Buy One Get One Free Airline Tickets: Are You Being Scammed?

Most BOGO ticket offers don’t work how you would expect. Here’s what you need to know in 2013 so you don’t overpay.

A few years ago my cell phone provider offered a free companion airfare certificate for buying a new phone. A friend of mine who was a sales rep for the phone co. told me it was a good deal… he ended up being totally wrong!

There’s a good reason why so many businesses offer “buy one get one free” airline tickets as an incentive… they’re typically extremely cheap for them to buy. For example the website sells them and this is how they describe the pricing:

$99 Certificate Licensing Fee
The yearly licensing fee allows you the rights to print, personalize,
design and distribute an unlimited number of certificates.”

For a $99 “certificate licensing fee” you can apparently crank out as many of these as you want! Another major provider of companion certificates sells them for as low as $4 each.

So if these are 2-for-1 airfare, then how can they afford to sell them for so cheap?

Well the redemption rules vary by the company selling them, but more often than not you will find terms and conditions along these lines:

1. You will have to pay the taxes and fees for both tickets. These can add up to be a pretty penny, especially when you don’t have a direct flight (since some taxes are charged per flight).

2. There are blackout dates and other restrictions.

3. Now all airlines participate. On one of the offers I looked at, the fine print only mentioned Delta, American, United, and US Airways.

4. You are at the mercy of their flights. When I had called for quotes, most of the flight options I was given involved non-direct flights at very inconvenient times (like the wee hours of the morning).

5. Pricing is based by zones. The way they come up with how much the tickets will cost is typically based on which “zones” you are flying to/from. Here’s an example:

BOGO ticket prices

Various cities correspond to each zone. For this offer, flying from Detroit (zone 3) to Chicago (also zone 3)  shows an estimate of $440 for 2 tickets. In comparison, a quick search on Expedia (or any similar travel website) spit back quotes for me which were:

cash price for airline tickets

The above are per ticket prices. So considering that I can buy a 2 plane tickets for around $400 total, then obviously paying $440 for a buy one get one free airline ticket isn’t all it’s cracked up to be!

Now in defense of these offers, sometimes they might save you some money. But given all their restrictions and lack of flight choices, for me their hoops are not worth jumping through.

BOGO offers from credit cards?

A number of travel credit cards do offer deals where you can buy one flight and get a second for a free or discounted rate. Yes, you do still have to pay the fees and taxes on the second flight, but at least you [usually] won’t be overpaying for the first flight. So it’s about as close as you can get to a BOGO offer.

American Express Delta SkyMiles Cards

*Top Choice* I recommend these the most. There are 3 Delta SkyMiles credit cards; Gold, Platinum, and Reserve. The Platinum and Reserve versions come with a discounted companion airfare benefit – 1 ticket per year. The T&C’s vary with each (terms and restrictions do apply) but you can compare the Delta SkyMiles card benefits here.

The nice thing about these is that you do not pay an inflated price for your first ticket. Rather, you just pay the same amount it would cost if buying the ticket for cash through Delta. Great deal for sure!

American Express Platinum Card

AmEx PlatinumThe card for high-rollers on int’l flights. At $450 per year, this card isn’t for everyone. But if you travel internationally and buy first or business class tickets on those flights, then the card’s annual fee is a wise investment. When you buy one ticket you get one free on participating airlines (but you will have to pay fees and taxes on both tickets). To learn more check out my Platinum Card review.

Chase British Airways Visa Signature

British Airways credit cardThis one comes with more of a catch. You have to spend at least $30k on your card in a year to receive a “Travel Together” ticket – with it you can bring a companion on your reward flight for free (just have to pay the 2nd ticket’s taxes and fees). There are almost no restrictions on it though so it’s a very enticing offer if you spend enough to qualify. See my Chase British Airways Visa card review.

Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa Signature

Not many Bank of America credit cards are a good deal, but their $75 Alaska Airlines card can be worthwhile for the yearly benefit of buying one ticket at regular pricing and getting another for $99 (plus taxes/fees). The main drawback of this card is that it only earns 1x points on regular purchases (3x on Alaska) and the point value can be low. My in-depth Alaska Airlines card review explains why.

Written or last updated for 2013

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