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Benefits dwindle for Alaska Airlines Visa card holders

Scott McMurren
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Headed to Seattle? Take advantage of Alaska Airlines "Club 49" specials from Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau or Ketchikan. But act quickly, since the deals expire at the end of the day Thursday, July 12.

All of the really cheap deals are in "steerage," also known as "last class," behind the curtain in coach. If you're thinking of surprising your sweetheart with a first class trip to Hawaii using your $99 "Companion Fare Certificate" from your Alaska Airlines Visa card -- act quickly. Alaska Airlines is cutting out that option effective Aug. 1, 2012.

Cheap Alaska flights to West Coast destinations

Let's get to the good news first on fares. The following deals must be purchased no later than tomorrow, Thursday, July 12, and are valid for travel between Aug. 20-Sept. 15, 2012.

  • Anchorage-Seattle: $415 roundtrip. That's $130 off the "supersaver" roundtrip airfare. 
  • Fairbanks-Seattle: $517 roundtrip. 
  • Juneau/Ketchikan-Seattle: $369 roundtrip.

For a late-summer getaway, spend only $455 roundtrip to fly nonstop from Anchorage to Honolulu between Aug. 12-Aug. 21, 2012.

Alaska also offers an awesome nonstop flight from Anchorage to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). No "purchase-by" conditions or deadlines are listed on the ANC-LAX nonstop; that said, it's a good idea to act quickly.

Go ANC-LAX for $349 roundtrip between Aug. 8-Sept. 4, 2012. This is the absolute lowest of any fare on Alaska Airlines to the Lower 48. Act fast. Register in advance to receive double miles on the nonstop flights. 

Alaska Airlines Visa cardholders: News you can use

Now for the bad news. Alaska Airlines Visa cardholder have already received the letter in the mail. On Aug. 1, 2012, Alaska is eliminating the option to use your annual $110 ($99 plus the tax) companion fare for first class tickets.

I've never used my companion fare coupons for first class tickets, but I know plenty of folks who have. Only 2 percent of cardholders used their companion fare coupons for first class seats, according to Bobbie Egan, Alaska Airlines spokeswoman.

"But there was a disproportionate number of coupons used on long-haul flights to Hawaii and the East Coast," she said. And that, Egan said, led to the decision to axe the first class option.

The metrics of the Alaska Airlines Visa card are pretty good, in my opinion. I carry two of the cards -- and I know some families have three or more cards in order to get the annual companion pass coupons. There is a $75 annual fee per card. There is a 25,000-mile sign-up bonus, which is enough for an in-state ticket (15,000 miles), or even a ticket to the Lower 48 on a really slow travel day (25,000 miles). You earn one mile for each dollar you spend.

Until Aug. 1, cardholders earn 1,000 miles for each Alaska Airlines ticket you purchase at the website. After Aug. 1 that bonus, too, is going bye-bye.

Rating airline travel cards

How does Alaska's card stack up against competing cards like American Express, Chase, Citibank and Capital One? Well, if you fly on Alaska Airlines, I think it's still your best bet. If you fly on Delta, consider the American Express Card. United and USAirways both have their own co-branded credit cards. There are some great features with many of the programs, including the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) American Express card, since it includes discounts and upgrades at Sheraton and Westin worldwide.

Chris Guillebeau, my favorite "Travel Hacker," spends hours and hours researching the best credit cards that offer the most generous airline and travel-related bonuses. He's one of my travel gurus. Check out his website dedicated to the best travel credit cards.

Rick Ingersoll is another travel expert that drills down to get the best credit card deals. His website: Frugal Travel Guy.

Like air fares and hotel rates, these credit card deals change like the wind. And today is a particularly windy day.

Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based travel marketing consultant who has lived in Alaska for three decades, spending much of that time traveling the far-flung corners of the state. Visit his website at www.alaskatravelgram.com or follow him on Twitter for breaking travel news.