Can you split payment for Alaska Airlines companion fare?

Alaska Airlines Companion Fare

Arguably the most valuable benefit of the Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa cards is the annual companion fare. This discount code allows the cardholder to add a companion to a reservation for just $99 + taxes/fees (starting from $121 total). Practically any Alaska Airlines itinerary seems to qualify — one-way, round trip, open-jaws, etc. The merger with Virgin America has only enhanced this benefit as cardholders can now book travel with either Alaska or Virgin America — or an itinerary including both — and add a companion using this discount code. We wrote about that development last week.

In response to a post introducing our complete guide to companion benefits, reader Larry commented to ask the following:

I am hoping to make use of my annual Alaska Airlines companion fare for $121 for the first time after several years. Paying a lot for the first ticket has always been a problem for me. My wife and I each have a Citi Prestige with $250 Airfare statement credit. Is it possible to split payment for 1 $500 plus Alaska ticket onto 2 Citi cards?

Larry’s question led us to do a little research about the ins and outs of paying for your Alaska companion fare tickets.

Who can pay for the ticket?

According to the rules of the companion fare, the cardholder who receives the companion fare must be one of the travelers on the reservation or he or she must pay with a credit card in his/her name. From Alaska’s companion code FAQs:
Who can use my companion fare discount code?
The Mileage Plan™ member who owns the companion fare discount code must either be one of the travelers or the purchaser of the reservation. If the member is allowing two travelers to use his or her companion fare discount code, then the member’s name must match the name on the credit card used to purchase the reservation.
So this much is very clear: You can pay with any card in the companion fare holder’s name.  Larry could definitely use his Citi Prestige card to pay for the entire itinerary to which he is applying his companion fare code, and he would receive his $250 annual Citi Prestige air credit. As long as Larry is traveling on the itinerary, per those terms, his wife could pay for the ticket on her Prestige card to receive her annual $250 travel credit.  But Larry wanted to be able to use both his Prestige card and his wife’s. Alaska doesn’t have a way to split tender between two credit cards online and the Alaska rep with whom I spoke on the phone told me that the companion fare can only be booked online. However, I had a solution in mind…….

Alaska MyWallet Solution

Alaska MyWallet with 0 balance
Alaska is known for having a very generous change and cancellation policy. Changes are free 60 days or more before departure even with no elite status, and cancellations can be deposited into your Alaska Airlines “My Wallet” account. Essentially, if you book a flight and cancel more than 60 days in advance, you receive airline credit that is good for a year from the date booked.  Travel Codex has a great post on this from a couple of years ago. My first thought was that maybe it would be possible for Larry to book a dummy ticket using his account but paying with his wife’s Prestige card. I thought he could then cancel it and receive a credit that he could use to pay for the companion flight.
Update: Reader Elizabeth provides a data point that purchasing Alaska Airlines gift certificates did not trigger the Citi Prestige travel credit. This is consistent with another data point I then discovered here. At this point, the method above looks like the way to go, but we will provide another update after testing it.
Of course, Greg immediately thought of a much easier, less convoluted method: How about if Larry just added credit directly to his My Wallet somehow?  Could he use those funds to pay for a companion fare?  If he could, this would mean that Larry’s wife could theoretically buy a $250 Alaska Airlines gift card and give it to Larry to apply towards the companion fare. Larry could then pay the remainder on his Prestige card and end up with $500 in Citi travel credits to cover a significant portion of his desired flights.
 
To test this theory, I purchased an Alaska Airlines gift card. Alaska is the selected airline on one of my Business Platinum cards, so I used that card and received a statement credit for my $50 e-gift card purchase. While I didn’t have travel credit left to use on my Citi Prestige card (already used it for 2017), I am confident that it would automatically trigger the travel credit on that card.
 
Alaska Airlines e-Gift cards take 24 hours to become active, so I was not able to add the gift card to My Wallet immediately (I tried, but it gave me an error message telling me that the gift card would not be active until XX:XX the next day, exactly 24 hours from purchase). Once the card became active, I added it to my Alaska Airlines My Wallet.
 Alaska MYWallet with 50
The next question was whether or not those funds could be used to pay for a companion fare ticket. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that My Wallet funds can be used to pay for all or part of a ticket, as you can see here:
All Alaska Itinerary MyWallet 1

Not necessarily a stellar deal, I just threw together an itinerary for illustration.

However, that round trip wasn’t the first itinerary I searched. Alaska had just announced the ability to book Virgin America flights with this benefit, so I first searched an itinerary mixing both carriers. I was surprised at the result (maybe I shouldn’t have been):
Alaska Virgin Mixed Itinerary No My Wallet 2

Again, ignore the price — the itineraries are just to show how it works.

You’ll notice that the “Use My Wallet funds” check box is greyed out/not available for selection. I discovered that My Wallet funds can not be used for an itinerary that includes Virgin America. I was somewhat surprised by this since Alaska added the ability to use the companion fare in conjunction with Virgin America flights. However, once I read the “My Wallet” terms and conditions, I found this:
  • My wallet credits may be redeemed at alaskaair.com for air travel on flights operated by Alaska Airlines flights 1-999, 2000-2999, and 3300-3499.
According to those terms, you can not use MyWallet funds (including gift cards added to MyWallet) to pay for any Virgin America flights, whether with or without a companion fare code.

