I get a lot of questions about the Alaska Airlines companion fare provided each year you pay the annual fee on your Bank of American Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card. Sometimes people come up with ideas that don’t make any sense to me, but then I’m usually a pretty straightforward guy when booking tickets. Feel free to be more creative — I’m used to it.
On the other hand, I have tried enough test cases that I’m getting pretty good at predicting what will and will not work. So here’s my guide to everything I know about the companion fare.
You can use the companion fare for just about any ticket involving travel on Alaska Airlines or Horizon Air.
One way, round trip, open jaw, multi-city, whatever. You can use the companion fare for any ticket so long as there are no codeshares or partner flights. There are very few routing rules, which 99% of people will not encounter. I’ll get to that in a minute.
You need to book economy class.
A few years ago, Alaska removed the ability to use the companion fare on first class tickets. Some people think this was a huge blow. However, I find that upgrades are pretty easy to obtain.
The companion fare is just a discount code.
The companion gets an ordinary ticket booked into an ordinary fare class, just like the primary traveler. The companion just pays less. Unlike most companion fares issued by airlines or credit card issuers, there are no blackout dates or special restrictions you need to worry about. There only need to be two fares available.
All the usual rules apply.
On your receipt, you can see the fare class purchased. If I booked a Y fare, then my companion will have a Y fare. If I booked a G fare, then my companion will have a G fare. It doesn’t matter that the companion paid less. Upgrades, changes, cancellations, and earning miles are all possible like with any other ticket.
You don’t need to book round-trip.
Although the terms and conditions say the fare must be for round-trip travel, this isn’t strictly true. You can book one-way travel. You can book open jaws. You can book multi-city travel between completely different cities. I’ve confirmed that Austin to Seattle, Portland to Maui, and Honolulu to Sacramento — all on different dates — will qualify.
If you want to build in stopovers, you can book AUS-SEA//SEA-OGG//OGG-SEA//SEA-AUS all on different dates. (Although I wouldn’t really call this a stopover. It’s four one-way fares booked on a single ticket.)
Remember, you don’t have to enter the segments exactly as you fly them. Alaska only offers four segments in its multi-city search tool, which can be constraining. Use these wisely to force a stopover, but otherwise let the search engine find connecting cities on its own. You could enter AUS-PDX as one segment to force a stopover in PDX and pick a result that includes a connection (not a stopover) in Seattle.
What you can’t do is book travel that is clearly not anything close to round-trip. In the example of AUS-SEA//PDX-OGG//HNL-SMF we flew west and then flew east. Kinda sorta maybe round-trip, even if we never hit the same city twice.
For an ordinary ticket, you can use the multi-city search tool to book something bizarre like AUS-SEA//SEA-OGG//AUS-PDX, flying west twice in the same ticket. However, trying to apply a companion fare to this itinerary will return an error.
You can book any fare class within the economy cabin.
You can book G, L, K, Y, B, M, or any other fare class. Keep this in mind if you want to upgrade as upgrade rules vary with the fare class you purchase. The companion will still pay $99. If the difference between the cheapest fare and an upgrade-eligible fare is $50, then only the primary traveler needs to pay it. The companion still pays $99.
You can change your ticket as much as you want.
If you change your mind you can change your reservation to completely different cities and dates while keeping the companion fare intact. You can also re-fare your ticket into a more expensive fare class that makes you eligible for an upgrade. I screw this up all the time and often book cheap fares that are ineligible for instant upgrades, so I have to call back (or go online), and pay an extra $10 or $20 to become eligible for a Gold Guest Upgrade or instant MVP Gold upgrade.
You cannot cancel your ticket without losing the companion fare.
Alaska has a pretty generous cancellation policy. Even if you aren’t an elite member, you can cancel your ticket 60 days or more before departure and use the funds for a future trip without fees. However, canceling a ticket will lose the companion fare. I strongly recommend you change the ticket instead. If you don’t know when you’re going to use it, then change the ticket to something fare out in the future and change it again when you make up your mind.
I once used a companion fare to go to Dallas, changed my mind, and rebooked it to San Francisco for some far out date. San Francisco is cheap, so the extra funds went into MyWallet. Then when I decided what I was going to do I rebooked it for Maui and took those funds right back out of MyWallet to pay the difference since Hawaii is more expensive.
Coming up… How to get more than one companion fare and upgrade it, too!