The merger between Alaska Airlines and Virgin America continues to create new opportunities. The most recent announcement is that companion fares are now eligible to be redeemed on Virgin America flights. In this post, we will explain the process for booking companion tickets, give some useful tips, and talk about new possibilities that the Virgin America merger makes possible.
The annual companion fare is one of the benefits of the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card, as well as the Alaska Airlines Visa® Business Card. These cards both carry a $75 annual fee. The annual companion fare has a base price of $99 plus taxes and fees, which start from $22 but can be more depending on the route. The fare is valid on any roundtrip economy ticket when the companion is booked on the same reservation as a paid (i.e. non-award) passenger.
Both the primary passenger and the companion are eligible to earn miles when booking a companion fare. These rules are much more straightforward than companion tickets offered by other airlines, which often restrict eligibility to certain fare classes. This requires extra searching to determine if the itinerary you’ve found is eligible, and often the cheapest fare classes are excluded, reducing or even eliminating the savings from the companion ticket.
Cardholders should see the companion fare listed under the “Discount and companion fare codes” section of their Alaska profile. Alaska says that these codes should show up within two billing cycles after qualification, which currently requires $1,000 of spending within the first 90 days of account opening. Most people report having the fare show up within a week or two after qualification. Once you log into your profile and select the discount code link you should see a screen like this (codes have been blacked out for obvious reasons):
In order to begin the booking, simply click on the “shop” link on the left hand side of the screen. The companion code will be automatically entered into discount code box when the search engine page appears. Eligible flights will be marked with the symbol denoted at the top of the page. Below are the results for a sample search from Seattle to Boston. The non-stop options on Alaska metal appear at the top of the results.
We selected non-stop flights in each direction and added them to the cart. Then on the flight summary page, click the “taxes, fees and charges” link on the right hand side of the screen. This will show a detailed breakdown of how much the flights cost for the primary passenger and the companion. As you can see in the screenshot below, the ticket for the first passenger cost $565.41, while the companion only cost $134.83. The companion fare is broken down into the $99 base fare plus $35.83 in taxes and fees. This works out to a savings of $430.58! Not a bad haul for a card with a $75 annual fee.
Alaska’s search engine shows Virgin America’s flights as well, so there is no need to do any special search tricks to find available flights.
Tips for Maximizing Companion Fare Value
Add in stopovers
Stopovers are explicitly allowed, and in fact are even highlighted as a feature on Alaska’s own website. In order to find an itinerary with a stopover, select the multi-city option on the search page. Then you can add in the first leg, determine the length of desired stopover, and select the departure date for the 2nd leg the corresponding number days in the future. Just as with a standard search, eligible flights will be denoted with the little red icon.
Save on first-class travel
Companion fares are not eligible to book directly into first-class, however it is still possible to use it to save on first class travel. Complimentary elite upgrades are available close to departure, and certain fares classes can be upgraded further in advance. Alaska’s search engine has the capability built in to find upgradeable fares during the booking process.
On the search engine page where you enter your companion fare discount code, select an “upgrade type” from the drop down menu (see screenshot).
Upgrade eligibility is determined by fare class, and eligible fares may not be the cheapest available flight for a given origin and destination. Each type of upgrade has different restrictions. You may want to consider this option because in some cases the fare premium is very low (less than $100) to book into an eligible class. The reason this can be so lucrative is because the companion fare doesn’t change (still just $99), so only the first passenger has to pay the premium. The companion can benefit from an upgrade if they redeem miles, redeem a guest upgrade, or have their own elite status.
Book Roundtrip Travel
The companion fare can be used on one way tickets, but obviously, those tickets are going to be cheaper than a roundtrip fare, therefore reducing the savings. However, since we know that stopovers are allowed, you could organize the trip as a series of one-way segments and use the returning flights later. While this may not be feasible for every traveler, for those with more flexibility this is a way to potentially wring extra value out of this benefit.
New Opportunities with the Virgin America Merger
Alaska has historically been a west coast focused airline that has gradually been expanding eastward. The merger with Virgin America accelerated this process significantly. Now that the companion fare is eligible to be used on Virgin American flights, there are new routes available for cardholders. In addition, there are now more flights per day between many of the major cities than before. Virgin was focused on transit between major hubs and didn’t have its own network of regional jets to feed passengers into the larger cities. Below is a sample booking from SFO to JFK for this July. As you can see from the screenshot, the only nonstop flights available are operated by Virgin American, none by Alaska. While Alaska operated this route already, seats on nonstop flights are in high demand, and now companion fare holders have more from which to choose.