NerdWallet: How to get and use companion tickets—the ultimate travel hack for couples

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This article is reprinted by permission from NerdWallet.

Nothing beats a good old whisking-off-to-an-exotic-locale for romance.

Yet, while you may be a romantic at heart, you’re also a cheapskate — and the cost of two round-trip flights can make that bouquet of flowers seem pretty compelling by comparison.

Thankfully there’s a simple way to satisfy both your inner Scrooge and your inner Don Juan: companion tickets.

What’s a companion ticket?

They go by many names: “companion passes,”  “companion fares,” “companion certificates,” etc. And while they differ in the particulars, they all offer the same basic value proposition: two round-trip airfares for the price of one.

(Note that a “companion” can be the object of your heart’s desire, but doesn’t have to be. You won’t have to pass a test from “The Newlywed Game” at the boarding area.)

Sound too good to be true? Well, there are some caveats.

First, you generally have to pay the taxes and fees on the second ticket. So if the ticket is $100 plus $20 in fees, the total cost for both will come to $140, since you’ll owe taxes on the second one. Some companion tickets charge an additional fee on top of this, making them only useful for expensive flights.

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Second, you have to earn the companion ticket somehow. The airlines that offer them have different systems for doing this, but they can be broken into two general types: Credit card companion tickets and high-spender companion tickets.

Who should get a companion ticket?

Before we dive into the two ways to earn these tickets, here’s how to understand which one you should consider:

  • Are you a semi-infrequent traveler looking to avoid the sticker shock of an annual family trip? Consider a credit card companion ticket, which does just that.
  • Are you a constant traveler, either for business or pleasure and looking for some company on those lonesome hotel nights? Consider a high-spender companion ticket such as the Southwest Companion Pass.
  • Are you overwhelmed by the thought of dealing with all this? Does your long-term memory not have room for something called a “companion ticket?” Skip it! Save yourself the headache of not only managing it, but also reading the rest of this article.
Credit card companion tickets

Some airline credit cards include a single companion fare or certificate every year for cardholders. If you have one of these cards, you can book one trip every year with two seats for the price of one (plus taxes and fees).

Keep in mind: These credit cards all have their own annual fees. Notice how these fees keep stacking on top of each other? You still have to pay the card annual fee plus the normal fees on the ticket plus any fees associated with the companion certificate.

That’s all to say, these credit card certificates are a great way to offset one big expensive flight you take together each year. That could be a romantic Hawaiian getaway or just an obnoxiously expensive flight home for the holidays.

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The biggest reason against getting one of these credit cards (and their companion certificates) is if the only flights you’re expecting to take together in the coming year are cheap ones. A companion fare won’t do you an enormous amount of good for a New-York-to-Miami weekend.

Bonus: Some companion fares have lax definitions of “round-trip,” which means you can get four flights for the price of one if you play your (credit) cards right.

High-spender companion tickets

One of the best-known high-spender companion tickets is the Southwest Companion Pass. This pass lets you get a “free” companion airfare not just once (like some credit card one-offs) but as many times as you want within a year.

I’m still not sure who wants to spend that much time crammed in a seat next to their partner, but the financial upside of the Companion Pass is obviously huge. And that’s why Southwest LUV, -8.22%   makes it especially difficult to earn.

You can earn the Companion Pass by collecting 125,000 Southwest Points in a calendar year or taking 100 one-way flights. If you can’t earn the pass solely by flying a ton, your other option is to earn some or all of these points through a Southwest credit card.

In other words, don’t count on getting the Companion Pass this month — but if you plan ahead (and fly a bunch), you could give the gift of unlimited travel next year.

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Some other programs offer companion passes and discounts for high spenders, mostly through their credit cards, but Southwest’s is the most well-known for good reason. It’s an incredible value for those who fly a lot with their boo.

Companion ticket bottom line: It’s (probably) worth it

I just threw a lot of info at you, but here’s the gist:

  • If you’re new to the travel hacking game, consider starting with a credit card that offers a companion certificate.
  • If you’re flying a ton on Southwest or spending a ton on credit cards, consider a high-spender approach to earning your companion ticket.
  • Use a one-time companion ticket to offset the cost of the most expensive flight you’ll take together in the year.
  • Remember: Flying together has its perks, like shoulder-assisted naps.
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Sam Kemmis is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @samsambutdif.

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