The 5 Best Credit Cards With Airline Companion Tickets (and 3 Bad Ones)
For as long as I can remember, the standard sign-up bonus for a reward credit card has been a “free flight.” Yet the truth is that these award flights are no longer free. Between reduced award availability and increased taxes and fees, this benefit has steadily become less valuable. Nevertheless, there is one credit card perk that, while not free, is actually gaining in value. The offer of a companion ticket — a free or discounted ticket for someone traveling with you on the same flight — will always be worth more as airline ticket prices rise. At the same time, it is important to note that all companion tickets are not created equal. Let’s take a look at the five best credit cards that feature an airline companion ticket offer, and three other ones that clearly don’t make the cut. (See also: The Best Travel Rewards Cards)
The Top Five Credit Card Airline Companion Ticket Offers
These five cards offer worthwhile companion tickets.
1. Southwest Airlines® Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card
These credit cards do not offer companion passes directly; they just make it really easy to earn one. First, sign up for one or both of these cards and enjoy a sign-up bonus of up to 50,000 Rapid Rewards points each. These points count toward the 110,000 points necessary to earn a companion pass that is valid until the end of the following year. Unlike other passes that are only good for one ticket, once this Southwest pass is earned, travelers can use it for unlimited free travel for a companion on both paid and award flights. So if you buy a flight for yourself, or redeem points for an award, your companion flies free. Therefore, the value of this pass is limited only by the amount of traveling you do. I applied for and received both the business and consumer cards with the 50,000 point bonus, then used the cards to earn an additional 10,000 points to receive the companion pass.
2. Delta SkyMiles Platinum From American Express
Delta offers three different SkyMiles cards that each feature different companion passes. Their Gold card has no annual fee the first year, then it's $95. Their Platinum SkyMiles card offers a free companion pass for a $150 annual fee. Finally, their SkyMiles Reserve card offers a free companion pass that is good for both economy and first class flights, but it has an annual fee of $450. Clearly, the best deal here is Platinum card that costs only $150. These passes are transferable, and I have used ones that were given to me by family members. Unfortunately, this pass is only received when your card is renewed each year and only the person flying on the paid ticket will receive miles.
3. Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card From Bank of America
Cardholders receive a $99 companion pass within 1-2 weeks of opening an account and again each year afterwards. Then the pass can be used on any paid flight in coach or first class. Since Alaska flies many routes to Hawaii, this can be a great way for two travelers to sit in first class for the price of one. Even better, both travelers will earn miles from the flight.
4. British Airways Visa Signature® Card
Not only did Chase make waves with this card by offering outstanding sign-up bonuses, but they give you the opportunity to earn a free companion award they call their “Travel Together” ticket. Cardholders receive this when they spend $30,000 within a calendar year. When booking an award flight operated by British Airways, the Travel Together ticket can be redeemed for a second seat for no additional points. Unfortunately, the second person will have to pay additional taxes and their odious fuel surcharges. Since these charges can equal the cost of a coach ticket, using this companion certificate only makes sense when flying in business or first class.
5. US Airways Dividend Miles Premier MasterCard From Barclays Bank
This card offers two $99 companion tickets each year. These tickets can be used in the United States and Canada, but not Hawaii and Alaska. There is a 14-day advance purchase requirement, a $250 minimum fare, and some blackout dates. Nevertheless, these can be very valuable when traveling to Canada and other expensive destinations.
Cards With Not-So-Hot Companion Offers
On the other end of the spectrum are three cards that appear to offer worthwhile companion certificates, but closer inspection reveals that these benefits may not be as valuable as they seem.
1. Citi ThankYou Premier and ThankYou Prestige Cards
Both of these cards offer a free companion ticket each year, but with important restrictions. Tickets have to be booked by a company called Spirit Incentives. And although Citi’s terms reveal only that “Details will be provided upon card membership,” there are many reports out there that Spirit charges significantly more for their tickets than the airlines do, negating the value of the “free” companion seat.
2. The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card is an awesome card, and its premium class international companion certificate seems like a great deal. But unfortunately, this benefit only applies to full-fare tickets booked through their travel agent. Since these tickets usually cost at least twice as much as discounted tickets, this benefit is only valuable to those who can get a their company to pick up the tab for a refundable international ticket in business or first class.
3. Virgin America Visa
Virgin offers a $150 “companion ticket discount code.” This sounds a lot like an actual companion ticket, but it is just a $150 coupon that you can only use when traveling on another paid fare. Since this card has a $49 annual fee, the actual value is just over $100. There is also a 14-day advance fare requirement and a maximum of three people on the itinerary. This offer is only valid on round-trip tickets, and it wouldn’t surprise me if you had to say “pretty please” in order to use it.
Applying for a credit card with a companion ticket offers can be a great way to slash your travel costs nearly in half. By focusing on the best offers out there, and dismissing the ones of questionable value, you can ensure that you will not be disappointed when it comes time to book that half price vacation with your favorite travel companion.