Rewards card companion fares, passes cut cost of travel for 2
While companion fares are for one-time use, passes are good for a year or more
Travel expert who writes the "Have Cards, Will Travel" column for CreditCards.com
One of the only things better than traveling on credit card points and miles is sharing those vacations, getaways and adventures.
Whether your travel companion is a friend, family member or significant other, there are some pretty great credit card companion benefits that can help ensure you don’t have to fly solo (unless you want to).
In rewards card travel, there are two primary ways you can get a sweet deal to travel together: companion fares and companion passes.
How a companion fare works
A companion fare lets a second passenger travel with you on the same itinerary for a small fee (much less than the cost of paying for a second ticket).
The details of companion fares vary. Some airlines require the first ticket to be paid, while others allow you to bring a companion on award travel. In addition to the small fee for the second ticket, you often must pay airport taxes and fees.
Here’s an example: Last spring, when my hometown of Portland, Oregon, was gray and rainy for weeks on end, I decided to fly down to Mexico for a weekend sun-break.
My friend, Chris, and I had been wanting to test out Hyatt’s Ziva all-inclusive resorts, and the Ziva Cabo San Lucas had award availability for 20,000 points per night.
The only problem was that tickets were $300 each, and $600 for two tickets seemed pricey for 48 hours of Vitamin D.
Fortunately, I had my annual companion fare certificate from my Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card, which let us book one paid ticket and my friend flew for just the price of taxes.
The result: It was almost like buying one ticket and getting the second for free. Two tickets for $300 total with the companion fare was much more reasonable, costing us each $150 for the trip. We saved hundreds on our weekend of sunshine.
How a companion pass works
A companion pass, though similar to a companion fare, is a longer-term arrangement that lets you take a second passenger with you on flights for only the cost of the airport taxes and fees.
The big difference between a companion pass and a companion fare: A companion pass benefit lasts for a pre-determined period of time and a companion fare is a one-time use reward.
The most widely known airline companion pass is offered by Southwest Airlines. The Southwest Companion Pass lets any Rapid Reward flyer who reaches 110,000 miles in one year (or 100 segments) bring a designated Plus 1 along on every flight for the rest of the year in which you’ve earned the benefit and the next full year for free.
Earning points on Southwest’s Rapid Rewards Plus, Premier and Business Premier rewards credit cards is an easy way to acquire a Southwest Companion Pass if you aren’t already flying 100,000 miles per year on the airline.
My friends Annabelle and Christian, the duo behind the travel blog swepttogether.com, used the Southwest Companion Pass to log thousands of dollars of free travel in 2016 and 2017.
Here’s how they did it: Christian first qualified for the Southwest Companion Pass in May 2016, reaching the 110,000-point qualification threshold by getting a 50,000-point sign-up bonus on two of the three versions of the Southwest Visa card from Chase.
The two sign-up bonuses of 50,000 points, the points he earned from meeting the minimum spends and the Rapid Rewards points he already had from flying Southwest for work combined to make it a breeze to reach 110,000 points – a number that would otherwise have taken a whole lot of flying to achieve.
When Christian earned the pass, he named his fiancée Annabelle as his designated companion, meaning anywhere he went on Southwest for an entire year – for work, for holidays or for trips to scout potential wedding locations – Annabelle was able to come along for free.
While these two stuck together as consistent flying companions, Christian could have swapped the name of his designated flying companion up to three times – a feature that makes the pass an amazing deal for families with kids.
The best part of the companion pass? Southwest allows your companion to fly free on award travel. That means if you’ve booked a free ticket with your Rapid Rewards points, you can still bring a guest. That’s two tickets for the price of $0 – give or take a few peanuts you have to spend here and there for airport taxes.
How do you get a companion fare or companion pass?
Convinced that a companion fare or a companion pass is something that could enhance your ability to travel better or travel more?
Credit cards that currently offer some type of companion fares as one of their travel benefits include the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card, Platinum Delta SkyMiles® card from American Express, Delta Reserve® American Express, British Airways Visa Signature Card and the AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite Mastercard.
Check the details of each rewards card offer. Some cards award a companion fare certificate upon sign-up, some require cardholders to meet a minimum or annual spending threshold, and some cards dish out companion fare certificates annually as a benefit on your card anniversary.
If you’re interested in the Southwest Companion Pass, you’ll want to check all the details from Southwest. In April, Chase changed the rules for earning a Companion Pass.
What changed? Chase, the issuer for the three Southwest credit cards (Rapid Rewards Premier and Rapid Rewards Plus personal cards and the Chase Rapid Rewards Premier Business card), announced that an individual can no longer hold two personal Southwest credit cards.
You can, however, sign up for a consumer card and a business card and you will be just about to the 110,000 points you need for a Companion Pass.
Remember you’ll earn the pass for the remainder of the year in which you qualify plus the next full year. So if you get to work on qualifying soon, you and your designated travel companion could be flying together through the end of 2019.
Turn your companions into rewards travelers
In addition to using companion fares and passes, another method to add companions to my solo-travel adventures is to turn desired travel companions into rewards card points collectors themselves.
If they get their own rewards credit cards and earn points, we can book our flights together and fly for free.
As an added bonus, some credit cards even offer “refer-a-friend” programs that offer points or cash back bonuses if your friends sign up for that card.
Be wary, though, of losing friends with “refer-a-friend” credit card offers. As Christine Maxwell, who blogs about finances at Her Money Moves, a source in a recent “refer-a-friend” etiquette guide, summed up in retweeting the do’s and don’ts piece: “Remember: Friends are greater than credit card referrals.”
I call my friend, Canadian points collector Kendrick Uy, the credit card evangelist because he has mastered this method.
Uy has an unmatched enthusiasm in turning his friends and acquaintances into points collectors by telling the stories of where his reward earnings have taken him. He shares his referral link to his favorite credit cards, and viola – he earns points when they sign up. He’s not pushy, his travel adventures underscore the benefits of using rewards cards.
Uy earned so many points through his strategy that he was able to fund most of his dream of a yearlong trip around the world. Not only did Kendrick visit 70 countries, his companion-creating strategy meant he got to see much of it with his girlfriend.
Bottom line: Credit cards offering companion fares or the ability to earn a companion pass slash the cost of traveling for two.
If you’ve been putting off your travel dreams because you don’t want to go alone or can’t afford the cost of two airfares, get moving. Book flights for two, save a chunk with companion fares and passes and start sharing your travel adventures.
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