Visa Infinite: a path to elite status for couples?

Visa Infinite Couple

Until recently, the only Visa Infinite card available in the US (to my knowledge) was the CNB Crystal Visa Infinite card (which currently has a 50K signup offer).  Unfortunately, that excellent card is extremely hard to get.

Now, Chase has made a splash with two new Visa Infinite cards: The new Ritz Carlton card and the soon-to-be-released Sapphire Reserve.  Both are expensive ($450!), but they make up for that in the first year with spectacular signup bonuses: 3 free category 1-4 nights with the Ritz card, and 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points with the Sapphire Reserve.

Those who have signed up for 5 or more new cards in the past 24 months might have a hard time getting the Sapphire Reserve card, but please read this post for a suggested path to success.

While we don’t yet have solid evidence for this, The Ritz Carlton card should be pretty easy to get.  The previous version of the card did not have Chase’s 5/24 rule applied to it and so we can hope that the same is true for the Visa Infinite version.  Is it worth getting?  In exchange for the $450 annual fee and $5K spend, you’ll get 3 free nights at Ritz Carlton, 10K bonus points if you add an authorized user, $300 in airline fee credits that can be used both this calendar year and next, and quite a few other handy perks.

ritz_card_art

Plus, you get access to a very nice Visa Infinite feature: A repeatable $100 Companion Airfare Discount.

$100 Companion Airfare Discount

The companion airfare discount is simple:  You get $100 off domestic round-trip flights booked for two or more people.

Julian, author of this blog’s “Bet You Didn’t Know” series, wrote about the $100 Companion Airfare Discount back in January: Bet You Didn’t Know: A Repeatable Companion Airfare Discount with the CNB Crystal Visa Infinite.  Julian’s key finding was that airfare prices offered through Visa Infinite were usually identical to those found elsewhere, so the $100 discount truly leads to $100 in savings.  Of course, that post had a very limited audience: those that have or could possibly get the CNB Crystal Visa Infinite card.

Now, things have changed.  As explained above, Chase is busy introducing Visa Infinite cards to the masses.  While we don’t yet know for certain that the Sapphire Reserve card will offer this feature, the $100 companion discount is an advertised perk of the Ritz card.  I’m pretty sure the benefit will be available to both cards.  UPDATE: The Sapphire Reserve does not offer the $100 Companion Airfare Discount.

Mileage running as a dying sport

Mileage running is the art of flying in order to earn miles rather than to get somewhere.  The main point of mileage running is usually to earn airline elite status.  Most mileage runners seek out extremely cheap long-distance flights for this purpose.  It’s not at all unusual for a dedicated mileage runner to fly off to the other side of the world on a cheap fare and to return home without ever leaving the airport at their destination.

It used to be the case that mileage runners would earn not just elite qualifying miles, but also huge numbers of redeemable miles.  These days, though, now that AA, Delta, and United have begun awarding redeemable miles based on amount paid rather than miles flown, the benefit of mileage running with those airlines is greatly reduced.  You can still earn elite status with cheap, long distance flights (as long as you can work around the elite dollar requirements imposed by Delta and United), but you won’t earn many redeemable miles that way.  As a result, many who used to mileage run have since decided that it is no longer worth the effort.

The return of mileage running?

Most airlines let people earn elite status either through miles flown or segments flown.  For example, each of the big three airlines let you qualify for first tier status with either 25,000 miles flown or 30 flown segments.

With ready access to the Visa Infinite $100 companion airfare discount, it may now make sense for couples with lots of time on their hands to mileage run once again.

With the $100 discount, mileage running takes on a completely different form.  The new approach will be to seek out dirt cheap flights that will be close to free once the $100 discount is applied.  More often than not, these will be short, non-stop, same day out and back flights.  The idea is to fly as a couple and earn status as a couple.

Examples

I used Google Flights to find cheap fares (e.g. ~$80 per person round trip) on a number of routes and then checked the CNB Visa Discount Air website to see if two people could get $100 off those fares.  In most cases I was able to replicate the cheap fare within the Visa Discount Air website, but there were a couple of deals that I failed to reproduce.

Here are some examples of great fares I found (after the $100 discount was applied):

Chicago to Boston Round Trip for Two on American Airlines: $52.40

Visa Infinite Air Discount AA ORD BOS

Chicago to Boston Round Trip for Two on United Airlines: $41.20

Visa Infinite Air Discount UA ORD BOS

Los Angeles to Las Vegas Round Trip for Two on Virgin America: $41.20

Visa Infinite Air Discount VX LAX LAS

Is it a good deal?

Personally, I’ve lost interest in mileage running even if it’s cheap.  The benefits of earning elite status aren’t worth the pain of mileage running.  But, if you’re interested, and very flexible with dates, and live near an airport with dirt cheap flights, and if you have a partner to fly with, this just might work.

