Are Free Companion Tickets Worth the Credit Card Fee?

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A lesser known perk of travel rewards credit cards is the free companion ticket, which provides you with a free or reduced-cost second fare when you pay for one ticket at full price. A number of cards offer this benefit, but while it sounds great, there are downsides, and not all of them are worth your time, effort, or the sometimes hefty annual fees involved (between $99 and $550, depending on the card). Here’s how to figure out whether earning and redeeming companion tickets is worth the effort.

Companion tickets typically they fall into two primary categories.

Complimentary companion tickets

Complimentary companion tickets come as a benefit of the card without requiring you to complete additional requirements in order to earn them—but this doesn’t mean they’re worth it for everyone. You’ll have to consider a few things.

  • Is it a free complimentary ticket or a reduced-rate ticket? Some credit cards offer a BOGO ticket (you’ll still pay taxes and fees on the free ticket) while other cards offer a $99 companion fare. Either option can still represent a savings, but you’ll want to factor in the upfront costs when deciding if the benefit is actually a good value in relation to the card’s annual fee.
  • Does the airline fly where you want to go? If you don’t live near an airport served by the airline or if the airline doesn’t fly to your desired destination, a complimentary companion ticket won’t do you much good.
  • Do you fly that airline often enough to use an annual companion certificate? If you only fly an airline once per year or every other year, you have a borderline use case at best. Especially if your companion ticket has a fee associated with it, you’ll need to be paying for a more expensive airfare to actually save money.
  • What class of service is the companion ticket valid for? If you are looking to fly business class and the companion ticket is only valid for economy, it’s not going to be a good fit for you.
  • How easy is the companion pass to use? Some companion passes are easier to use than others. Some can be booked online while others may require a phone call. Some require specific fare class seats to be available, while others can be used for any available seat. Make sure you understand the restrictions you’ll be bound to ahead of time.

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Spend-based companion tickets

Some companion tickets require you to log a certain amount of spending in a calendar year or cardmember year to earn them. In addition to the considerations above, you’ll want to think about the following questions:

  • Is earning the companion ticket really important to you? Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. If you don’t know that you’ll use a companion ticket, it might not be worth it to try to earn it in the first place. A card’s other benefits can still mean that the card makes sense overall (though that’s not always the case).
  • Do you spend enough per year on a credit card to earn the companion ticket? Companion certificates often require a high amount of spending to earn. You’ll need to verify if the spending needs to be completed during the calendar year or the cardmember year. It’s not going to make sense to spend more than you normally would (or more than you can afford) to to earn a companion pass.
  • What are you giving up to earn the companion ticket? Even if you do spend enough on your credit card, consider what you’re giving up. What other cards could you put that spending on, and what could you earn? Is the companion pas your best bet? One of the simplest comparisons is to a 2% cash back credit card. If earning a companion pass takes $10,000 in spending on a hypothetical card, you could earn $200 in cash back by putting that spend on a 2% cash back card instead.

Alternative: The Southwest Companion Pass

The Southwest Companion Pass is the companion pass of companion passes. You don’t have to earn it through a credit card (through credit card spending can help you earn it). Instead of being valid only one time, like most companion passes, it’s valid for the remainder of the year in which you earn it and the entire following year. For example, if you earn the pass in August 2022, it’ll be valid from August to December of 2022 and all of 2023.

The Southwest Companion Pass can be used to bring a companion on a paid ticket or an award ticket for only the cost of taxes and fees ($5.60 for most flights within the U.S.). You can also change your companion up to three times each calendar year. To earn the Southwest Companion Pass, you need to earn 125,000 Rapid Rewards points in a calendar year. You can do this through credit card spend, flying Southwest, or a combination of the two.

Bottom line

Companion tickets can be a great perk if you know how to use them. But before you sign up for a new credit card with an annual fee or go out of your way to earn a companion pass, make sure you understand the restrictions and requirements—and that you’ll actually be able to use it.

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