card from American Express offers a superior return on airfare purchased directly from airlines (5x points). But you can’t transfer those points to Alaska, so depending on your travel priorities, that may be a moot point.
You can transfer Starpoints from the Starwood Preferred Guest program to Alaska at a 1:1 rate (and get a 5,000-mile bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer), but Alaska doesn’t partner with any of the other three major transferable points programs, so your options for accumulating miles are somewhat limited. That said, you should most likely use another card for non-Alaska purchases, since you can do better than the card’s earning rate of 1 mile per dollar.
The sign-up bonus is definitely on the small side, at least compared to offers we’ve seen for other airline co-branded cards. Still, those 30,000 miles are enough to book a free trip, such as a one-way first-class flight within the US, a round-trip domestic coach flight in the US or a one-way flight to Hawaii.
Luckily, Alaska also partners with enough carriers to cover your travels across much of the globe, from American Airlines to British Airways to Singapore Airlines to Qantas. Of course, you won’t necessarily get the lowest mileage rate for these partners (depending on the route) when redeeming through Alaska, but by taking advantage of Alaska’s allowance of one stopover on one-way award tickets, you can build some great itineraries.
Obviously, the more Alaska Mileage Plan miles you’re working with, the more options you have for booking award flights, both on Alaska metal and on partners. Highlights include Cathay Pacific first class from the US to Asia for 70,000 miles one-way, Japan Airlines first class one-way from the US to Asia for 70,000 miles and Air France from the US to Tahiti one-way in business class for 60,000 miles.
The card’s most lucrative benefit is naturally the annual companion fare, which you’ll earn within the first two billing cycles after your account anniversary. With the companion fare, a friend or family member can travel with you on an Alaska-operated flight. As mentioned earlier, for the first year, if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days of account opening, you only need to pay the taxes and fees starting at $22 for the companion fare, but in subsequent years you’ll have to pay a $99 base fare plus the taxes and fees starting at $22.
The companion fare is only valid for coach travel, but it is eligible for upgrades. TPG Editor-at-Large Zach Honig took advantage of this fact to status match to Alaska MVP Gold 75k, and then very generously used some of the four one-way upgrades that come with that status to upgrade my parents to Hawaii (after helping them book discounted airfare thanks to the companion ticket). Suffice it to say, my family was thrilled!
For more info on the companion ticket and how to get the most value out of it, see TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen’s story on “Maximizing the Alaska Airlines Visa Companion Fare.” A few quick tips to keep in mind are that round-trip flights will generally offer a better value for this perk, and you don’t have to pay for the ticket with your Alaska Airlines Visa. That means you can choose to use a card that offers an annual travel credit, or simply pick a card that earns you transferable points, ideally with a bonus for airfare.
As previously mentioned, the card also offers a free checked bag for the cardholder and up to six other travelers on the same reservation. Additionally, there are no foreign transaction fees, so you can use the card anywhere around the globe without incurring extra charges.
Who Is This Card For?
Obviously, this card only makes sense if you want to earn and burn Alaska miles. That doesn’t mean you’re limited to Alaska Airlines’ route network, but you’ll at least want to make sure its airline partners make sense based on your travel plans.
This card could also make sense for you if you don’t have Alaska Airlines elite status, but want a taste of those elite perks. Since cardholders get one piece of free checked luggage (along with up to six other passengers on the same reservation) when traveling on Alaska, you’ll save $25 per person on every trip. You don’t even have to pay for your airfare with the Alaska card in order to enjoy this benefit.
Finally, this card has a $75 annual fee, which is on the low end compared to many travel rewards credit cards. Still, not everyone wants to spend money each year to keep a credit card open, so you’ll have to determine whether it’s worth it to you.
Thanks to a decent earning rate for Alaska Airlines purchases and the valuable companion ticket you can use once a year, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature can be a great choice. Even if your favorite destinations aren’t served by the airline, Alaska’s partner carriers could have you covered — and redeeming for these awards with Mileage Plan miles is often a great value. Just remember that you can only use the companion fare for flights on Alaska or Virgin America metal.
Featured image by FG/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images.
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.
- Get Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ every year! Each Year on your account anniversary get a companion fare from $121 ($99 plus taxes and fees from $22). Valid on all Alaska flights booked on alaskaair.com.
- Save with a free checked bag on Alaska flights for you and up to six other guests on the same reservation.
- Earn 3 miles for every $1 spent directly on Alaska Airlines purchases and 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
- New - Get exclusive access to discounted redemption levels when you redeem miles for hotel stays at over 400,000 properties using Mileage Plan™ Hotels.
- Earn unlimited miles and travel with no blackout dates and no foreign transaction fees.