In the examples above, you can see that it is possible to book some round trip flights for as little as $41.20 for two people.  That means paying just $20.60 per person, or $10.30 per segment (assuming non-stop flights – you could do even better if you find cheap multi-stop flights).

At this price, you can theoretically earn first tier status for $10.30 x 30 = $309 per person.  Plus, you will earn redeemable miles for those flights.  Compared to old fashioned long-distance mileage runs, $309 is really cheap.  For example, if you alternatively flew 25,000 miles on flights priced at 3 cents per mile, you would pay $750 for to get the same level of status.

Is it feasible?

The “good deal” section above assumes that you pay nothing for your time off, transportation to the airport, meals, travel incidentals, etc.  So, depending upon your situation, that $10.30 per segment estimate may be way off.

Also consider that this plan relies on the availability of round trip fares starting at about $70 per person.  Will you be able to find enough of these fares to earn the level of elite status that you’re hoping for?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Wrap Up

The Visa Infinite Companion Airfare Discount truly does save real money in many situations.  And, it is theoretically possible to use the discount to mileage run as a couple, very cheaply.  That said, for most people it wouldn’t be practical to do so.  Personally, I think of it as just one of many options for finding discount airfare.  And, I’ve given up mileage running.  Except, of course, when I can do so at home

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

Pingbacks

Comments

  1. My understanding is that One must purchase tickets through a separate portal to take advantage of the Visa Infinite $100 discount on airline tickets. Tickets purchased through that portal may cost more, and, even if they don’t, you may receive bulk tickets that do not count toward airline spend. Moreover, in many cases, these bulk tickets do not qualify for first class or business class upgrades (with frequent flyer status). An increasing number of airline tickets sold through the Chase portal are such bulk tickets.

      • I have the card and booked 2 tix on Delta yesterday. The flights I was booking were just a tiny regional direct flight (all seats are the same). At booking, it gave me the choice between “Main Cabin” defined as “The cheapest fare available” and “Main Cabin” defined as “Eligible for seat selection. Full Medallion Benefits.” for + $0.00. As the price for the “upgrade” was $0, I booked that — seat selection being more important than mileage credit in this particular instance. The fare booked into T class, exactly what I was looking at on ITA. Haven’t flown yet, but I would expect to get full mileage credit.

        As Greg says, I’ve found a few instances where I couldn’t replicate the cheapest fares from ITA. I’ve also found a few where it was a couple of bucks cheaper on the Ritz booking engine. The vast majority of searches I’ve performed match ITA results exactly. I get the *sense* that it’s just working as a concierge/OTA service and not selling “bulk” tickets. It seems unlikely to me that Visa would be getting into that here — my pure guess would be that the Visa Infinite target market isn’t demanding deeply discounted tickets in order to be enticed to buy, so it would seem like a waste of resources to get into bulk tickets — not to mention that I can’t imagine they really want you to use this benefit all that much — why encourage it with more deeply discounted tickets?), but I’m not saying that from any position of real knowledge — totally just a “gut” feel. I could be totally wrong. After all, maybe that would help them profit on the sale of these tickets — so maybe future experience will prove me foolhardy.

    • Most of the flights I’ve priced through the booking site price out exactly the same as everywhere else. As I mentioned in this post, though, I did encounter a couple of situations where I couldn’t find an ultra-cheap fare.

      It’s certainly possible / likely that some of the flights will have been bought in bulk and won’t work the same for mileage accrual or upgrades as regularly priced fares. This depends on each airline’s policies. Sometimes it can actually be a good thing: http://rapidtravelchai.boardingarea.com/2016/08/09/aa-revenue-earning/

  2. Are Southwest flights available through their portal?

    As a family of 3 with the Companion Pass this would be a nice complement!

  3. Does Visa have any way to tell if the companion actually took the trip? Might be a way to lower fares for one person and just throwing away the 2nd ticket. In the examples you provided, you would be able to lower the cost for a solo round trip from $70.60 to $40.20 by throwing away the 2nd ticket. $20.10 per segment sure sounds enticing if you were just a few segments short of top tier status!

  4. Great post, thanks. When you say “repeatable” companion discount does that really mean $100 off an unlimited amount of times?!

  5. Does one of the passengers in the pair have to be the card holder?

    If you purchased two pairs of tickets flying the same route, would you get 2 x $100 discounts?

  6. This will last about a month before we see a minimum ticket price to activate the discount. It’s too good to be true and someone is going to lose a LOT of money.

  7. Could someone check if Hawaiian is an eligible airline on the Visa Infinite website, please? Would like to use the $100 of for inter-island flights…

  8. Can you use the $100 discount with Visa Infinite to book Spirit or Frontier travel? Sometimes Spirit has flights across the US, such as Los Angeles to Baltimore, for about $70 round trip. Sometimes Frontier has flights for $40 round trip. If you could use the $100 discount, then it would make some cheap flights even cheaper (or in the case of Frontier, free).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *