Companion Tickets: Not Always Worth The Trouble

I just flew to San Diego and back on a $99 companion ticket that my husband gets each year with his Delta American Express card. On our return, I found an offer of a “free airline companion ticket” from American Express Publishing that had arrived in the mail. 

In the first case, we saved some money — but the deal wasn’t as good as it first appeared. And in the second case, after doing some research online, I figured the ticket wasn’t worth the trouble of signing up for it.

As it turns out, these offers don’t always offer value. And when they do, it can take some work and flexibility to squeeze the value out of them.

First, the $99 companion ticket from the Delta SkyMiles American Express card. We’ve been getting these vouchers for years, and they are reasonably easy to use. But there are restrictions. Both parties must travel on the same itinerary in the 48 contiguous states on only Delta flights (no partners or code shares).

The companion ticket costs only $99 but taxes and fees are extra, so we paid $150 for my ticket. That’s $120 less than my husband’s ticket cost, a nice savings.

But my flight earned no frequent flier miles. The 5,000 miles we lost would have been worth $50 to $100, depending on how you calculate their value. So it was , in my view, a savings of $20 to $70 — pretty close to a wash. I had some hopes of reaching elite status on Delta, so I may miss those miles even more.

On top of that, Delta’s American Express gold card costs $95 a year. (The card does have other advantages. It earns miles on purchases and a change in Delta’s rules will waive the $25 checked bag fee for card members starting June 1.)

Now, let’s consider the American Express Publishing “free airline companion ticket” offer. The pitch is that you get two free issues of Travel + Leisure magazine and the companion ticket voucher for $2.99. The restrictions are described on a company Web site at www.companionticketinfo.com but were explained more clearly a few years ago by David Bear of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In short, the companion ticket is free but taxes and fees are extra. And the original ticket must be purchased at a flat rate that may exceed the cost of two tickets bought independently by a careful shopper. Also, many small airports are excluded.

So approach these deals with caution. If you want the magazine or the credit card, by all means sign up. But I’m not sure I’d bother with either for the sake of the companion ticket alone.

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