Alaska scenery

This week, I’m going on an Alaskan cruise with my dad and sister. This vacation was a gift from my dad, but I wanted to help defray the cost of flights. I have to admit, I kind of picked Alaska since I had two Alaska Airlines companion fares to use! Flights to and from the cruise ports also happened to be around $500, so I realized this would be a good way to use my points from the Merrill Lynch MERRILL+ card. Here’s exactly how I saved money on our flights to and from Alaska using Alaska Airlines companion fares and Merrill Lynch points.

Alaska Airlines Companion Fare

I had two companion fares available since I opened the personal and business versions of the Alaska Airlines card from Bank of America earlier this year. When booking a flight on Alaska Airlines or Virgin America, you can bring along a companion for $99 plus fees. This usually ends up being $121 (or a little more) for the second ticket. Depending on where you’re flying, you can save a lot with these companion fares! If you fly Alaska or Virgin America a lot, it can be worth keeping the credit card despite the annual fee since you get a companion fare code each year.

Using Alaska Airlines Companion Fare

Alaska Companion Fare Ticket
The Alaska Airlines Companion Fare saved us $407.37 on this flight.

When using a companion fare, you either have to be one of the travelers on the reservation or the purchaser of the reservation. I decided to use the companion fares to book my dad and sister’s tickets. To do this, I just had to make sure I used a credit card that matched the name on my Mileage Plan account.

For our flight from Boston to Vancouver, the full cost of the flight was $465.70 and the companion fare ticket totaled $129.23. For the return flight from Anchorage to Boston, the full cost of the flight was $540.30 and the companion ticket was $132.93. Using the companion fares saved us $743.84! We still needed flights for me, and I knew I could get them for *almost* free with my MERRILL+ points.

Merrill Lynch MERRILL+ Visa Signature

If you aren’t familiar with this credit card from Merrill Lynch, you get 50,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. While you have to call to apply for the card, these points can be worth $1,000 if you’re smart about redeeming them. Basically, Merrill Lynch has a travel portal with access to pretty much any flight you can find elsewhere. Any flight costing up to $500 will set you back 25,000 points. If you find a flight over $500, points are worth 1 cent each. For example, a flight costing $535 would require 25,000 point for the first $500 of the ticket and 3,500 points to cover the additional $35. To get the best value, you’re looking for flights as close to $500 as possible.

Using Merrill Lynch Points

Merrill Lynch Travel Booking
Use this feature to search for flights with a specific airline.

Luckily, the flights I booked for my dad and sister were right around $500. To book these flights, I logged onto my Bank of America account to access the Merrill Lynch travel portal. When you search for flights, you have the option to narrow the search to a preferred airline. I chose Alaska Airlines and pulled up the same flight that my dad and sister were on.

The flight there was $465.70 or 25,000 miles. The flight home was $540.30 and would require 29,030 points. I didn’t have enough points left so I had to pay $5.29 to complete the booking. I charged the $5.29 to my Chase Sapphire Reserve to get the trip protection benefits. I ended up saving $1,000.71 on airfare by using Merrill Lynch points.

Linking Reservations

Even though I booked flights through two different systems, I was able to select seats for most of the segments so we’d be seated together. Alaska Airlines also makes linking reservations really easy. All you have to do is fill in the last name and record locator of the two itineraries you want to link. While Alaska Airlines does note that linking reservations does not affect automated seat assignments, it’s still worthwhile to link separate itineraries. This way, Alaska Airlines agents will be aware that you are traveling together.

Final Thoughts

Cruises can get expensive so I’m happy I was able to save my dad a bit of money when booking flights. Our total airfare for three people should have cost $3,018, but we were able to get it for $1,273.45 using a combination of points and Alaska companion fare vouchers. That’s over 50% off! While Merrill Lynch points sound confusing, you can get some really great value out of them. In my opinion, it’s definitely worth the phone call to apply for this card.

What are your experiences using Alaska companion fare codes or Merrill Lynch points?

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