Saturday, October 17, 2009

Free Companion Certificate

For years, I've gotten inserts, ads, and e-mails from American Express and its partners touting "Try our service, and we'll give you a voucher good for a free companion airline certificate." I've always wondered whether it was a scam. I finally took the leap, jumped through the hoops, got my voucher, and can now report:

Yes, it is a scam.

First, let me point out that this is regarding companion airline certificates for things like buying a magazine subscription. I don't know if this is the same thing Amex offers with their Delta Skymiles card, because I will never again willingly fly on Delta. Delta sucks, so I refuse to degrade myself to research the point. Amex offers other similar services, but I have never used those services, so again, I can not speak for them.

Here's how the companion ticket for magazine subscription deal works. They divide the country into zones, and charge a flat fee for travel between zones. Thus, Baltimore to San Francisco is Zone 1 to Zone 6. The website says the flat rate for you and your companion is $675. The question now is whether that is better than buying two tickets.

Okay... Reality check: The assumption is that we'll fly two for one, but if we save 10%, don't we still come out ahead? Of course! So, will we be satisfied with just saving money, or do we demand two for one? You and me... we're reasonable people-- if we save $50, we'll be happy.

I checked against two airlines, Southwest and US Airways, whose cheapest flights were one dollar apart. Let's just say they were $370 each. For you and your companion, that's $740... So we save money, right?

Not so fast: There are $80 in taxes and fees: that's $755. Hey: That's more!

But wait: They'll kick in $350 in savings if we'll accept their itinerary. At $405, we win. Yeah!

What? There's another catch? Yes. We can't actually go where we want. In order to save money, we have to go where they say:
In other words, we have to leave from our home airport, fly to a different destination, leave from somewhere other than where we went, and return to somewhere we don't live. Maybe there just aren't any round trip flights from Baltimore to San Francisco.
Okay, so maybe there are.

You, know... It's almost as if they don't want you to use these tickets.

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