Hi PointsNerd Nation!
My name is Brian and I’ve been a long time reader and fan of PointsNerd. When I saw the call for writers a couple of weeks ago, I thought I would throw my hat in the ring in hopes that I might be able to help some fellow Canadians with their Travel Hacking goals.
I’ll admit that I’m probably not a sophisticated as Jayce and Chao when it comes to finding how to squeeze every last penny out of a point, but I do know the WestJet program pretty well and I personally think that it’s an overlooked program that more people should know more about.
WestJet Rewards Program
The WestJet Rewards Program is WestJet’s loyalty program and it was designed with simplicity in mind. I’ll briefly talk about the status tiers and then move onto understanding WestJet Dollars (WSD) in Part 1. In Part 2, I’ll talk about using WSD and the benefits it provides and then touch on WestJet’s new offering, Member Exclusive Fares. In Part 3, I’ll talk about the WestJet World Elite MasterCard and how you can leverage it as a spend multiplier for WestJet flights so that you can quickly earn WSD.
Currently, WestJet has 3 tiers of loyalty; Teal, Silver, and Gold. Status is determined by spend on WestJet marketed flights meaning that flights on partner airlines (Delta, American, KLM, Air France, and Qantas) that are not designed as a WestJet flight (eg. WS3772), do not count for status qualification purposes.
So what do you get for qualifying for the different status levels? With Teal, you don’t receive anything except the ability to earn WestJet Dollars (at a rate of 1% on the base fare). When you reach Silver and Gold, you start to see some real benefits.
As a WestJet Silver Member, you earn WSD at a rate of 3% on the base fare of all your WestJet flights. Additionally, you receive the following flight benefits.
The First Checked Bag benefit is a good one if you travel with bags. I personally do not but I’m sure there are plenty of people that still do. If you do check a lot of bags, you can get around the cost of baggage by having the RBC WestJet MasterCard and I’ll talk more about that in Part 3.
With the Airport Lounge Vouchers, you are able to use them at WestJet Lounges. WestJet currently uses lounges managed by 3rd party providers and to be honest, they can be either very good (Plaza Premium Lounges) or a bit on the mediocre side. For a full list of the lounges available, visit https://www.westjet.com/en-ca/book-trip/business-travel/airport-lounges. While lounge access is a nice perk, you can access these same lounges with either the American Express Platinum Personal or the Platinum Business card through the Priority Pass benefit.
There have been some strong rumblings that WestJet will launch their own flagship lounges in various Canadian cities and if I were a betting man, I would guess it would coincide with the launch of the new 787s. I would expect that once these lounges are launched, Priority Pass will not get you in, much like the Maple Leaf Lounges with Air Canada.
The Advanced Seat Selection Vouchers are a decent benefit but may not move the needle for some. I definitely used up my certificates as a Gold Member but once I use them up, it’s not devastating not to have them.
As a WestJet Gold Member, probably the best benefit is earning WSD at a rate of 5% on the base fare on all your WestJet marketed flights. This is the benefit that I leverage the most with my WestJet Gold Status and when combined with the WestJet World Elite MasterCard, really helps to accelerate your earning potential with the program.
As far as flight rewards go, you receive 2 checked bags for free, 10 Lounge Vouchers, and the same 4 advanced seat selection vouchers that you see at the Silver Level.
Some additional benefits include Zone 1 Boarding (WestJet has 3 zones), Priority Screening at some airports, a Priority Support Phone Number to avoid waiting on hold, and front-of-the-line service at some airports.
There are two additional benefits that I didn’t mention above and that’s because they deserve a bit of special attention. The first is a life-saver for me – No Fees for Same Day Changes. This is really important to me because I travel for business a lot and when I finish a meeting a bit early, I know that I can easily catch an earlier flight if I can make it to the airport on time. The added flexibility at no cost is something that I cherish because WestJet has great flight schedules that work very well with my travel patterns.
