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How Your Credit Card Can Get You an Airline Companion Ticket

By Eric Rosen

Dec 23, 2020

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Now that's what we call social distancing.

Courtesy of Alaska Airlines

Now that's what we call social distancing.

Companion tickets let you bring a friend along for (nearly) free.

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Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more. Some of the offers mentioned below are no longer available.

Although we certainly don’t have anything against solo travel, sharing the experience with friends or family can be even more rewarding. Luckily, many airline credit cards either offer members companion tickets so they can bring a loved one for (nearly) free, or let them earn one through everyday spending. Here’s how to get an airline companion ticket and how your credit card might help.

What, exactly, is a companion ticket?

A companion ticket is similar to a buy one, get one deal. When you purchase flights, you can use a companion ticket to score a second seat on the same reservation. You won’t have to pay the full airfare for the additional ticket—usually just a base amount plus taxes and fees. It’s not quite free, but it can represent hundreds of dollars in discounts depending on how you use it. Some airline credit cards offer a companion ticket either as part of an introductory bonus, as an ongoing perk if you pay your annual fee, or as a spending-based benefit.

As with any bargain, there are terms, conditions, and exclusions; they vary from airline to airline, and even from one type of companion certificate to another with the same carrier. One voucher might only be good for economy seats; another might apply to business or first class. Some might only be valid for travel within the contiguous 48 United States, while others can get you to Hawaii and beyond.

Before you try to use a companion ticket—or open a new credit card with this perk—be sure you understand what it takes to actually redeem a companion ticket.

Three main ways to earn companion tickets

1. They come as part of your welcome bonus.

A few airline credit cards simply extend a companion deal as part of their introductory offers. These are easy companion fares to earn: You just have to meet the conditions of the bonus and you get the perk automatically.

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For example, the Alaska Airlines® Visa Credit Card currently offers 40,000 bonus miles plus an Alaska Airlines Companion Fare after you spend $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of account opening. The Alaska Companion Fare starts at $121—you pay $99 in airfare, plus taxes and fees starting at $22. So you buy the first ticket, then use your Companion Fare to get the second one for $121. That might not sound like such an interesting deal, but consider that you can use it for nearly anywhere Alaska flies—across the United States and down to Mexico and Costa Rica. Let’s say you book a trip within the U.S. and the first ticket costs $500. Then the second would be just $121, saving you $379 (international tickets, like to Mexico, might incur higher taxes). That more than makes up for the card’s $75 annual fee, which is waived the first year with the current offer anyway.

There are a few caveats, though. First, it’s only good for coach seats, although both tickets are eligible for upgrades—say, if you have elite status or pay for the bump up to first class—and both passengers earn miles on the flights. The cardholder doesn’t need to be traveling him- or herself, which lends it some flexibility. Companion Fare certificates expire 12 months after the date they’re issued (though travel can be after that).

Meanwhile, the Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard® currently offers 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in the first 90 days. New cardholders also receive a one-time discount of 50 percent off a companion round-trip coach ticket between Hawaii and North America on Hawaiian Airlines. You can book one ticket at full price and get a second for half. That can be worth hundreds of dollars depending on airfares when you book. This discount is valid for 13 months from account opening. In subsequent years, cardholders get a $100 discount off one companion ticket each account anniversary for travel between Hawaii and North America.

2. They’re part of your annual incentives.

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Some airline credit card companion fares are an anniversary benefit that you receive after paying the annual fee, which might help convince you to keep the card year after year. For instance, the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card (terms apply) gives members an annual companion certificate that’s valid for a one-way or round-trip economy itinerary within the 48 contiguous states (or Alaska and Hawaii if you’re from there). Only certain fare classes—those one-letter codes on your reservation—are included, namely L, U, T, X, or V, but not basic economy “E” tickets. Just buy the first ticket and apply the companion certificate to the second. You still have to pay taxes and fees that max out at $75 for the second seat, but that can amount to tremendous savings. The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card (terms apply) offers a similar certificate, but you can use it for economy, Delta Comfort+ (extra legroom seats), or first-class tickets. That makes sense given the Reserve’s $550 annual fee (see rates and fees) compared to the Platinum version’s $250 (see rates and fees), although the Reserve offers some extra advantages like access to Delta Sky Clubs and Amex Centurion Lounges when flying Delta.

3. You earn a ticket after spending a certain amount.

When you spend $20,000 or more on the AAdvantage® Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard® from Barclays in a membership year and renew the card, you receive a $99 companion ticket (plus taxes and fees). You can use this certificate for a round-trip, domestic economy ticket on American Airlines–operated flights within the 48 contiguous states (or to and from Alaska if you live there). This card has a $99 annual fee and currently offers 50,000 bonus miles after you make your first purchase and pay the first year’s annual fee in full within the first 90 days.

Other cards post simple discounts for passing spending thresholds. Every account year you spend $20,000 or more with the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® and pay the $99 annual fee, you’ll receive a $125 flight discount on American Airlines. You don’t have to use it for a companion, necessarily, but it can come in handy for that purpose. This card is currently offering new applicants 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 in the first three months, and its $99 annual fee is waived for the first 12 months.

A special case: the Southwest Companion Pass®

Southwest Airlines is unique in that members of its Rapid Rewards frequent-flier program can earn what’s known as the Southwest Companion Pass®. This is potentially one of the most valuable perks offered by any airline; it’s basically a two-for-one voucher that passholders can use on both paid and award travel.

You can earn the Companion Pass® either by racking up 125,000 qualifying Rapid Rewards points or taking 100 qualifying one-way flights on the airline within a calendar year. But here’s the thing: Rapid Rewards points you earn with the airline’s cobranded credit cards, including those accumulated from a sign-up bonus, count toward Companion Pass® qualification. It’s valid for the calendar year in which you earn it and the following calendar year.

Although high sign-up bonuses and lavish perks like lounge access might turn more heads, companion travel is one of the most valuable benefits any airline credit card can include. Many rewards cards offer companion certificates either as part of their introductory offers, for remaining a cardholder and paying the annual fee, or for using your card a lot. If you have or open an airline card that includes a companion ticket, though, make sure it’s one you can actually use based on your typical travel activity, and one that will guarantee you at least a few hundred dollars of value per year in order to be worthwhile.

While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they are subject to change at any time, and may have changed or may no longer be available.

>>Next: How to Book a Hawaiian Vacation Using Hotel and Credit Cards Points

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