Maybe you’re already looking ahead to summer, which is an expensive time to travel — especially if you’re traveling on holidays or to popular destinations where flights and hotels are selling out.
So what can you do if your flights are really expensive with cash, award seats for using your miles are tough to find (or so expensive that you don’t want to use your points) and you can’t change the dates? You’re stuck, right? Not if you have a companion pass that can cut the cost of your trip nearly in half.
I had a companion pass that I wouldn’t be able to use before it expired, and a co-worker was about to spend $800-plus per person to fly across the country. Putting this all together helped help him cut the cost of his trip almost in half.
Let’s look at how you can use companion passes to save on travel and how I helped my co-worker save big bucks. It’s good timing to do so given that right now, the Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card is offering 70,000 bonus miles, plus Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare™ from $122 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $23), after you spend $3,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account.
What are companion passes?
Companion passes are what they sound like: You can bring along a friend on your flight. The exact rules for how you use them can vary by airline, but they have a few commonalities:
- The two passengers need to fly together on the same flight.
- You must fly in the same cabin.
- And you need to book together (not paying separately) to use the companion pass.
There are various companion passes, and each of them is earned in a slightly different way.
Credit cards that offer companion passes
Several credit cards offer companion fares, companion passes and discount vouchers for bringing a friend. Rules for how you earn and redeem them can vary, but the following cards offer some variation of a companion pass:
- Alaska Airlines Visa® credit card: Earn an annual Companion Fare from $122 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $23) on each account anniversary if you spend $6,000 or more on purchases during the preceding year.
- Alaska Airlines Visa® Business card: Earn an annual Companion Fare from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) automatically on each account anniversary.
- Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard: Cardholders who spend $20,000 in a year will receive a $99 (plus taxes and fees) Companion Certificate for a round-trip domestic economy fare within the 48 contiguous United States. Alaska and Hawaii residents can travel from their home state to the 48 contiguous states. Your account must remain open for 45 days after your anniversary date to qualify for the Companion Certificate.
- Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite Mastercard: Cardholders can earn a Companion Certificate valid for two guests with $20,000 in annual spending. Your account must remain open for 45 days after your anniversary date to qualify for the Companion Certificate.
- Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card: Cardholders receive a companion certificate on each account anniversary; it’s valid for one round-trip itinerary within the 48 contiguous United States (or from Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands to the 48 states for residents of those places) in the main cabin. You must pay taxes and fees, though they’re capped at $80. Among the restrictions are that this ticket is only valid on airfares purchased in the L, U, T, X or V classes of service (so no basic economy “E” fares) and only the primary traveler accrues miles.
- Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card: Cardholders receive a companion certificate good for one round-trip itinerary within the 48 contiguous United States (with the same dispensations for folks in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands) in Main Cabin, Delta Comfort+ or first class. They’ll only be responsible for taxes and fees on the second ticket, up to $80.
- Hawaiian Airlines® World Elite Mastercard®: Cardholders enjoy a one-time 50% companion discount, good for roundtrip travel in economy between Hawaii and the continental U.S. Additionally, cardholders are eligible for an annual $100 companion discount for round-trip travel between Hawaii and North America on Hawaiian Airlines. These benefits are available on each account anniversary.
- British Airways Visa Signature Card: Cardholders can earn the “Travel Together” companion ticket every calendar year if they spend $30,000 or more on purchases. This ticket is basically a two-for-one award for round-trip travel on British Airways flights originating and ending in the U.S. It can be redeemed for any class of service when the passengers are booked together, pay mileage for one of them and then pay taxes and fees for both passengers. Only one voucher can be earned per 12-month period. The credit card account must also be open and in good standing when you redeem the companion ticket. Note that it’s also possible to use this ticket for a 50% reduction in the award price for a ticket when flying alone, and the ticket is valid for two years from the time you receive it.
- Lufthansa Miles & More World Elite Mastercard: Cardholders are eligible for the companion ticket after the first purchase and automatically every year after the account anniversary. The companion ticket is only eligible for economy travel departing from the U.S. to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. It also only applies to H, M, Y or B fare codes — i.e., non-discount economy. Cardholders must also pay all taxes and fees on both tickets, which can be hundreds of dollars.
- Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard®: Cardholders who spend $25,000 in a cardmember year will be rewarded with a choice: either a one-cabin upgrade from economy class to premium economy when flying on an award ticket or a companion fare in the same cabin class when the primary cardholder redeems miles for their ticket. Either must be redeemed within two years of issuance. For the latter benefit, the cabin in which you can redeem your miles will be restricted based on your Flying Club tier status. Basic Red members can redeem it for economy tickets only. Silver members can redeem for either economy or premium economy. Gold members can choose between economy, premium and Upper Class.
The information for the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red, Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Silver, Hawaiian Airlines World Elite Mastercard, Barclay Lufthansa Miles & More World Elite Mastercard and Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Related: Your guide to airline credit card companion tickets
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Southwest Companion Pass
It’s hard to talk about airline companion passes without mentioning the famous Southwest Companion Pass.
The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the most valuable travel perks. Once you earn it, you can bring a companion with you on all Southwest flights you book for the validity of the pass. This includes both paid and award tickets, which can lead to thousands of dollars in savings while you hold the Companion Pass.
The Southwest Companion Pass must be earned and doesn’t come simply from holding the right credit card (though that can help you get started). You can earn it by earning 135,000 Southwest points in a year, which includes points earned by flying, through credit card spending and leveraging other partners.
The pass is valid for the rest of the year in which you earn it plus the entirety of the next year. That can mean nearly 24 months of bringing a friend along on your flights.
At other times, there are promotions to earn a limited-time Companion Pass.
Related: How to quickly earn the Southwest Companion Pass
A co-worker saved hundreds with my unused Companion Fare
Our social media manager, Colby, reached out on Slack, saying he and his boyfriend wanted to travel from New York City to Portland, Oregon, over the Fourth of July weekend. The problem: Award bookings between New York and Portland were few and far between.
Only three airlines run nonstop flights between New York-Kennedy (JFK) and Portland (PDX): Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue. Award pricing was so bad (three to four times higher than normal) that it would eat up nearly all of Colby’s Chase Ultimate Rewards.
The solution: using a companion pass to save on a cash fare.
Unfortunately, Colby didn’t have any companion passes at the moment. But I happened to have an Alaska Airlines Companion Fare expiring soon, and Colby was able to save nearly $700 on his reservation.
Paying $817.20 for an economy flight within the U.S. is tough to swallow. Paying double that for two people is even worse, so a Companion Fare can be extremely valuable.
The Alaska Airlines Companion Fare does not necessarily need to be used by the person who earns it, which can be nice if your pass is expiring and someone else can use it. There are some important terms and conditions to keep in mind:
- The person who earned the Companion Fare does not need to be one of the travelers.
- The credit card from which the Companion Fare was earned must be used to pay for the tickets.
- This benefit cannot be applied to award bookings using miles.
- The companion pass comes as a discount code, and the expiration date of the code is when you must make your reservation. You don’t have to travel by this date.
- All travelers on the itinerary are eligible to earn miles or get upgrades according to any Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan status they may have.
- You’re liable for paying taxes and fees on the companion’s ticket, including a $99 fare.
Instead of $817.20 each (or $1,634.40 total), Colby and his boyfriend paid $952.83 for their flights. That’s a savings of $681.57.
Remember: To use the Alaska Airlines Companion Fare, the person who earned it must pay for the tickets. Thus, I paid with my Alaska Airlines credit card, and Colby paid me back.
Because of this, I earned 3 Alaska Airlines miles per $1 spent using my card for 2,859 Alaska miles earned. Not a bad bonus for helping a co-worker in need.
Related: How to save up to $1,000 on popular summer routes with the Alaska Companion Fare
When traveling on a popular route, to a hot-spot destination or flying a route with few options, it can be tough to use your points and miles. You might technically be able to book an award ticket with your miles, but it could come at a cost where it’s not worth it to you. Being flexible with dates and destinations or holding transferable points can help you out in some situations.
Related: 6 common airline award travel pitfalls and how to avoid them
However, you may be better served by paying cash and redeeming a companion pass at other times. Having the option to choose what makes for a better deal, in the end, can provide savings and reduce stress during the booking process.
For Colby, having a co-worker with an unused companion pass helped him save nearly $700 on a holiday weekend.
Apply here: Earn 70,000 bonus miles, plus Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare from $122 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $23), after you spend $3,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your Alaska Airlines Visa credit card.
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