When I lived in the 49th state, one type of plastic reigned supreme: Alaska Airlines credit cards.
Wherever you were — checking out at the grocery store, paying your bar tab — these shiny blue cards would get flashed around, their benefits touted by all the Alaskans I knew.
As it turns out, Alaska Airlines credit cards can be a wise choice for residents of the lower 48, too. With the airline’s reach throughout the United States, Mexico, and Central America, as well as some unique and generous perks, these cards are popular for good reason.
Here’s what you need to know.
The Basics of Alaska Airlines Credit Cards
Unlike some other airlines (cough, Southwest, cough), Alaska keeps it pretty straightforward when it comes to its credit cards.
There’s only one personal card available: the Alaska Airlines Visa card (available as either an Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card, if your starting credit limit is $5,000 or above, or an Alaska Airlines Visa Platinum Card otherwise — we’ll be discussing the Visa Signature version in this post).
Aside from that, business owners can also apply for the Alaska Airlines Visa Business card. (Even if you don’t think you’d qualify for a business card, you might. Here’s how to tell.)
Bank of America is the credit card issuer for both the business and personal versions. The cards are very similar, and share the following features:
- 40,000 bonus miles, plus Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare™ after spending $2,000 within the first 90 days after account opening
- Annual companion fare from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from just $22) on account anniversary
- 3X miles per dollar on Alaska Airlines purchases; 1X on everything else (with no mileage cap)
- One free checked bag for you and up to six other guests on the same reservation
- No foreign transaction fees
The annual fees are similar, too: $75 for the personal card, and $50 per business (plus $25 per card, including the first card) for the business version.
5 Reasons to Love Alaska Airlines Credit Cards
For frequent flyers who live on the west coast, Alaska Airlines credit cards have some very attractive features. Here are five of them.
1. Companion fare
Ask any Alaska Airlines cardholder about her favorite perk, and she’ll probably cite the companion fare. That’s because it’s basically a 2-for-1 airline ticket!
I’ll let Alaska Airlines explain exactly how it works: “The companion fare entitles the cardholder to purchase one round-trip coach companion fare on Alaska Airlines from $121 (USD) ($99 base fare plus applicable taxes and fees from $22 depending on your flight itinerary) when traveling with another guest on a paid published coach airfare on the same itinerary, booked at the same time.”
Translation: When traveling with a buddy, you can get two tickets for the price of one (plus at least $121 in fees).
When I lived in Alaska, many people used this perk to fly to expensive destinations like Hawaii. If you purchased an $800 ticket to Maui, you could purchase your companion’s ticket for as little as $121 — saving you almost $700.
When you first get an Alaska Airlines card, your companion fare will appear in your Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan account six to eight weeks after you complete the minimum spend.
From there out, as long as you keep the card (and pay the $75 annual fee), your companion fare will appear within the first two billing cycles after your account anniversary.
A few more things to know about the companion fare:
- It applies to economy flights booked through alaskaair.com.
- Flights must be entirely on Alaska Airlines or Virgin America metal.
- Your companion must fly the exact same route as you.
- You cannot use miles to purchase the flight — you must use cash or credit card.
- Both you and your companion will earn Alaska miles for the flight.
- There aren’t any blackout dates.
- You must book your companion ticket within 12 months of its issue date (before it expires), though your actual travel dates can be later than that.
- Although you can give your companion fare to somebody else, you must pay for the reservation if you’re not traveling.
- You can still upgrade to first class, but you and your companion must both be upgraded.
2. Strong signup bonus
When you sign up for one of the Alaska Airlines cards and spend $2,000 in the first 90 days, you’ll receive both a 40,000-mile introductory bonus and a code good for one companion fare (for the personal Visa Signature and business cards).
Depending on where you’re coming from, 40,000 miles might be enough for a round-trip flight from the contiguous U.S. to Hawaii or Alaska. To see where your miles could take you, check Alaska’s mileage awards chart.
Business owners could even apply for the personal card and the business card. By meeting the minimum spend for both, you’ll earn 80,000 miles and two companion fares — enough for several trips!
3. Range of airline partners
Alaska Airlines, which bought Virgin America in 2016, now flies to more than 115 destinations in the United States, Mexico, Canada, and Costa Rica.