The takeaway

Larry asked a good question that led us to determine that you can use gift cards as a way to split payment for a companion fare over more than one credit card, but you can not pay for itineraries that include flights operated by Virgin America. Still, a good trick to have in the back pocket for a situations like this. One additional question that came to mind was how Citi Prestige travel protection benefits would be affected. According to my understanding of what I’ve read and this One Mile at a Time post, I believe you can still receive the full trip delay protection benefit when only paying part of the fare on your Prestige card (as Larry would be doing in this case), but trip cancellation would only apply up to the amount charged to your card (i.e. not the full benefit since $250 of the fare was paid with a gift card). I would encourage you to do your own due diligence if this is a concern for you and consider putting the entire trip on one card if full coverage is of key concern for you.

About Nick Reyes

Nick Reyes is a (fairly) regular guy with an animalistic passion for maximizing the value of miles and money to travel the world in comfort and style. There is little in life that he loves more than finding a fantastic deal and helping you shop smarter & harder to achieve your travel dreams.

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Comments

  1. Very useful post, that begs another question: can the Alaska My Wallet be used to capture the Chase Ritz $300 incidental credit and “store” it for future use, since they’ve really cracked down on reimbursing airline gift card purchases?

    Will this sequence work?
    a) buy a refundable fare with another credit card
    b) purchase a paid upgrade with the Ritz
    c) cancel the upgrade and refund the fees to Alaska MyWallet
    d) refund original ticket to credit card

  2. I purchased an Alaska Air gift certificate with my Prestige about a year and a half ago and did not receive the statement credit. Didn’t even code as travel. American Express codes differently from MasterCard. Only using the card to book the flight directly triggered the credit.

    • Well thank you for the data point. I will update the post. Looks like my original solution to buy and refund a ticket would be the answer then. I’ll confirm that with a personal test and update again. Thanks again!

  3. Thanks for looking into this and testing it out. My wife and I have had multiple Alaska cards over the last 4 years. Each card has had a new companion pass available each year and we have never been willing to buy an expensive ticket to get a cheap one. But this approach would make use of the companion pass and also be a great way to use the $250 Citi airline credit × 2.

  4. Slightly related question. If I use the boa Alaska companion pass to buy 2 economy tickets on a virgin America flight, is there a way to upgrade to first with Alaska air miles?

  5. Fyi, if you want to use Alaska MyWallet funds on a Virgin flight, if there is an Alaska flight on the same route (say SEA-SFO), you can book the Alaska flights using the MyWallet funds. Then do a change to the reservation and switch the flights to the Virgin flights.

    No fees as long as you are 60 days out. May also work to change the route (if Alaska doesn’t have a flight on the Virgin route), but haven’t tried that.

  6. I was checking on my Ultimate Rewards account, and I can purchase a round trip ticket on Alaska Airlines from EWR to OGG for $950 or 63,320 points. Buying directly from Alaska Airlines for the same flight costs $884, but that would get me two tickets with my companion pass. Using United points, it would cost 45,000 for one ticket, 90,000 for two tickets.

    Is there a way for the companion pass to kick in via the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal? That way, I could use one set of UR points AND get a companion ticket. Too much to hope for?

    • No, you can’t use the companion ticket in conjunction with the Ultimate Rewards portal. The companion certificate is actually a coupon code. You can only book it through Alaska.

      What I suppose you could theoretically do is use your Chase points to buy an Alaska ticket for an $884 trip that is more than 60 days from now and then cancel the ticket with Alaska. I believe the funds would get returned to your Alaska wallet, which you could then use towards the companion fare (provided there are no segments on Virgin America involved in either itinerary). Assuming you could book another ticket that costs exactly the $884 that you need in order to have the credit to book the flights you want, that’s 58,933.33 Ultimate Rewards points.

      If there is saver economy availability on United, you should be able to transfer your Ultimate Rewards to Singapore and book it through Singapore Airlines. Then, economy class would be 35K round trip for 1 person or 70K for 2 people. So that’s another option if you don’t want to monkey with booking and cancelling flights. Make sure that the United availability is the saver-level and not something that is available exclusively to cardholders or elite members (log out of your United account when searching).

      Hopefully that gives you a little food for thought.

  7. Do you know of any cases where people were able to cancel then draw from their Alaska wallet? Isn’t there also a UR transfer to Korean Air that has cheaper rewards flights to Hawaii? I guess the worst case scenario would be to purchase the tickets with my Chase card for $884, then use UR points as cash, which would set me back 88,400 points, less the 2,652 points I would earn by buying them with my Chase card.

    1. Attempt the Alaska wallet approach = two tickets to Hawaii for 58,933 points
    2. UR via Singapore = two tickets for 70,000 points
    3. UR via Korean Air = two tickets for 50,000 points
    4. UR points as cash = two tickets for 85,748 points

    Did I miss any options?

  8. My wife and I both have companion passes. we use it every year to go to Hawaii with our 2 kids. Previously I always booked using our B of A Alaska credit card. I’m thinking of using my Chase Business Ink for payment this year instead (it’ll give 3 pts/$, which is similar to the 3 miles/dollar for using the AS B of A card, but will give me more flexibility for use)

    However, since we’re not flying 1st class, we won’t get the free luggage benefit unless we use our B of A cards. I could book one ticket +companion using the Ink card and another using the AS B of A card (since we’ll only checkin 2 bags for all 4 of us). However, is there a way I can use the Ink card for the majority of all the purchases and only put a minimum on the B of A card to trigger the free bag benefit? not sure how minimal ($1) is needed to trigger the free bag benefit.

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