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When the NerdWallet writers came together to choose our best credit cards for 2019, there was one category that inspired a particularly intense debate: airline credit cards. In this case, naming a winner is not a simple case of which card offers the richest rewards and benefits. We also wanted a card associated with an airline that offered service to multiple destinations and a strong loyalty program.
This is how the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card earned top honors in this category in 2019. For those who can take advantage of the card’s benefits, its current value is higher than the competition. It also has a rich loyalty program, good airline partners, and – thanks in part to Alaska’s acquisition of Virgin America – routes that span the US You don’t have to live in Alaska to appreciate the value of this card.
However, you must frequent the routes offered by this Seattle-based airline for the card to be worth it. Alaska Airlines does not fly to all states, and even in certain states where you serve, your destination options may be limited.
But for those who can unlock its value, this $ 75-Annual fee card deserves your attention. Here’s why he triumphed in this hotly contested category this year.
Your escort fee is incredibly valuable
The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card offers something that makes it stand out from other major co-branded airline cards at the same price: an annual companion fee benefit. With this benefit, you can bring a companion on the same bus flight for as little as $ 121 ($ 99 plus taxes and fees from $ 22) when you book through Alaska Airlines. You get this benefit annually on your account anniversary, regardless of how much you actually use your card for purchases. This cannot be stressed enough: there is no other $ 75-annual payment cards that make it easy to save hundreds of dollars on flights each year.
“This cannot be emphasized enough – there are no other $ 75 annual fare cards that make it easy to save hundreds of dollars on flights each year.“
Let’s say you took a flight that would otherwise cost $ 800 per passenger. That’s not difficult to do when flying into a smaller airport or one of the airline’s far-flung destinations, such as Costa Rica or Hawaii. With the companion fare, you could potentially save $ 679 on your travel companion’s ticket. That would make the card’s annual fee seem miniscule.
The registration bonus is generous
In a field cluttered with credit card registration vouchers from competing airlines, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card has his thing. Your offer is twofold: Earn 40,000 bonus miles plus Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare ™ starting at $ 121 ($ 99 fee plus taxes and fees starting at $ 22) with this online offer. To qualify, make purchases of $ 2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account.
NerdWallet Values Alaska miles in 1 penny each. This is a reference value, drawn from real world data on hundreds of economic routes, not a maximized value. In other words, you should aim for award redemptions that offer a value of 0.9 cents or more of your Alaska miles.
The mileage portion of the bonus alone is sufficient to cover annual fees for multiple years, even before the companion rate offer is included. Just keep in mind that you cannot combine the companion fare with miles when booking a flight; can only be used to cover cash fees.
Other travel-friendly perks make it a keeper
When searching for the award for the best airline credit card from NerdWallet, we knew that flashy benefits alone weren’t enough to seal the deal. The winning card was also required to offer certain table benefits, such as waived baggage fees, bonus rewards on airline purchases, and no overseas transaction fees. And, of course, you would have to offer service to several destinations and a good loyalty program for the accumulated miles to be really useful.
“For a reasonable annual fee that’s about $ 20 lower than what you might normally find on other airline cards, the card’s strong benefits make it worth keeping.“
We discovered that the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card easily checked all those boxes:
Free checked bags: With this card, you can check one free piece of baggage for yourself and up to six other people on your reservation for a flight marketed and operated by Alaska Airlines or its subsidiaries. Without this benefit, your first standard checked bag would cost $ 30.
Bonus rewards on airline purchases: You will earn 3 miles per dollar spent directly on Alaska Airlines and 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases.
Discounts: Get 50% discount on day passes at Alaska Lounge and 20% cash back on all purchases on board Alaska Airlines when you pay with the card.
No fees for foreign transactions: You won’t pay more just to use this card abroad.
Service to various destinations: Alaska Airlines offers service to more than 115 destinations in the US, Canada, Mexico, and Costa Rica as of this writing. And because of its strong network of partner airlines, which includes Cathay Pacific and American Airlines, you can redeem miles on even more routes.
Solid structure of the loyalty program: With Alaska Airlines loyalty program, you earn miles based on distances traveled, rather than cash fees paid. Distance-based airline loyalty programs like this one, which make it easy to rack up miles, are rare these days.
For a reasonable annual fee of $ 75 – about $ 20 less than the annual fees you might normally expect on other airline cards – the card’s strong benefits make it worth keeping.
How we would improve this card
The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card It is an excellent airline card, but it is not perfect. If we could make some adjustments to improve it, this is what we would ask for:
“Adding a couple of new categories would make the card more attractive to use for everyday purchases.“
More rewards on daily purchases. Last year, both the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® and the United℠ Explorer Card added new bonus categories, making them more attractive to use for certain daily purchases. Currently, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card offers bonus miles only on Alaska Airlines purchases. Adding a couple of new categories would make the card more attractive to use for everyday purchases.
Exemption from the annual fee for the first year. The United℠ Explorer Card, Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® and the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card all waive their annual dues for the first year. We would love to see that benefit in the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card, also.
Should you get it?
The annual companion fee in the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card Helps you rise above the competition in terms of ongoing value. But of course, the best airline card for you depends on your trip. Although Alaska Airlines flies to several destinations, its service to certain parts of the US is limited; this could make the card less useful for some.
If you always travel alone and can’t use the companion fare, or if you rarely fly Alaska, other cards will prove more rewarding. But if Alaska is your airline of choice, this best-in-class card is worth adding to your wallet.