The next benefit was a bit of a puzzle to me until it was explained to me by a WestJetter – Early Access to Plus. This benefit is actually pretty great because it saves me a ton of money and gives me access to Plus seats. For those that don’t know, WestJet Plus is a quasi-premium economy where it’s your standard WestJet 3-3 configuration but the middle seat is blocked out, meaning you have a lot more room. This is true of WestJet’s 737 fleet but on the 767’s, there is a true 2-2 Premium Economy setup. The other benefit of Plus is that you have access to unlimited food and drink while on board. While you might feel weird asking for food over and over again, you won’t get denied additional food by the Flight Attendants.
Plus seats at the time of booking can be fairly expensive. Take for example a one-way ticket from Winnipeg (my hometown – LET’S GO JETS!!!) to Toronto. In the Econo fare (regular economy), you would be paying $455,83 and in Plus, you would pay $594.83, a $139.00 difference for a 2:20 flight.
Typically my company isn’t willing to pay that difference but I like sitting up front as much as the next guy. To get around this, as a Gold Member, I have access to Plus 48 hours ahead of departure. During this time, WestJet knows that it is unlikely to sell a full-fare Plus seat, so they open up availability of those seats to Gold Member 48 hours before so they can obtain a Last Minute Upgrade (LMU) for a fraction of the cost of paying for it ahead of time. The upgrade cost depends on the length of the flight but upgrades to Plus can start for as little as $20.
Everyone flying with WestJet is offered this option at check-in 24 hours before departure but Gold’s get an extra window of an additional 24 hours to snap up these seats. I have been told that this is an experiment that will last until May 31, 2018, but I’m expecting that it will be a popular benefit amongst Gold Members so I’m predicting it will stay.
WestJet Dollars (WSD)
I’ll be honest. WestJet Dollars don’t offer the potential to redeem for the same extreme value as something like Aeroplan’s Mini-Round-the-World award but on the positive side, you definitely don’t face the same headaches as you see in other programs.
Ultimately which program you choose will depend on how much you value your time. I have redeemed for mini-RTWs before and I can attest to spending countless hours trying to line everything up so that the all the flight worked. I remember many frustrating phone calls to Aeroplan after spending 10+ hours getting everything perfect only to find out that the itinerary wasn’t valid because I didn’t know about a minor rule associated with the program. I’m sure many of you have faced the same issue and to be frank, I’ve lost patience for it.
I’m a HUGE fan of WestJet Dollars because for better or for worse, you know exactly what you are getting for your redemptions. 1 WSD is equal to $1 off your base fare on ANY AVAILABLE FLIGHT! This means that if you can find a fare online with WestJet, you can use your WSD towards that flight.
|Redeem for Any Available Seat|
|Partial Redemption Available|
|Ability to Use Points Towards Taxes and Fees||Possible but Very Poor Redemption Value|
|Better International Redemption Possibilities|
|Ease of Use|
You really don’t need to worry about rules, routing, segments or any of that other nonsense with WestJet Rewards. If the flight shows up on WestJet.com, you are able to use your WSD towards redemption, though you do need to redeem at least 15 WSD.
While Aeroplan definitely has more international destinations available for redemptions, when you consider the fact that it’s not exactly easy to find award seats and that Aeroplan will charge HUGE YQ Surcharges on a lot of partners, it all kind of evens out. Let’s not forget that WestJet will be taking on ten 787s in 2019 with an option to lease a further 10 from Boeing, meaning that WestJet will soon become a full-fledged national carrier with international destinations. Westjet has already filed a request to fly into China and Japan, with lots of talk about other destinations in Central America and Oceana (Australia and New Zealand).
With WestJet expanding internationally, I would not be surprised if they continue to bring on additional airline partners to supplement their already established relationships with Delta, Air France, KLM, and Qantas, which means more international destinations available for redemptions.
For some, the WestJet Rewards program isn’t as “sexy” as the Aeroplan program but take it from someone that has vast experience in both. The ease of the WestJet program and the ability redeem for any available seat trumps a lot of the “benefits” of the Aeroplan program.
Want to take a flight to Cancun tomorrow? With WestJet, all you have to do is look on the website for availability. With Aeroplan, you have to break out your slide rule, Excel spreadsheet, 3 extra-large coffees and a new wireless mouse because you probably shattered your last one when you tried to book your last Aeroplan redemption.
When you consider that the Aeroplan Program will be defunct in 2020, now might be a very opportune time invest your efforts into the WestJet Rewards program.