While award chart sweet spots and premium class redemptions tends to attract most of the spotlight, one less-discussed way to save money on travel is by taking advantage of the annual companion fares that get offered as a perk on certain credit cards.
Like the name suggests, companion fares are redeemable when at least two people are travelling together, offering a free or discounted ticket for the second passenger when you book for two passengers at once. Generally speaking, companion fares can only be used when both passengers are booked under the same booking reference, and are therefore travelling on the exact same routes and classes of service.
If you tend to travel as a couple, companion fares can be a fantastic way to essentially get up to a 50% discount on your flights; furthermore, loading up on more than one companion fare and “multiplying” their benefit is one of the best ways to reduce costs if you regularly travel together as a family or party of four, six, eight, etc.
While there aren’t too many credit cards in Canada offering companion fares as a perk, I thought it’d be worth going over the ones that do exist and how you can take full advantage of them.
The WestJet Annual Round-Trip Companion Voucher
WestJet’s annual round-trip companion voucher comes as a perk of the WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard. As part of signing up for this card for an annual fee of $119, you’ll get 250 WestJet Dollars (WSD) redeemable towards the cost of any WestJet flight, free checked bags on WestJet flights, and the companion voucher itself.
When redeeming the companion fare, the cardholder will pay full price for the round-trip ticket, while the second guest will pay:
$99 for travel within Canada and the continental US
$299 for travel to/from Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and Hawaii
$399 for travel to/from Europe
Note that the above amounts cover the base fare only, and you must still pay for the taxes and fees on the ticket separately.
The companion voucher expires one year after it’s issued (you have to book by this date), and at that point you’ll be given a new annual companion voucher for the following year. Therefore, as long as you can save more than $119 by using the companion voucher every year, you’re getting fantastic value out of holding onto the WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard.
Speaking of the WestJet credit card, the 250 WSD you earn as a signup bonus can also be combined with the companion voucher to achieve some next-level savings. The signup bonus can be used towards either the first traveller’s full fare, or the second traveller’s $99/$299/$399 discounted base fare. However, the guest travelling on the companion voucher is not eligible to earn WestJet Dollars from their travel.
To redeem the companion voucher, you simply tick the “Companion voucher” box when searching for flights on the WestJet website.
You’ll then have the option to apply your companion voucher if you’re searching for at least two passengers.
Now that we’ve gone over how the companion voucher works, what are some of the best ways to redeem it?
I personally think that the best use of the companion voucher is within North America, where the second guest travels for only $99 in base fare. Take your average transcontinental flight, booked a few weeks in advance. These fares tend to hover around the $500 mark:
You’ll notice in the screenshot that the base fare comprises $368 ($184 × 2) of the $533 total fare, with the remaining $165 consisting of various taxes and fees. If you were to redeem your companion voucher to travel as a duo on this fare, you’d end up only paying $99 + $165 = $264 for the second traveller, thus incurring a savings of $533 – $264 = $269.
Clearly, the higher the original fare, the greater “value” you’re getting from the companion fare. Let’s say you and your partner need to travel across the country on short notice, departing a few days from now and coming back a few days later. Unfortunately, searching for both award availability on Aeroplan and Member Exclusive fare availability on WestJet turn up empty-handed. Naturally, these last-minute fares are going to much higher…
…but the companion fare can sweeten the deal significantly, reducing the $1,176 base fare on the second traveller’s ticket down to only $99, and thus saving you a whopping $1,077!
Generalizing this idea further, the WestJet companion fare can be a particularly useful money-saving tool for those of you who live outside of Canada’s major cities, where the cost of travelling outside of the region tends to be higher:
What about WestJet’s flights to other destinations, like Europe, you might ask? Sure, you’d have to pay a higher amount of $399 for the second traveller, but wouldn’t that still help you score some major savings compared to the usual cash prices of $800–1,000 on these flights?
The answer is… not really. To see why, look at how WestJet’s European fares are constructed:
See how the base fare only comprises $446 ($256 + $190) of the overall $983 fare? That’s barely more than the $399 you’d have to pay when redeeming the companion fare, and you’d still be on the hook for the remaining $537! Essentially, by redeeming your companion fare in this way, you’re only saving $446 – $399 = $47 with your companion fare, which you could easily outdo by redeeming it on a domestic or US-bound flight instead.
Of course, last-minute travel would again be an exception to the rule, when the fares are so high that the $399 companion fare to Europe would still help you incur a nice chunk of savings compared to what you’d otherwise pay:
Lastly, while these examples were designed with a travelling couple in mind, they can certainly be generalized to a family of four or more that needs to travel together. If, say, both parents were to pick up a WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard, you could double-up on the savings for the entire family!
Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare
The other major companion fare that’s offered as a benefit on a Canadian credit card is the “Famous Companion Fare” by Alaska Airlines, which comes as part of the MBNA Alaska Airlines MasterCard. Both the World Elite and Platinum Plus versions of the card are eligible to earn the companion fare.
