When First Class is Cheaper Than Coach: The Alaska Air Visa Companion Pass

This year I’ve been planning a trip to Hawaii around the holidays and as many of you know airfare prices have gone through the roof.  With airlines cutting back flight schedules and fuel prices relatively high, I don’t expect any relief in airfare prices in the near future. As such, I’ve been checking fares regularly from Chicago to Hawaii in December, which have been $1,000+ on the days that I want to travel.

I’ve considered redeeming miles, but the only availability I can find are 80,000 miles for a Standard Award on United and 90,000 miles for an Economy AAnytime redemption on AA. Obviously, this is a horrible redemption value vs. simply paying $1,000 for this flight. Redeeming 90,000 miles for a $1,000 flight equates to a redemption value of just over a cent per mile (1.11 cents/mile to be exact), which is way below my 2 cents/mile target.

I must add that I am very hesitant to wait until the last minute to book these flights as we have a bunch of family meeting us there and I’m not confident that Saver Award space will open up close to departure, so I’m in the mindset that buying a ticket is likely my best option.

After doing some research I discovered a little known and little used benefit of the Bank of America Alaska Air Visa. Every year you are a card member you get a free $99 companion ticket discount code, which can be redeemed on both economy and first class flights! Here are some of the details of the companion pass:

– Valid on any fare class and any cabin

– Two seats must be available on the flight

– Companion books into the same fare class as the main travler

– Both travelers earn miles on the flights

– Travel must be on Alaska flights only

– Valid for one-way or round-trip travel, but not open jaws (the Bank of America site says it is for round trip travel, but the terms and conditions on the actual certificate do not limit it to round trip only)

From my actual certificate in my Alaska Air account

My experience redeeming the pass

When searching for flights I discovered that coach fares to Hawaii were around $1,400 round trip, but first class was just $300 more at around $1,700. Even after taxes and applying the $99 companion certificate, my total cost for two round trip tickets was less than $2,000 total ($990 each). Considering that AA and United were charging more than $1,000 just for a round trip ticket in coach, this was a complete no-brainer! My only issue was, since we were connecting in Seattle or Portland, searching for first class availability on all segements was a bit cumbersome. The reason being that Alaska would display the fare as first class even if only one of the two connecting legs had first class available. For instance, if the ORD-SEA had first class open, but the SEA-OGG leg did not, it would display the price as first class, which was completely useless to me. I mean who wants to pay a first class fare and only sit in first on the domestic leg??  You wouldn’t know you would be sitting in coach until you added the flights to your cart and were about to check out (very deceptive). The way I got around this problem was just searching for the SEA-HNL leg (ignoring the ORD-SEA leg), identifying the flights I wanted and assuming that the ORD-SEA leg would have first class seats open (of course it would be).

It took me about an hour to find the flights I wanted with all segments in first class, and I ended up booking two round trip flights on peak travel days around the holidays for less than $1,000 each, which was cheaper than the coach flight I was planning to buy on United!

The best part is that my flight is fully refundable, and I will earn a ton of miles for this trip:

1 – 1,000 bonus miles for booking a flight on AlaskaAir.com using my Bank of America Visa Signature Card.

2 – 6,000 miles for charging the tickets to my Alaksa Air card (3 miles per $1 on all qualifying Alaska Airlines flight purchases)

3 – 13,000 flight miles earned (50% bonus for first class travel)

In summary I will earn 20,000 miles for my trip, which is 80% of the way to a domestic round trip award. In fact, I value Alaska Miles at 1.7 cents/mile, so the 20,000 miles I’m earning are worth $340. If you subtract that from the $990 I paid for one first class flight, I only paid $650!

Other sources besides myself agree that the Alaska Air Visa might be worth owning, just for this companion certificate. According to View From The Wing, there is no companion certificate more valuable the Alaska Companion Pass, and The Points Guy bestows the virtues of the Alaska Air Visa on AwardWallet.

Despite the fact that the sign up bonus is only 25,000 miles, this might be a good card to have just for the companion pass benefit.

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