Best Airline Companion Tickets of 2017

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In a Nutshell

We set out to find the best deals around for airline companion tickets, weighing offers, fees, rates and perks. With some of the research out of the way, you can focus on the fun stuff instead!

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Most of us could use a getaway every now and then, whether we’re visiting family across the country or jetting off around the world on a bucket list-worthy adventure.

But traveling is expensive — especially with the holidays right around the corner. This pressure can send budget travelers scouring the web for discounts and perks. One of the more popular air travel incentives? Companion tickets.

Companion tickets allow you to bring someone along for the ride at a discounted price, sometimes for only the required fees and taxes. In exchange, though, be prepared to navigate through a maze of routes, classes of tickets and costs — and that’s even before comparing offers from different airlines and credit cards.

Learn how to get the most out of your companion ticket

To start the homework for you, we combed through the fine print of companion tickets from some of the more popular airlines and credit cards, and ranked them from top to bottom.

The winner? Southwest Airlines, the carrier with near-cult status among some frequent flyers.

It earned the top mark because of its:

  • Low fees for the Companion Pass, with travelers paying just $5.60 in fees per one-way flight.
  • Great perks, such as being able to fly with a companion multiple times in the first year.
  • No flight change fees (an awesome service available to all Southwest customers).

Our rankings

Credit Karma’s Final Ranking

Score (out of a possible 100)

Airline

Credit Card(s)

1. 76 Southwest Airlines
2. 59 Ritz-Carlton

Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card

3.  51 Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines Visa® Business Card

4. 50 Delta Air Lines
5. 48 Aeromexico
Aeromexico Visa® Card
AeroMexico Visa® Secured Card
6. 43 Hawaiian Airlines
Hawaiian Airlines® Business MasterCard®
7. 36 Lufthansa
Miles & More® World Elite Mastercard®
8. 35 British Airways British Airways Visa Signature® Card

9. 27 American Airlines

Our analysis

To achieve the above ranking, we looked at nine factors that we felt mattered most to budget or average travelers, from the all-important spending requirements to annual fees and perks such as seat upgrades.

Next, we framed the story around four key questions:

  • How much do you need to spend to qualify for the companion ticket?
  • After you qualify, how much will you pay for the companion ticket, including taxes and fees?
  • How often can you fly with a companion?
  • Where can you fly together?

Here’s what we learned:

  • Pay attention to where your companion ticket is valid. Just because the airline flies to a destination doesn’t mean your companion is eligible to fly there with you.
  • The Southwest Companion Pass may be used on any flight that has an open seat. But the companion tickets offered by American Airlines and Delta Air Lines are only eligible for flights within the continental U.S.
  • Hawaiian Airlines flies to Asia, but your companion discount is only valid on flights to the Aloha State. The same kind of restriction applies with Aeromexico. Your companion may only tag along on flights to Mexico.
  • Most airlines won’t honor the companion ticket unless you pay for your own ticket. But Southwest Airlines and British Airways allow you to purchase your ticket with rewards.
  • Don’t be fooled into thinking the companion ticket is free after you meet the spending requirements. Some airlines charge a small fee to redeem the companion ticket, and they also require your companion to pay taxes and fees.
  • British Airways and Lufthansa each warn that taxes, fees and surcharges alone may cost more than $1,000 on international flights.

 

How to maximize your travel rewards

Methodology

This ranking measures which airline companion tickets are best for budget travelers as determined by Credit Karma editors. We used data gleaned from the airlines and credit card issuers mentioned here. It is not a statistically significant ranking. Instead, we put ourselves in the shoes of the budget traveler, searching for more affordable ways to travel around the world. The final ranking shows which airlines fared best.

Each airline companion ticket is scored on a scale of 1 to 100. As you’ll notice, there is no perfect companion ticket. The best one (Southwest’s Companion Pass) only scored a 76. So there’s room for improvement across the board.

In cases in which a single airline offered multiple cards that could be used to earn a companion ticket, we graded each card individually. We then combined the results and gave the airline an overall score.

The final grades are based on the airline’s overall score. The specific credit cards listed in the rows below an airline are there for background information to show how we came up with the final grades. (Please note that we only considered one card each for British Airways and Lufthansa, but we listed the same card twice, because each card has different sign-up bonuses depending on how much you spend).

Our analysis was broken down into four tiers:

Tier 1

This looks at how difficult it is to earn a companion ticket and then actually use it. If you can’t qualify for the companion ticket because the spending requirements or ticket prices are too high, then the rest of these considerations don’t matter all that much.

  • Spending requirements: We measured how difficult it is to meet the spending requirements to obtain the companion ticket. (This is separate from the spending requirements to obtain the sign-up or welcome bonus). There are several types of spending requirements: 1.) Airlines that offer a companion ticket after you open a credit card with them. 2.) Airlines that offer a companion ticket after you open a credit card with them and make a single purchase or pay an annual fee. 3.) Airlines that offer a companion ticket after you open a credit card with them and spend a certain dollar amount. 4.) Airlines that offer a companion pass after you collect a certain number of points or miles.
  • Price of companion ticket: We measured how much it will cost you to purchase a companion ticket after you qualify by meeting the spending requirements. This includes the companion ticket price, as well as any taxes and fees you may be charged.
  • Price of your own ticket: We looked at how much you’ll spend on your own ticket, and whether you may use points or miles to purchase your own ticket when redeeming the companion ticket. Airlines that allow you to purchase your ticket with miles and still use the companion ticket scored higher because the overall cost for both people to travel is lower.

Tier 2

This tier looks at how much value you can get out of a companion ticket once you qualify for it.

  • How often can you fly with a companion? Flying multiple times in a year is more valuable than flying once a year.
  • Where can you fly with a companion? Keep in mind, we’re not only measuring where an airline flies, but more importantly, where you’re allowed to fly with your companion. For example, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines fly around the world but only allow companion ticket redemptions on flights within the continental U.S. On the other hand, British Airways allows Travel Together Ticket redemptions on any flight around the world. We made the assumption that you’re leaving from the continental U.S.

Tier 3

Here we compare the sign-up bonus to the annual fee.

Tier 4

This tier is all about the perks. These may be nice features worth taking into consideration, but they are not as important as figuring out whether you can qualify for a companion ticket and how much value it could bring you.

For the most detailed explanation of our scoring by tiers and more of our supporting data, email author Tim Devaney at tim.devaney@creditkarma.com.


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