Note: This offer has changed and might not be available to some Platinum Card users. Instead, American Express now offers companion certificates to users of the Delta Platinum SkyMiles Credit Card and the Delta Reserve Credit Card. Check out the latest offerings for the Platinum Card from American Express here.
One of the most popular mileage credit cards is the Platinum Card from American Express, which has seen a spike in new applications due to periodic promotions offering huge amounts of bonus miles upon the opening of a new account. American Express credit cards are known to come with a large number of benefits, including travel discounts and special perks for cardholders, and one of those benefits is the Companion Fare. But how can you actually get it? More importantly, is it worth the trouble?
How Does the American Express Companion Fare Work?
There’s good news and bad news about the Companion Fare program, and you should know both before signing up for the Platinum card – especially if the Companion Fare is your main reason for applying.
Under the program, if you buy between one and eight international business class, premium economy, or first class ticket(s), you can get a second ticket for free. There’s no limit to the number of times you can use the benefit, and there are no blackout dates. That means even at peak times or during holiday seasons and weekends, the offer will be honored.
The Amex program website also points out that you can earn frequent flier miles with the airline, whether you pay for your tickets with the card, or use your American Express points to book the ticket.
That all sounds like a fantastic deal, and it’s led many people to sign up for the American Express Platinum Card. The American Express Companion Fare Program (also known as the International Airline Program) has some caveats, but if you pay attention to the rules surrounding the program you can get the second ticket free. The only question is whether you should even bother – and it turns out that the answer is a lukewarm “maybe, but probably not.”
What’s the Bad News?
In order to receive the Companion Fare, you need to purchase an international ticket in business class, premium economy, or the first class cabin. The ticket can only be booked through the American Express Travel Service, at 1-800-525-3355. If you use your travel agent, book online, or use a service such as Expedia or Travelocity, the flight won’t be eligible for the Companion Fare.
You’ll also need to book with one of the ‘over 20 participating airlines,’ which means you might not get to fly on your preferred carrier. Both American Airlines and United Airlines are missing from that list, so if you were hoping to net some Advantage miles on your long flight, you might be sorely disappointed.
The program may not limit your travel dates, but it will limit where you’re traveling from and where your destination is. All flights must originate in the U.S. or Canada, and while all the major cities and hubs are represented, many regional non-hubs are left out, meaning that medium-sized cities like Spokane, WA; Eau Claire, WI; and Albuquerque, NM don’t make the list of approved origination points. If you aren’t near a hub or major city like Seattle, Minneapolis, or Dallas, you might have to take a connection flight to a hub before you’re able to use the Companion Fare benefit.
One of the most disappointing features of the program is that only refundable tickets are eligible for the Companion Fare. While most international flights are highly expensive, a refundable ticket is even more so – it’s often the single most expensive ticket an airline offers. In many cases, buying two regularly-priced coach tickets with miles or miles+cash is actually cheaper than buying a refundable first-class ticket to get the second ticket free, effectively defeating the purpose of the program.
As icing on the cake, you should expect to pay a $39 fee for each flight booked. While it might seem like it’s small potatoes compared to the cost of a second ticket, there’s something about having to pay the fee on top of all the other restrictions that could leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Do the Research and Strategize
There are select situations in which the Companion Fare is a good deal – but it might only save you a few hundred dollars on a good day. If you’re already paying thousands or even tens of thousands on a ticket, that $400 or so might seem a lot less worth it. Before booking any travel, do the research, and make sure the deal promised is the best deal you’ll get. Chances are, you might be able to find better.