Your companion fare is added to your Alaska account soon after opening the card, as well as every year thereafter when you renew the credit card. When redeeming the companion voucher for travel on Alaska Airlines-operated flights, the cardholder will pay full price, while the second passenger will pay US$99 in base fare, plus any applicable taxes and fees (which begin at US$22, hence why this perk is sometimes described as a “US$121 companion voucher”).
Unlike the WestJet version, the Alaska companion fare cannot be redeemed in conjunction with Alaska miles, although both travellers can earn miles as a result of travelling on the companion fare. Travel must be on Alaska Airlines-operated flights only, and can’t be on any of Alaska’s partner airlines.
To redeem the companion voucher, look for the discount code associated with it in your Alaska Airlines account…
…and apply that code when searching for flights.
If there are valid flights available, you’ll see a small symbol in the search results indicating that the companion fare has been applied.
The Alaska companion voucher will be most useful to those of you living in Western Canada, where Alaska flies to Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, and Kelowna from their hub in Seattle. For example, let’s look at a round-trip flight to New York booked a few weeks in advance (the price is displayed in US dollars):
On this booking, the second passenger would pay only US$99 for the base fare, instead of the actual base fare of US$440, thus incurring a satisfying savings of US$341.
Of course, you’ll want to make sure that redeeming the companion voucher is actually the most cost-effective option available to you, since Alaska Airlines flights might be more expensive than other airlines in the first place. If that’s the case, then your “real” savings will be less than the savings we calculate on paper, as above. Furthermore, don’t forget about the possibility of redeeming miles for travel when it makes sense to do so when making your decision.
Generally speaking, the ideal use of a companion voucher is to lower the cost of an itinerary that’s already your best possible option. If that’s not the situation you find yourself in, then you need to decide whether it’s better to redeem the companion voucher anyway, just to use it up, or to book the better alternative for this trip and save the companion voucher for future trips.
If you live outside of Western Canada, it can be tougher to get value out of the Alaska companion voucher, or even to redeem it at all, because Alaska’s route network doesn’t reach as far as the Eastern Canadian cities. Indeed, when I held the MBNA Alaska credit card as a Torontonian, I ended up letting all my Alaska companion vouchers go to waste.
However, if you can make your way down to Boston, New York, or Detroit, you could potentially score some pretty big savings on Alaska flights, perhaps by using the companion voucher for a cheaper trip out to Hawaii…
The British Airways Companion Award eVoucher
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the RBC British Airways Visa Infinite grants you a Companion Award eVoucher when you spend $30,000 on the card within a calendar year.
Unlike the other two companion tickets, the British Airways Companion Award eVoucher is usable only when you’re redeeming Avios for a British Airways flight originating from and returning to Canada, not when you pay for a revenue ticket. When you redeem Avios for two passengers travelling on British Airways, the second passenger won’t have to pay any Avios at all.
While that might sound like a good deal on the surface, anyone familiar with the British Airways Avios program will know that the fuel surcharges on British Airways long-haul flights can be a real killer. Indeed, RBC themselves even mention this in their terms and conditions so as to avoid giving cardholders the wrong idea that they’re getting anything close to a “free” ticket:
So that kind of takes the excitement out of this perk, because if you’re paying $600 in taxes and fees per person to get to London (in addition to the 32,500–50,000 Avios required for the first passenger’s ticket, depending on whether it’s peak or off-peak), then you may as well just buy an economy class ticket for about $700–900 ticket and call it a day.
I could see this voucher potentially being useful for someone who wants to fly business class direct from Canada to London. For example, a round-trip from Toronto to London Heathrow in British Airways business class would cost between 100,000 and 120,000 Avios, depending on whether it’s peak or off-peak.
If you paid 100,000 Avios, plus around $2,000 in taxes and fees, to fly round-trip direct business class for two people in total, I suppose it wouldn’t be the worst deal in the world compared to the retail price; as a bonus, you’d get to fly British Airways’s sleek-looking Club Suite product on their new A350-1000s, which is launching on the Toronto route in October 2019.
However, aside from this very niche redemption, you’d be far better off redeeming Aeroplan miles to Europe and paying $0 in fuel surcharges on airlines like Swiss, Brussels Airlines, and TAP Air Portugal.
Overall, it’s fair to say that the Companion Award eVoucher on the RBC British Airways Visa Infinite is rendered pretty ineffective by the crazy surcharges that British Airways is known for. And throw in the fact that you need to spend a whopping $30,000 on the card to get it in the first place, and it’s most likely not going to be worth your attention.
A few shout-outs as well to the Amex AeroplanPlus Platinum Card (annual 2-for-1 short-haul Aeroplan reward within North America), the Amex AeroplanPlus Reserve Card (same thing, but including long-haul flights as well), and the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege (annual 50%-off companion ticket on Air Canada business class fares), although I don’t think the companion perks on these cards are quite enough to justify their hefty annual fees.
Overall, the WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard and the MBNA Alaska Airlines MasterCard offer the best companion voucher perks here in Canada, with the former taking top spot due to WestJet’s nationwide coverage compared to Alaska’s limited presence in Western Canada. If you routinely travel together as a couple or a family, it’s definitely worth looking into whether you can take advantage of a companion fare to save money when booking your trips.