How Your Credit Card Can Get You an Airline Companion Ticket

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

Two rows of empty blue aircraft seats and windows viewed from side

With the right credit card, you could save hundreds—if not thousands—of dollars on a plane ticket for your plus one.

Photo by hxdyl/Shutterstock

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Although high welcome offers and lavish perks like lounge access might turn more heads, a companion ticket is one of the most valuable benefits any airline credit card can include. Luckily, several airline credit cards offer members companion tickets so they can bring a loved one along for (nearly) free. They may be available as part of introductory offers, for remaining a cardholder and paying the annual fee, or for reaching a spending or points threshold. With the rising cost of airfare, this perk could translate to hundreds if not thousands of dollars in savings. 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 free 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 save you a lot depending on how you use it.

As with any great deal, there are terms, conditions, and exclusions; they vary from airline to airline, and even from one type of companion ticket 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 continental United States, while others can get you to Hawai‘i 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 it.

The top companion ticket scenario: The Southwest Companion Pass

Before going into the main ways to earn companion tickets, it’s important to point out a special case: 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 allows pass holders to fly Southwest with a companion for free (besides mandatory taxes) on both paid and award tickets. Once you earn the Southwest Companion Pass, it’s not just a one-time BOGO. Depending on how and when you achieve it, it could last as long as the calendar year in which it’s earned plus the entire following year. That’s a lot of free flights!

Earning a Companion Pass typically requires earning 135,000 qualifying points or flying 100 qualifying one-way flights in a calendar year to qualify. But here’s the thing: Most folks earn it another way—through the airline’s cobranded credit cards. Rapid Rewards points earned with the airline’s credit cards, including those accumulated from a welcome offer, count toward Companion Pass qualification. This means that the Companion Pass is often in reach simply through credit card acquisition and spending. During times when Southwest has elevated introductory offers on its personal cards (think: 60,000 or 75,000 Rapid Rewards after hitting spending thresholds), all that’s required is getting a Southwest personal card plus a Southwest business card to hit the 135,000 qualifying points. (Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card has a standard offer of 80,000 points after spending $5,000 in the first three months.) The Companion Pass is then valid for the calendar year in which you earn it and the following calendar year.

There’s also another credit card workaround. For the past several years, Southwest has held a winter promotion on its personal credit cards to fast-track to Companion Pass. Unfortunately, the most recent introductory offer, which included a Companion Pass, ended on March 11, 2024.

Three more ways to earn companion tickets through airline credit cards

1. Through a welcome offer

Southwest isn’t the only airline to offer companion tickets through welcome offers. A few more airline credit cards also extend a companion deal as part of their introductory offers: You just have to meet the conditions of the bonus offer and you get the perk automatically.

For example, the Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card currently offers 70,000 bonus miles plus an Alaska Airlines Companion Fare after you spend $3,000 or more within the first 90 days of account opening. The Alaska Companion Fare starts at $122—you pay $99 in airfare, plus taxes and fees starting at $23. So you buy the first ticket, then use your Companion Fare to get the second one for $122. 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 to Alaska and Hawai‘i and down to Mexico and Costa Rica. Let’s say you book a trip within the USA and the first ticket costs $700. Then the second would be only $122, saving you $578 (international tickets, like to Mexico, might incur higher taxes). That more than makes up for the card’s $95 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. Companion Fare certificates expire 12 months after the date they’re issued (though travel can be after that).

2. As part of your annual incentives

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 on Main Cabin domestic (including Hawai‘i and Alaska), Caribbean, or Central American round-trip flights to select destinations. (Note that basic economy fares are not eligible.) Simply buy the first ticket and apply the Companion Certificate to the second. You still have to pay taxes and fees that max out at $85 for the second seat domestically and $250 internationally, but that can amount to tremendous savings.

The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card (terms apply) offers a similar but better certificate, which can be used on First Class, Delta Comfort+, or Main Cabin domestic (including Hawai‘i and Alaska), Caribbean, or Central American round-trip flights to select destinations each year upon renewal of your card. That makes sense given the Reserve’s $650 annual fee (see rates and fees) compared to the Platinum’s $350 annual fee (see rates and fees). The Reserve also offers some extra advantages, such as access to Delta Sky Clubs at no cost when traveling on a Delta-marketed or operated flight and access to American Express Centurion Lounges when booking a Delta flight on the card. Cardholders also receive four Delta Sky Club One-Time Guest Passes each year. Effective February 1, 2025, Reserve cardmembers will receive 15 visits per year to the Delta Sky Club. (Cardholders can earn unlimited Club access after spending $75,000 on their eligible card in a calendar year, valid for the year in which the spending is achieved plus the following calendar year.)

3. After spending a certain amount

Sometimes big spenders are rewarded by their credit cards when hitting certain thresholds. For example, 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, Hawai‘i, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands if you live there). This card has a $99 annual fee and currently offers 60,000 bonus miles after you make your first purchase and pay the first year’s annual fee in full within the first 90 days.

With the British Airways Visa Signature® Card, every calendar year you spend $30,000 on your card, you’ll earn a Travel Together Ticket. It’s valid in any cabin class for a round-trip ticket originating and returning to the United States, and it’s good for two years. The catch: The companion ticket entails a payment of taxes and fees, and British Airways tends to charge some of the highest in the industry. The current welcome offer on this card is 75,000 Avios points after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening, plus 5x Avios on up to $10,000 in gas, grocery stores, and dining purchases.

The Aer Lingus Visa Signature® Card also awards big spenders with a companion ticket. After spending $30,000 on your card in a calendar year, you’ll receive a companion ticket good for 12 months. Travel is only valid on Aer Lingus flights in economy class between the USA and Ireland and must begin and end in the United States. There are no taxes and fees charged for the companion (huzzah) and no restrictions or blackout dates for redemption. The current welcome offer on this card is 75,000 Avios points after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening, plus 5x Avios on up to $10,000 in gas, grocery stores, and dining purchases.

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. This article was originally published in 2020; it was updated on April 4, 2024, with current information.

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