Top Credit Cards That Offer Companion Ticket Benefits

Jun 16, 2017

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American ExpressAlaska Airlines Visa Signature credit cardDelta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express

One of the best ways to earn free flights is by opening and utilizing top travel rewards credit cards. These cards offer bonuses across different categories of purchases, and many include additional perks like lounge access or free checked bags to make the travel process less stressful and costly. However, a handful of cards offer an even greater perk: If you have the right credit card, you can actually bring along a friend or family member for free (or nearly free) on your next trip. Today I want to go through the best cards with companion ticket benefits.

Overview

Before getting into the specific list of cards, let’s begin with an overview of how these tickets work. Generally speaking, you’ll earn a companion ticket on the cards discussed below each year when you either pay the card’s annual fee or reach a certain level of spending. However, not all companion tickets are created equal, as each one carries its own set of restrictions. This includes (but is not limited to):

  • Routes
  • Fare classes
  • Classes of service (first, business, economy)
  • Type of ticket (round-trip, open jaw, one-way)
  • Upgradeability
  • Mileage earning potential
  • Cost (copay, taxes & fees, etc.)

It’s essential to understand the full details of the card for which you plan to apply, as you could wind up with a worthless (or nearly worthless) companion ticket if you come to find out that your planned itinerary isn’t eligible for the benefit. While I’ve provided the most pertinent information below, be sure to review the terms and conditions yourself.

So with that out of the way, what are some popular travel rewards credit cards with companion ticket benefits? Here’s my list:

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card

Inflight Product Photo Shoot September 2016
You could have company on your next Alaska flight if you open the Alaska Visa. Photo courtesy of Alaska Airlines.

The first card I’ll highlight has one of the least restrictive (and easiest to use) companion tickets out there. As a holder of the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card, you can bring a companion on any Alaska Airlines and/or Virgin America itinerary for just $99 plus applicable taxes and fees. This benefit starts in the first year of cardmembership and then continues each subsequent year once you pay the card’s $75 annual fee. While it’s only valid on coach travel, you can use it on a one-way, round-trip, open jaw or multi-stop flights. You’ll owe additional taxes and fees on each leg you add to the itinerary, but the base fare of $99 will remain the same.

In addition to this flexibility, both you and your companion will earn miles on the entire flight, and if you book an eligible fare class, you can upgrade the flight using miles or MVP Gold Guest Upgrades. Even the booking process is incredibly easy. The companion ticket appears in your Mileage Plan account as a discount code, and you can complete the reservation entirely online. You also just need to make the reservation by the expiration date; you can complete the travel anytime afterwards.

Finally, you can even use it for two friends or family members, as the FAQ page of the companion fare benefit clearly states:

“The Mileage Plan™ member who owns the companion fare code must either be one of the travelers or the purchaser of the reservation. If the member is allowing two travelers to use his or her companion fare code, then the member’s name must match the name on the credit card used to purchase the reservation.”

In other words, as long as you at least purchase the ticket with a credit card in your name (you don’t even need to use the Alaska Visa), you can still use the companion fare each year.

If you can believe it, this benefit is as new cardholders who apply before that date will have the first year’s $99 base fare waived (though they’ll still be responsible for taxes and fees, and the base fare will kick in for subsequent years) once they meet the requirement of $1,000 or more in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. This will also net you a sign-up bonus of 30,000 miles, and you’ll then earn 3 miles per dollar spent on Alaska and Virgin America flights (and enjoy a free checked bag).

Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

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The Delta Platinum Amex comes with a companion ticket each year when you renew your card.

The next card on the list also offers a free companion ticket each year, though it’s a bit more restrictive than that of the Alaska Visa. If you have the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Card in your wallet, you’ll enjoy a companion certificate each year when you renew your card (and pay the $195 annual fee). Unfortunately this doesn’t kick in until year two, but if you’re based in a Delta hub and are looking at an expensive ticket, it could still save you some significant cash.

That being said, here are the important published restrictions to keep in mind:

  • It’s only valid for round-trip travel.
  • It’s only valid for L, U, T, X and V fare classes.
  • The ticket must be purchased with the Platinum Delta Amex.
  • You’ll earn miles; your companion won’t.
  • Travel must be completed by the expiration date on the certificate.

Now, while all of these are published restrictions, I’ve read reports of them not being applied consistently (e.g., travelers using another credit card and tickets being eligible for upgrades). You may get lucky, but I’d assume that all of these will hold true if you’re considering opening the card.

Fortunately, it isn’t all bad news for holders of the Platinum Delta Amex. For starters, the booking process is relatively straightforward, as the certificate will appear in your Delta SkyMiles account and can be easily redeemed online. In addition, you can book any two passengers using the companion certificate; the primary cardholder doesn’t have to be flying. Just be aware that only the passenger on the paid ticket (the first passenger you enter when booking the reservation) will earn SkyMiles.

For full details on this perk and some strategies to make the most of it, check out my post from last year on Maximizing the Platinum Delta Amex Companion Certificate.

It’s offering a bonus of 35,000 miles and 5,000 MQMs after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months. In addition, you’ll earn a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new card within your first three months. You and up to 8 travel companions can check your bags for free on Delta flights, and you’ll also enjoy priority boarding and 20% off in-flight purchases. If you’re a big spender, the card can also help you qualify for Medallion status, as you’ll earn 10,000 MQMs plus 10,000 redeemable miles when you spend $25,000 in a calendar year plus another 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 redeemable miles when you reach $50,000 in spending.

Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express

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The companion ticket perk on the Delta Reserve Amex is identical to the Platinum’s version but can also be used for discounted first-class tickets.

If you’re looking for a premium credit card with a companion ticket, consider the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express. The terms and conditions of this perk are almost identical to that of the Platinum Delta Amex. The big difference is that you can redeem the certificate from the Delta Reserve Amex for coach or first-class tickets, giving you added flexibility. However, the same coach fare class restrictions apply, and first-class tickets must be available at the discounted A or I fare class to be eligible for the companion certificate. Nevertheless, if you can book right into first class at a reasonable rate, this could be a better option.

The current bonus on the card is 10,000 MQMs plus 40,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 within the first three months, and you’ll also enjoy complimentary Delta Sky Club access (though you need to pay for guests). You can also boost your Medallion qualification prospects with the card, as you’ll earn 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 bonus miles when you spend $30,000 on the card in a calendar year and another 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 more bonus miles when you reach the $60,000 mark. However, the card does come with a hefty $450 annual fee (See Rates & Fees).

British Airways Visa Signature Card

The seats featured head cradles that were height — but not width — adjustable.
If you can reach some big spending levels during the year (and are comfortable with substantial taxes and fees), consider the Travel Together Ticket from the BA Visa.

An altogether different type of companion ticket is offered by the British Airways Visa Signature Card and is called the Travel Together Ticket. In essence, it’s a Buy One, Get One Free award ticket. When you redeem your Avios for a round-trip flight on British Airways originating in the US, you’re able to bring a friend or family member for just the taxes and fees on that ticket. Unfortunately, these added expenses are anything but cheap, as British Airways is notorious for its outrageous fuel surcharges (in addition to various UK government-imposed taxes). Nevertheless, if you can find availability on your desired route, it could represent a decent value.

Note that this benefit isn’t just provided to cardmembers after paying an annual fee. Instead you earn the Travel Together Ticket by spending $30,000 on the card in a calendar year. Once you’ve reached that threshold, you’ll have the ticket deposited into your Executive Club account within 4-6 weeks, and you’ll then have 24 months from that date to redeem it. While your trip must commence before that expiration date, your return flight could fall afterwards, so it’s validity period is technically a bit longer than 2 years. Just remember that it’s only applicable to British Airways flights, so you can’t look to avoid those high taxes and fees by booking with a Oneworld partner.

The card is currently offering 4 Avios for every $1 spent on all purchases within your first year up to $30,000. That’s up to 120,000 bonus Avios. The card offers 3 Avios per dollar spent on British Airways purchases and doesn’t impose foreign transaction fees, though you will need to pay a $95 annual fee.

AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite MasterCard

IMG-aa-aviator-cards
Only the Aviator Silver card (at the bottom) includes a companion ticket perk, and you’ll need to spend $30,000 to get it.

A final card with a published companion ticket benefit is actually not open to direct applications. When American and US Airways merged back in 2015, Barclaycard converted its US Airways MasterCard into four different flavors of Aviator cards. While only the Aviator Red card is available publicly (currently with an enhanced sign-up bonus), reports indicate that you can request an upgrade to the Silver version after 60 days, and this comes with a companion ticket benefit after you spend $30,000 during your cardmembership year. In fact, you can book up to two companions for just $99 apiece (plus taxes and fees) on qualifying round-trip domestic economy flights operated by American Airlines.

Like some of the others above, there are several important details to bear in mind. First, you must keep your card open at least 45 days after your cardmember anniversary, and the certificate will post to your account roughly 8-10 weeks after that point. In addition, the certificate is valid for one year from the date of issue, and it’s only applicable to itineraries within the continental US (though Alaska and Hawaii residents can originate in their home states).

In addition to the companion ticket benefit, the Aviator Silver card offers many perks when traveling on American, including a free checked bag, preferred boarding and 25% off in-flight purchases. You’ll also receive 10% of your redeemed miles back each year and be eligible for a $100 Global Entry fee credit. You’ll earn 3 miles per dollar spent on American purchases and 2 miles per dollar spent on hotels and car rentals, and you can earn 5,000 Elite-Qualifying Miles (EQMs) for every $20,000 you spend (up to 10,000 EQMs per year). However, the card does come with a $195 annual fee.

Honorable Mention: Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card

southwest-drinks
If you can snag a Southwest Companion Pass by signing up for two credit cards, you’ll have a lot to celebrate.

All of the perks above apply solely to credit cards, but the final one that earns an honorable mention is one of the most lucrative benefits in the frequent flyer world: Southwest’s famous Companion Pass. When you successfully earn 110,000 qualifying points (or take 100 qualifying Southwest flights) in a calendar year, you’ll earn a Companion Pass for the rest of the year and the entire following year. This pass allows you to bring a designated companion on every Southwest flight you take, regardless of whether they’re paid or award tickets. You’ll just need to pay the applicable taxes and fees, just like you would for a standard award ticket.

For further tips on how to make the most of these points, be sure to check out Jason Steele’s post with 10 Tips for Maximizing Southwest Rapid Rewards.

Bottom Line

Earning a large haul of points and miles for future award tickets is one of the best things about top travel rewards credit cards. However, it’s essential to consider the various other benefits these cards offer, as it may make sense to keep one (or more) of them beyond just the first year. One such perk is a companion ticket benefit, something that just a handful of cards provide but can get you a lot of value if used properly. Hopefully this post has highlighted which cards carry this type of benefit and given you some food for thought as you determine your application strategy.

What are your favorite companion ticket benefits?

For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve Card, please click here.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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