First of all, I’m definitely not an expert on points travel and milage plan secrets. I use them and try to learn as much as I can from them, but overall I still feel pretty puzzled by the whole system. It doesn’t help that most websites that offer tricks and tips for collecting points and maximizing value are based on using American credit cards and offers that aren’t available to Canadians. Overall, I think I can safely say that in 15 years of collecting airline loyalty points, I have noticed two main trends.A) It’s easier than ever to get points.B) It’s getting harder and harder to redeem them. I would never presume to be able to explain all the ins and outs of collecting points and maximizing value for their use, but I have had some luck recently in using companion fares, so I thought I’d sum up what I know about this perk and how it can be used to travel more for less.
I’m currently collecting points in two loyalty programs, British Airways Executive Club, and Alaska Airways Mileage Plan. I’m using credit cards to collect points for both and each have a perk associated with the card called the Companion Ticket, but how they work is completely different. So here’s a summary:
British Airways Infinite Visa Companion Award Ticket
This perk is part of the benefits of the RBC Infinite Visa and is basically a “double your points” bonus when booking awards flights. If you book an awards flight on British Airways using your Avios points, you can bring a companion with you for “free”. To earn this perk, you have to spend a 30K on your card in a calendar year, which for us means putting pretty much every household expense we have on the card. I’m probably the only person who’s thrilled to have a medical plan where I have to pay upfront and apply to be reimbursed since it means more points on my card and a better chance of getting the companion ticket. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Well, here’s the downside: The ticket can only be used on award flights on British Airways flights, not codeshares. You can only fly from and to your own home country. You have to pay the fees and taxes for yourself and your companion on that “free” flight, which are ridiculously high on British Airways flights (the only ones you can use it on). Oh, and good luck actually finding two seats available on any given British Airways flight. And, the ticket expires after 2 years.
So, why do I still like it? For one basic reason: In two days we’re flying from Canada to Johannesburg in Business class for a grand total of 135 000 points plus less than the cost of a single economy ticket in fees. Since the ticket allows you to bring your companion with you in any class of travel, you can greatly multiply the value of your points by upgrading. There’s really no other way I’d be able to justify the splurge to business class. Sure, I had to book 11 months ahead and juggle the entire trip around the 3 or 4 days that actually had seats open and I’ll likely never be able to find a way to get good value for my Companion Ticket again, but for now, I’m pretty happy with it. However, I have the feeling that in the future I may be diverting a lot more of my spending to my Alaska Air Master Card which gives me this perk:
Alaska Air Companion Fare
We’ve been doing much more of our travelling within North America in recent years and last summer my husband and I both applied for Alaska Air credit cards. The main reason we did this was for it’s primary perk, the annual companion fare voucher. This deal allows you to bring a companion on any flight you book on Alaska Air for $100, plus about $10 in taxes and fees. Since it’s based on a flight you buy, not an awards flight, there’s no issue with availability and your companion even gets to collect the award miles on the flight. We used our first vouchers to book a flight to Orlando last year. It cost us $1200 for four round trip tickets to Orlando and we collected approximately 40 000 award miles as well. By planning ahead, it is possible to use the companion tickets to book direct flights on Alaska Air flights for a family of four for less than four bargain tickets with multiple connections on a discount airline. We plan to continue to use these vouchers on the more expensive domestic flights that we take as a family, potentially saving $800-$1000 per year on travel. Not bad for a card with a $75 annual fee.
So those are two perks that are available to Canadians that can stretch your travel dollars a bit. And even though they can be tricky to use, I still love them. Since every dollar I save on one trip is a dollar I can put towards the next one!