And, while it doesn’t belong to one of the three main airline alliances, it has an impressive range of partners:
|Alaska Airlines Partners|
|Aer Lingus||American Airlines||British Airways|
|Fiji Airways||Finnair||Hainan Airlines|
|Icelandair||Japan Airlines||Korean Air|
|Ravn Alaska||Singapore Airlines|
You can use Alaska miles with any partner in that list, including some seriously luxurious airlines like Cathay Pacific and Emirates, which give you incredible value for your Alaska miles. You could, for example, fly from the U.S. to Asia in first class on Cathay Pacific for 70,000 miles one way — a flight that, in cash, would cost almost $10,000. That’s almost 14 cents per mile!
4. Free bags
When you’re a cardholder, you’ll get your first bag free on Alaska Airlines flights (even if you didn’t pay for the flight with the card).
Since Alaska Airlines charges $30 for the first checked bag, that could lead to significant savings. If you’re flying with your partner and two children, that could save you $240 round trip, easily eclipsing the annual fee.
5. Solid frequent flyer program
Although some of the most beloved features of Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan (like free changes) went the way of the dodo last year, it’s still a great frequent flyer program.
One perk: You’ll earn miles based on how far you fly — not on how much you paid — which is a rarity among airlines these days. (Don’t forget you’ll earn 3X miles per dollar spent at Alaska Airlines from your credit card, too.)
On rewards flights, Alaska offers one free stopover per one-way trip, or two stopovers per round trip. Translation? You could fly from Los Angeles to Auckland on Fiji Airlines, with a multi-day stopover in Fiji — essentially getting two vacations for the price of one!
3 Downsides of Alaska Airlines Credit Cards (Plus Recommended Alternatives)
Even if you live near an airport served by Alaska Airlines, here are three things to consider before grabbing one of these cards.
1. Low earning on non-Alaska purchases
Sure, sure: These credit cards offers 3X miles per dollar on Alaska Airlines purchases, which is more than the majority of co-branded airline cards that offer 2X. That’s a huge benefit if you’re spending a lot on Alaska Airlines flights.
That said, the cards only offer 1X mile per dollar on everything else. When compared to earning powerhouses like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Review) — which earns 3X on travel and dining (including Alaska Airlines purchases) — and The Platinum Card® from American Express (Review), which earns 5X on eligible airline purchases — you can see why it’d be harder to rack up miles with the Alaska Airlines cards.
Even other co-branded airline cards, like the Citi®/AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® (Review) and the United℠ Explorer Card (Review), recently increased their earning potential in non-airline categories: The former gets 2X miles per dollar at restaurants and gas stations, and the latter gets 2X miles per dollar at restaurants and hotels.
2. No annual fee waiver
Although many cards waive the annual fee for the first year, the Alaska Airlines credit cards do not. BofA will charge the $75 annual fee on your very first statement.
Keep in mind, however, that you will receive a companion fare after spending $2,000 in the first 90 days, which could be worth far more than $75. And you’ll get one of those every year after your account anniversary. $75 is actually a bit lower than most airlines cards too, which are around $100.
If you don’t want to pay an annual fee right away, consider the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, Citi®/AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® (Review), and United℠ Explorer Card (Review). Or, look into the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card (Review), a solid general travel rewards cards whose $95 annual fee is waived the first year.
3. No lounge access
Unfortunately, the Alaska Airlines cards don’t come with any lounge access.
If you’d like widespread lounge access, consider airline-agnostic rewards cards like the Amex Platinum or Chase Sapphire Reserve (read our head-to-head review of the two cards here).
Or, for airline-specific lounges, consider the United℠ Explorer Card (Review), which comes with two free lounge passes per year, or the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® or the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express, both of which come with lounge access (and high annual fees).
Is an Alaska Airlines Credit Card Right for You?
If you couldn’t tell, I’m a big fan of Alaska Airlines and its co-branded credit cards.
If you live in the 49th state, or one of the airline’s hubs — Seattle, Portland, Anchorage, San Francisco, Los Angeles — this card’s a no-brainer. That’s because you’ll be able to easily take advantage of the companion fare, which will more than make up for the annual fee.
Since the card doesn’t earn a lot on non-Alaska Airlines purchases, however, you should round it out with another travel rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Review), which earns better rewards on everyday spending.
If you don’t live near an airport that Alaska serves — and won’t be able to use the companion fare — opt for a credit card from your local airline instead. Here are the best credit cards for air travel and general travel rewards.
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