Balance free companion ticket with seat availability, annual fee

Perk on Platinum Delta SkyMiles AmEx sounds great but do your research


Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Tony Mecia
Tony Mecia is a business journalist who writes for a number of trade and general-interest publications. He writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for

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Question Dear Cashing In,
I am thinking about applying for the Platinum Delta SkyMiles card by American Express because it comes with a free companion ticket. Is this a good deal? Do they allocate enough seats to make worthwhile? -- George

Answer Dear George,
You are asking the right questions.

A lot of times, we see reward features of a credit card advertised in a way that makes it sound like a good deal. Sometimes there's a small asterisk accompanying the offer. When you examine the fine print -- and you always should before signing up for a card -- you see there are restrictions. 

With the Platinum Delta SkyMiles card (annual fee: $195), you find that you receive a companion certificate every year when the card renews. The certificate, redeemable online, is for round-trip travel in the continental 48 states and does not include taxes and fees. You have to redeem it at the time you buy a ticket in certain discounted fare classes (classes L, U and T) on the same flight.

Airlines designate many different fare classes on flights to help them price tickets. If you want to see if certain fare classes are available on a given flight, there are ways to do that, but it gets very complicated. 

So the main question is, do most Delta flights offer fares in those fare categories, or are those fare categories rare? The truth is you're not really going to know the answer to that question until you are able to redeem the certificate and search for flights.

In these situations, I like to read about as many people's experiences as possible -- just as you might go to TripAdvisor to find out about a hotel you've never stayed at, or to Yelp to read up on a restaurant you haven't tried. Of course, you can't fully trust these kinds of reviews, but they can help give you an indication. If every restaurant review you read about that new Mexican place down the street is awful, you might think twice about trying it. Same with credit cards. 

FlyerTalk is the biggest site of its kind that I know of, with lots of users volunteering their experiences. What might seem like a niche topic to you and me could well have hundreds of posts on FlyerTalk. So it is with using Delta/American Express companion certificates: 31 pages of people sharing stories and tips. People's experiences seem to vary. Some say it's impossible to use, while others say they have had no problems.

My best guess is you would likely have success using a certificate if you had flexibility in redeeming it. If you're trying to fly to Miami around spring break on short notice on a certain flight, you're not going to be as successful redeeming the certificate as if you have more flexibility in your routing and book six months ahead of time. 

Delta spokesman Anthony Black says that in general, space for companion tickets should be available on most flights -- particularly for people booking far ahead of time. He points out that the fare classes -- L, U and T -- are discounted tickets that are among the first to sell on a flight. As a flight becomes more popular, the airline no longer sells the most heavily discounted tickets.

Also worth noting is that you do not receive this companion certificate until you have had the card for a year. That means you'll be charged your second $195 annual fee at about the same time you receive the coupon. 

Overall, George, it's going to be a little bit of a gamble on your part: Can you recoup the annual fees by using the companion certificate?

But at least now, the decision on whether to apply for the card can be an educated gamble.

See related: Companion tickets: the reward perk that's not always so rewarding, Using points when holiday award seats are full

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Published: September 8, 2015

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Updated: 10-28-2016

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