Airline credit cards have a sometimes overlooked benefit that can greatly reduce your travel costs.
Airfare can be expensive, with the average domestic ticket in 2013 costing $385, and that’s before fees like checked bags and premium seat assignments. For a family of four, that would average out to $1,540 on airfare alone for a domestic trip.
There are many tools and websites out there to help you find the lowest-priced airfare possible for your trip, but there is a secret weapon to help you save even more than the lowest advertised price you will find in most searches.
The secret lies with a perk that comes with some airline co-branded credit cards. I’m not talking about using the miles these co-branded cards earn to secure award tickets; I’m talking using discounted companion certificates.
Several airline credit cards provide a companion certificate either at the time you open the account or annually as part of the ongoing benefits package to help persuade you to pay the annual fee and keep the card in your wallet. I’m sure that many people just toss the companion certificates along with the junk mail, but if you travel with multiple people, the certificates can be used to save hundreds of dollars on airfare every year.
Two US Airways MasterCard $99 companion certificates
The US Airways MasterCard awards a certificate good for up to two guests to travel with the cardholder on a US Airways-operated flight within the lower 48 and Canada for $99 each, plus taxes and fee. The cardholder’s flight must cost a minimum of $250, and I have seen some blackout dates for these certificates on peak travel dates.
If you use the $385 average for the price of the first ticket, then three people could travel for about $600 total on US Airways flights using the companion certificates instead of the $1,155 the flights might otherwise cost.
Do keep in mind that the US Airways credit card and this companion benefit will go away with the US Airways and American Airlines merger, but it is available at least through 2014.
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature $121 companion fare
The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature provides one companion certificate for $121 ($99 plus taxes and fees), which allows a companion to fly with the cardholder on a round-trip coach fare operated by Alaska Airlines.
This can be a great way to save on flights to Alaska, Hawaii or anywhere served by Alaska Airlines. You get one certificate shortly after account approval and then another annually when your account renews. To make things even better, both the companion and account holder earn Alaska miles when using the companion certificate.
Delta Airlines companion in economy or first class
The Delta Airlines Reserve American Express card offers a companion certificate that can be used for economy or first class travel on Delta-operated flights in the lower 48, and all you have to pay are the taxes on the flight. These certificates do have restrictions and are valid only in certain booking fare classes, but they can save you hundreds of dollars in some situations.
The similar Delta Platinum American Express comes with a companion certificate that can be used for economy travel in certain fare classes, and again all you have to pay are the taxes on the companion’s flight.
A great thing about the Delta Airlines companion certificates is that they are transferable, meaning you can give one to a friend or family member to use in the event you don’t get a chance to use it yourself. Unlike with some other companion certificates, the person flying on the certificate will not earn airline miles with Delta, and the certificates are not awarded until after the first year of cardmembership.
Having an arsenal of tools to help protect yourself against high airfare is very important for thrifty travelers, and I have personally saved more than $1,000 on airfare in recent years thanks to companion certificates courtesy of my airline credit cards.