Update: This post references an American Express Business Platinum benefit that has changed. As of June 1, 2017, the pay-with-points rebate has changed to 35% for your chosen airline or any airline in business or first class. Additionally, there is a cap of 500,000 rebated points annually.
Thanks to Cathay Pacific’s ho-hum new credit card, I spent some time looking at Cathay’s award charts and I stumbled upon something potentially very interesting… Companion Ticket Awards. Companion Ticket Awards might be an awesome way to book a couple into one of the best business class products around.
Here’s the relevant section of the award chart:
The existence of these awards immediately brought a number of questions to my mind…
- What are the requirements of the primary ticket in order to get a companion ticket? Can you book the primary as an award? If they must be purchased, do discount fare classes count?
- If we must buy the primary ticket, are there any requirements to how we buy it? For example, could we pay with points with an Amex Business Platinum card in order to get a 50% point rebate?
- Are companion tickets capacity controlled in the same way as regular awards?
- Are there limits to the number of companions you can add?
- Can these awards be booked with partner airlines or just with Cathay Pacific?
- How big of a discount are these companion ticket awards compared to regular awards?
I was really excited about this because it seemed like a way to save a lot of points, and it may be a work around to limited business or first class award availability. And since the Amex Business Platinum card has made it possible to pay with points at a reasonable rate for discount business class tickets, this could be a huge win. Imagine finding an international business class fare on Cathay Pacific for, perhaps, $3000. In that case, a couple that travels together could do the following:
- Use the Amex Business Platinum card to buy the first ticket for 150,000 points (initial price would be 300,000 points, but half would be returned).
- The primary passenger would then earn miles for the flight. It would be really great if they could earn miles with a lucrative program such as Alaska Airlines, which is a Cathay partner (see: There’s A Mileage Run Renaissance Thanks To Alaska Mileage Plan!)
- Purchase a Cathay Companion Ticket Award for maybe 75,000 points. The point price depends upon the one-way distance of travel even though this is a round trip award. The companion would cost no more than 115,000 points for the longest possible itinerary.
Depending upon how cheap of a flight you can find, and how many miles you earn, the net result could be a very cheap way for a couple to fly business class and without having to worry about award availability! Or, so I thought. I then started researching…
How big of a discount?
I compared the free ticket awards to the companion ticket awards and found that the discount ranges from 25% to 38.9%:
Business Class Awards vs. Companion Awards:
First Class Awards vs. Companion Awards:
One Companion Per Primary Ticket
I then found a couple of details in the Asia Miles Glossary page. Only one companion is allowed per primary ticket:
Companion Ticket Award
This award allows your family or friends to travel together with you in First or Business Class as a companion. The “companion” does not need to be listed in your Redemption Group. You must buy a First or Business Class ticket for yourself before redeeming a ticket for your companion. Only one companion is allowed per ticket and the companion must travel on the same date, flight and class of service as you.
Bookable Online for Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon flights
I then found that the Asia Miles FAQ suggests that Companion Tickets can be redeemed online:
23. How do I redeem a Companion Ticket Award or Upgrade Award?
You can redeem a Companion Ticket Award or Upgrade Award online with Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon at www.cathaypacific.com up to 3 hours before the scheduled departure time. Please click here for further details.
Primary ticket must be purchased
The Asia Miles Terms page had more detail. You must purchase the primary ticket — award tickets are not eligible. Tickets that do not qualify include “Redemption, prize, group, industry/agency discount or other free tickets”.
- If Members purchase a First or Business Class ticket for travel, they can also redeem Mileage Credits for a companion to accompany them. The companion must travel on the same flight, date and class of service. Companion Tickets are only applicable on round-trip flights.
- Mixed class and mixed carrier Flight Awards are not applicable.
- The companion passenger need not be a Nominee in the Member’s redemption group.
- A Member can redeem one Companion Ticket for every purchased ticket that is printed with the Member’s name.
- When making a claim for a Companion Ticket, the Member must provide all his/her travel details and ticket details of the fare paying ticket to AML.
- Redemption, prize, group, industry/agency discount or other free tickets cannot be used to qualify for redemption of a Companion Ticket.
- The rules governing purchased tickets also apply.
I found it very interesting that the terms do not say anything about limited availability of companion ticket awards. Contrast that with the terms for Upgrade Awards, which state: “Upgrade Awards are subject to availability at the time of Upgrade Award reservation.”
Is it possible that these Companion Ticket Awards act like the Southwest Companion Pass which has no availability restrictions?
More availability than standard awards, and discount fares OK
Google didn’t uncover much about these awards, but I did find an old, but somewhat helpful Flyertalk thread.
It books into the award bucket, although empirically I seem to recall that it somehow had a higher priority than a straight award or upgrade ticket, so there’s quite a good chance of getting the seat even if the system is showing no availability.
And kittiyut wrote:
1. You don’t have book “FULL FARE” Biz or first to qualify for companion eligibility. Even “I” fare will do.
2. All you have to have is a reserved reservation to start the process.
3. Once you’ve booked your companion seat, you’ll have 1 week to pay for the primary ticket and issue the award.
4. Nobody mentioned miles… you do need Asia miles you know? Just not the full shebang. Roughly half. For instance, HKG-LHR-HKG in biz requires 75,000 miles
(instead of the normal 140,000)
5. You pay airport tax – same amount as you would for the primary ticket.
If christep was right, then the bad news is that there does have to be award availability, but the good news is that it may have higher priority than regular awards. And if Kittiyut was right, discount business class tickets qualify.
Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, and British Airways?
I think I found the answer to whether other airlines are included right on the Cathay Pacific Award Charts page. This table suggests that Cathay Pacific (CX), Cathay Dragon (KA), and British Airways (BA) are eligible. That assumes that the heading “First and Business Class companion travel” means the same as Companion Ticket Awards.
I’m hoping that readers with real experience booking these (or attempting to book these) will chime in with additional details. I’ll then update this as needed. For now, though, here are the tentative answers to the questions I first asked:
Q: What are the requirements of the primary ticket in order to get a companion ticket? Can you book the primary as an award? If they must be purchased, do discount fare classes count?
A: The Primary ticket must be purchased — it cannot be an award. Discount fare classes are fine.
Q: If we must buy the primary ticket, are there any requirements to how we buy it? For example, could we pay with points with an Amex Business Platinum card in order to get a 50% point rebate?
A: I don’t believe there are any restrictions in how the tickets are purchased. Buying through Amex Travel with points should work.
Q: Are companion tickets capacity controlled in the same way as regular awards?
A: Maybe. It appears that they are capacity controlled, but there may be more award availability for companion tickets that for regular tickets.
Q: Are there limits to the number of companions you can add?
A: Yes, you can only add one companion per paid ticket.
Q: Can these awards be booked with partner airlines or just with Cathay Pacific?
A: It looks like they can be booked with Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon, and British Airways (but I’m hoping to get verification for the latter). Keep in mind that British Airways charges massive fees on award tickets and these will most likely be passed along. Cathay Pacific fuel surcharges tend to be much more reasonable.
Q: How big of a discount are these companion ticket awards compared to regular awards?
A: Discounts range from 25% to 38.9% fewer points, but most are around 35% off.