Two premium credit cards and one airline “club” feature twofer airline tickets, all of them in business class plus some in first and economy, too. The idea seems attractive—buy one ticket at list price, get a companion ticket at no extra cost—but the reality may be less than appears.
A reader recently asked it this way: “Which of the companion-fare upgrade programs (like American Express’ Platinum card or United’s Ameniti) is the best and why?” My short answer is that the AmEx Platinum may be “best” for many travelers, but none of them is a good deal at all for others. Here’s my look at the three programs I know best.
Holders of AmEx Platinum cards can buy twofers in business class on 17 airlines: AeroMexico, Air France, Air New Zealand, Alitalia, Asiana (also first class), Austrian, Cathay Pacific, China (Taiwan, also first class), Continental (Asia, Europe, Latin America, Caribbean only, no domestic), Emirates (also first class), Japan Airlines, LAN (also first class), Lufthansa, SAS, South African, Swiss (also first class), and Virgin Atlantic. Ticket at least 30 days in advance or within 72 hours of making reservations.
Conditions: The traveler on the companion ticket must follow the exact itinerary of the primary ticket holder and pay all taxes and fees that apply to a paid ticket; the companion ticket does not earn frequent flyer credit. Seats are limited. There is no limit on the number of trips taken.
Platinum cardholders also enjoy no-cost admission to the airport clubrooms of Continental, Delta, and Northwest on days when they have tickets to fly on the corresponding airline.
AmEx Platinum (personal) costs $395 per year for the first card; extra cards are $175 per year.
Carte Blanche/Diners Club
Holders of Carte Blanche —the premium version of Diners Club—can buy an unlimited number of twofers in premium economy, business, or first class on British Airways. Buy tickets with a Carte Blanche card at least seven days in advance and stay over a Saturday night; other conditions as in AmEx also apply. Holders of basic Diners Club can also get British Airways twofers, but only once a year.
Carte Blanche/Diners Club also offers a unique benefit: $250 off the price of a restricted and discounted business-class ticket.
Carte Blanche cardholders enjoy no-cost access to airport lounges at more than 80 of the world’s more important airports, but only two are in the U.S.: Miami and Newark. This benefit is also available to holders of basic Diners Club.
Carte Blanche/Diners Club cards are unique in that they provide primary collision coverage for rental cars in the U.S. as well as overseas. That’s potentially an important advantage over most AmEx, MasterCard, and Visa cards, which provide only secondary coverage on domestic rentals.
Ameniti members receive two one-time access passes to United’s Red Carpet Room airport lounge.
Ameniti costs $295 a year.
All three programs offer a laundry list of other benefits: extra mileage, hotel deals, “concierge service,” and such. More on those some other time.
The top-dollar catch
The big catch in all three programs is that to get the twofer, the qualifying purchased ticket is limited to the most expensive list-price unrestricted fare.
- Ameniti is therefore not attractive to many economy-class travelers, since low-cost restricted economy round-trip tickets almost always cost less than half the full-fare price.
- Discount travel agencies regularly sell business-class tickets for 30 to 70 percent off the highest unrestricted fares.
In effect, travelers can often do as well without the expense of paying for a premium card or club membership.
Who would find these programs useful? Mainly business travelers. If you normally buy full-fare tickets and can expense them—especially if an employer pays—you can take a spouse or companion along for no additional cost.
Even if you’re paying, the business-class twofers (or premium-economy twofers on British Airways) often do better than buying two of the cheapest discounted tickets you can find. But if you’re a cost-conscious leisure traveler, you know that even at half price (for each of two tickets), business class costs far more than the least expensive economy options.
For some, the most attractive option is the $250 discount you can get with Carte Blanche/Diners Club on even sale-priced business-class tickets on British Airways. Only one use a year almost covers the cost of the card.
The “best” program
Which program is best depends on your personal travel habits:
- AmEx Platinum is best for many, mainly because it offers twofers on so many airlines.
- Ameniti is best for travelers who fly (or can fly) United, especially for heavy domestic travel.
- Carte Blanche is best for travelers who can conveniently use British Airways—especially if they’re more interested in premium economy than business class.
Discounted premium tickets
If you’re interested in exploring discounted business- and first-class tickets, here are some agencies that feature them. I haven’t used any and can’t vouch for any; I list them as a convenience, and if you plan on buying, do your usual due diligence.
- Air Brokers International, Inc.
- Airlines Brokers
- Best Discount Network
- Biz Travels
- Executive Class Travel
- First Ticket Travel
- Horizon Travel
- Imperial American Express Travel Services (Canada-based)
- Join Us Travel
- Luxury Tour Source
- The Travel People
- The Travel Team
- Travel Tek