Effective August 1, Alaska Airlines Companion Tickets Can No Longer Be Used for First Class

Lucky reports that as of August 1, the $99 companion ticket that comes with the Alaska Airlines co-branded Visa from Bank of America will be valid for coach travel only. Previously there were no capacity controls, whatever booking class the paid ticket was booked into would be the same booking class that the companion ticket was booked into, including paid first class (meaning that the companion ticket would be fully changeable, with last seat availability, and earning class of service bonus for mileage accrual even).

Introducing restrictions on the ticket hurts. Sure, folks who used the tickets for coach travel won’t mind so much. But taking away the option to buy one first class ticket and get a second one for $99 plus taxes hurts. I touted this benefit as recently as last week.

Back in March it was rumored that the companion certificates could no longer be used for first class travel based on terms and conditions posted on the Bank of America website. I was specifically told by Alaska that this was not the case, that it was an error on the bank’s part and being rectified.

Here’s how I described the benefit at the time:

The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature companion certificate benefit is one of the real values in all of travel — every year cardholders get to take a companion along on any paid fare for $99 plus tax (it used to be $50, alas).

The key element here is that the companion ticket books into whatever fare class the paid ticket is booked in. There are no fare restrictions. There are no capacity controls. The companion even earns miles. And you can book a paid first class ticket, the companion is treated as having a paid first class ticket as well, including refundability if that applies to the paid ticket.

There is no other companion ticket quite as lucrative, and I think that Alaska undersells this benefit. For two people traveling together, it’s virtually a two for the price of one (plus a hundred bucks), no restrictions.

I’ve used it myself to buy a paid first class ticket to Hawaii, including stopping in Seattle, with the second ticket being under $150.

When I’m asked to do award bookings for folks wanting to travel to Hawaii (as part of my award booking service), I generally suggest that instead of spending miles, paying me, and possibly accepting a less than perfect itinerary — that if they live in or are close to an Alaska AIrlines city that they just get the Alaska Airlines Visa and use the companion ticket. They’ll save the miles and even earn miles, and as long as there as first class seats for sale they can use this option.

The Alaska Airlines Visa won Frequent Traveler Awards in 2010 and 2011, in my estimation largely on the strength of the companion ticket benefit.

In 2008 I explained that while advance confirmable upgrades on longer routes were becoming increasing scarce, the companion ticket was the very best way to secure first class seats on the airline (at least when two people are traveling together).

I wrote about the Alaska Airlines companion ticket that comes with their co-branded Visa as far back as summer 2005. The greatest values and opportunities in travel (as I described it as far back as February 2009) tend not to last long, my advice is generally to take advantage of them while they exist, and expect them to go away. In that sense, I’m surprised the offer has lasted in the current form as long as it did. Sure, the companion ticket used to be $50+tax rather than $99, and sure the co-branded credit card is the primary driver of profit or loss at the airline itself. But the offer was still more generous than just about anything else out there.

Truly sad to see this go, but again not unexpected based solely on the idea that this was already among the most valuable opportunities out there, which almost necessarily means it must go away.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Questions:
    I believe the wording is “certificates issued after August 1st” will only be good for coach. I just activated my Alaska card yesterday. Neither the miles nor the electronic certificate have appeared in my account yet, but I believe it’s reasonable to expect the certificate to appear before August 1st. If so, am I correct in assuming that it would be valid for a first class flight I might book in September (for the winter)?
    If I apply for a card for my wife today, am I likely to get the certificate issued on her account in time to take advantage of the first class feature?

  2. What sad news. I really liked the Companion Ticket, especially when Coach class was priced within $50 of First class, giving me the equivalent of two upgrades for $25 each! That’s probably why Alaska killed it. Drat!

  3. Where are you seeing this? I just opened up my voucher on AS and read the terms and conditions. I specifically note, at the bottom under “Other”:

    “Terms and conditions as written herein are final and cannot be changed by any statement or representation of any unauthorized person, including employees of Alaska Airlines or issuing organization.”

    Certainly this is not retroactive to already issued certificates, right?

  4. You wrote: “not unexpected based solely on the idea that this was already among the most valuable opportunities out there, which almost necessarily means it must go away.”

    So this begs the question, what do you consider the top 2 or 3 remaining most valuable opportunities that may be in jeopardy?

  5. The other announcement on the Alaska Airlines card that stings is you no longer get 1,000 AK miles when booking online. That probably takes away 30,000 miles a year for me. I always booked two one-ways to max my miles as one-ways were the same price as round-trip on Alaska.

  6. We only fly first, we’ll start shopping for price now that there is no companion first. Also, Alaska Airlines mileage redemption time table sucks. All change is not good.

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