What You Need to Know About Free Airline Companion Tickets
For many travelers, the best airline credit cards offer free companion tickets. Learn how this major card benefit can help lower the cost of traveling with a friend or partner.
By Randi Gollin | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor
5 Min Read | October 1, 2021 in Travel
For those who travel with company, some of the best airline credit cards offer members free or deeply discounted companion tickets.
While you’ll always have to pay some level of taxes and fees, some cards cap these costs at around $75.
Depending on the card, you can usually qualify through membership renewal, points accrual, welcome bonuses, or by meeting spending requirements.
Rules and restrictions – including blackout dates and cancellation policies – vary from program to program.
Whether you’re organizing your next family reunion or an anniversary getaway, chances are that cost factors into your travel plans. Companion tickets or companion passes – a perk offered by some premium airline credit cards – can help keep your budget in line and, in some cases, make that dream trip possible. Specifically, these certificates can help you either get a complimentary or deeply discounted ticket, lowering the cost of a second seat dramatically.
Still, companion tickets aren’t totally free, and other considerations may impact your journey. So before packing your bags or finalizing your itinerary, here’s what you need to know about getting and using complimentary companion tickets with a credit card.
As its name implies, a companion ticket – also referred to as a companion pass, companion certificate, or companion fare, depending on the airline’s language – is an extra ticket offered to card members by some of the most coveted travel credit cards and co-branded airline credit cards. This second ticket can’t be acquired on its own without the primary card member first purchasing their own ticket.
Depending on the card issuer and airline, companion tickets are usually available at a base rate or, in some cases, for next to nothing. Taxes and fees are always attached – but those costs may be capped, some at rates of $75.
For example, a base rate companion ticket might be a round-trip itinerary in the main cabin or first class within the 48 contiguous United States, with the cost for the second ticket totaling $100 plus taxes and fees. A complimentary companion ticket, on the other hand, might cost no more than a maximum of $75 to cover taxes and fees, depending on the card issuer’s rules.
Every airline has its own set of rules and restrictions, and carriers may offer different kinds of companion tickets valid for different seat classes or destinations. But here’s how they work in a general sense:
- A card member earns a companion ticket (more on acquiring companion tickets below).
- When selecting a flight, the airline must have two tickets available on a particular flight, whether one way or round trip.
- In most cases, the primary card member must first purchase an airline ticket before they can redeem their companion pass.
- After purchasing their ticket on an eligible flight and redeeming the pass, the primary card member can then add a fellow traveler on their booked flight.
Finally, it’s important to note that many programs require a companion to be booked on the same itinerary as the primary card member and in the same class of service. So if you want to put yourself in first class and your sister in coach, well, that probably won’t fly.
Airline credit cards have different prerequisites that card members must meet to earn that prized companion ticket. Here are some of the primary ways you can qualify:
- Membership anniversary: Many credit cards automatically issue an annual free companion ticket on or after the card member’s anniversary date or once the card is renewed.
- Spend to earn: Some airline credit cards reward members with a companion pass for spending a minimum amount on eligible purchases. For example, you might earn a companion pass after an annual spend of $30,000, redeemable for any class of service.
- Points to perks: In some cases, points or miles can also make that companion ticket a reality. Some airline credit card programs require that you rack up a minimum number of points – say 125,000 – within a calendar year to earn a companion pass.
- Welcome aboard: Occasionally, an airline miles credit card will offer a companion fare at a deep discount as part of its introductory bonus.
Nothing lasts forever, and that includes the companion tickets you can earn with your eligible credit card. Most co-branded cards require that members redeem a companion ticket by a certain date, usually printed on the certificate. Again, different carriers, different expiration dates.
Some programs give you a wide berth, allowing you the luxury of two years from the issue date to use your companion ticket. More often, the pass may be valid for a year from the date it’s issued, or for the rest of a calendar year, through the next card renewal date.
Complimentary companion tickets can be a win-win deal for both card members and their chosen travel buddy. Still, many come with a few caveats that may not be top of mind when you’re booking your trip.
- Blackout dates: Some airline credit cards have no blackout restrictions, allowing you to fly any time, while others apply blackout dates. If companion passes can’t be redeemed on your preferred travel dates, it might put a dent in your plans.
- Upgrades with restrictions: Multiple airline credit card programs allow you to move your award ticket up one class, say, from coach to first class. Depending on the airline, you might be able to upgrade your ticket and your companion’s. But it’s likely you’ll both need to be members of the airline’s loyalty program.
- Cancellation policies: Oftentimes you can change your destination and dates for both tickets. Cancellations may be trickier and depend on the airline. Some airlines let you cancel your itinerary, with the funds funneled back into your account and a new certificate issued within a week or two. With others, cancellations mean you’ll forfeit your companion ticket – so be sure to read the fine print.
Free companion tickets are a bona fide perk of being an airline credit card member. While they’re not totally free – taxes and fees are always attached – they can lower the cost of a second seat dramatically. To get the most out of your almost-free guest ride, it pays to understand the ins and outs of how they work, from qualifying for a pass to expiration dates, restrictions, and cancellation policies.