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Analyzing WestJet’s New Member Exclusive Fares (Let’s Be Perfectly Honest)

WestJet has today introduced its revamped version of the Member Exclusive fares. You can check out my initial post for everything you need to know about the new program: the fixed Member Exclusive pricing from the previous edition will be going away, and will instead be replaced by dynamic discounts on a wider range of flights (including Premium and Business fares).

In this post, I wanted to take a deeper look at how the Member Exclusive fares will work now that they’re integrated into the main WestJet search engine, and then I’ll share with you some of my honest thoughts on the new program.

Spoiler alert: like many of you, I’m feeling very disappointed at the new Member Exclusive fares, where the value has been stripped down significantly compared to before.

New Member Exclusives: A Variable Discount on the Regular Fare

The new Member Exclusive fares will be seamlessly integrated into the WestJet flight search engine. For any eligible Econo, Premium, or Business fare (excluding Basic, EconoFlex, PremiumFlex, and BusinessFlex), the Member Exclusive counterpart to that fare will provide members with a certain discount on that fare.

The search engine will show you the amount of savings you’re getting below the regular fare. In the below example, redeeming WestJet Dollars for the Member Exclusive Economy option saves you $20.01 compared to the regular Econo fare of $470.22 – equivalent to a 4.26% discount.

Taking any combination of Member Exclusive pricing, we can apply the usual formula to figure out what value we’re getting for our WestJet Dollars:

redemption value =
(regular cash price – taxes and fees on redemption) / # of points required

Here, we have $470.22 – $113.21 = $357.01, divided by 337 WSD, giving us a redemption value of $1.06/WSD for our WestJet Dollars – certainly a far cry from the $2, $3, or $5+/WSD that we’d be able to unlock through the old Member Exclusive fares.

In the spirit of doing a fair comparison, I ran the numbers in a similar fashion on the following one-way WestJet routes: Toronto–Calgary, Edmonton–Phoenix, Vancouver–Halifax, Calgary–Maui, and Toronto–London Gatwick.

For each route, I decided to look at a date in March 2021, because there’s supposed to be a promotion of up to a 35% discount currently in place for travel until June 27, 2021. I also looked across all three classes of service (Economy, Premium, and Business), and if there was more than one variable discount on a given date, I chose the cheapest flight.

Economy

Premium

Business

Toronto (YYZ)

Calgary (YYC)

$99.67 off $354.96

28.1% discount

$1.61/WSD

$52.32 off $593.39

8.8% discount

$1.13/WSD

$100.35 off $1,073.64

9.3% discount

$1.13/WSD

Edmonton (YEG)

Phoenix (PHX)

$12.87 off $323.77

4.0% discount

$1.06/WSD

$23.83 off $543.22

4.4% discount

$1.06/WSD

Vancouver (YVR)

Halifax (YHZ)

$22.11 off $511.80

4.3% discount

$1.06/WSD

$103.64 off $1,106.10

9.4% discount

$1.12/WSD

Calgary (YYC)

Maui (OGG)

$16.35 off $406.73

4.0% discount

$1.05/WSD

$40.96 off $898.74

4.6% discount

$1.05/WSD

$43.91 off $957.74

4.6% discount

$1.05/WSD

Toronto (YYZ)

London (LGW)

$13.00 off $304.16

4.3% discount

$1.2/WSD

$35.00 off $1,027.16

3.4% discount

$1.05/WSD

$84.00 off $2,259.16

3.7% discount

$1.05/WSD

As you can see, on balance, the new Member Exclusive fares provide you a discount of roughly between 3% and 10% for most flights that you search for.

Occasionally, there’s a pocket of value that reaches towards to the “up to 35%” amount that’s being advertised under the current promotion, but many flights show discounts that are much more paltry than that. And even then, the implicit valuation of the WestJet Dollar redemption only reaches about $1.60/WSD, still paling in comparison to what was previously offered.

The numbers here certainly don’t tell a pretty story about the value that you can expect out of Member Exclusive fares… but they don’t quite tell the full story, either.

A strange phenomenon occurs when the Member Exclusive discount isn’t even significant enough to beat out the Basic Economy price. After factoring in the taxes and fees, the Member Exclusive fare is actually more expensive.

You might think, “Well, Basic fares don’t offer you anything besides the seat, so surely Member Exclusive fares still have an advantage.” But take a closer look: the only advantage is the ability to select seats for free – is that really worth going out of your way to pay extra, let along pay for the entire Member Exclusive base fare with your WestJet Dollars balance?

Speaking of which, the move towards a variable discount model, rather than fixed pricing, also completely distorts the requirement to pay for the entire Member Exclusive base fare using your WestJet Dollars balance.

In the past, the main appeal of WestJet’s Member Exclusive fares was that their fixed pricing may be very attractive when compared to the regular cash fare on the same ticket. Thus, you had to “earn” the reward by paying for that cheaper pricing entirely with your WestJet Dollars.

Under the current program, let’s say that a dedicated WestJet customer earned a sizeable balance after many years of dedicated flying and spending on the co-branded credit card. Will they really feel rewarded by $22 in savings on an economy fare? Or $43 in savings on a business class ticket?

In what way is a member meant to feel rewarded by redeeming their hard-earned WestJet Dollars for these paltry savings, when they could always redeem at a 1:1 ratio to cover the regular fare anyway (which, in the case of the Basic fares highlighted above, can sometimes be even cheaper)?

One of our commenters on the initial post highlighting the changes said it best: instead of a loyalty program providing outsized value for the dedicated customer, we now have a discount program akin to being able to apply a promotional code to your base fare… except you have to cover the whole thing with hard-earned WestJet Dollars but at a minimal value. The value proposition simply isn’t there.

Let’s Be Perfectly Honest Here

Here at Prince of Travel, we partner with WestJet to highlight their products and offerings, and over the last few years I’ve been very supportive of WestJet’s journey to improve on all fronts and transform from a low-cost carrier into a full-service airline (in fact, I think I’ve typed that exact sentence every time WestJet comes up around here).

After all, as Canada’s second-largest airline, WestJet is well-positioned to bring more competition to the Canadian aviation and loyalty landscape in the long run, and that’s something I would love to see happen for all of our sakes.

However, as both a personal user of WestJet’s Member Exclusive fares as well as a media partner of the airline, I must highlight my immeasurable disappointment with the new Member Exclusive fares and the sheer extent to which the original value in the program has been stripped away.

I harboured some skepticism when I first learned about the new dynamic pricing model, but remained optimistic that the search engine might price in some very tempting discounts, especially to incentivize bookings in the Premium and Business cabins which were not previously possible under Member Exclusives.

Upon delving into the search results, however, that’s clearly not the case at the moment; in fact, Premium and Business flights seem to be limited to the lower discount levels, without getting close to the “up to 35% discount” that’s being advertised.

WestJet is quick to highlight the improved user experience of booking Member Exclusive fares, the broader appeal to a wider set of WestJet members, and the greater seat availability.

The airline’s key messaging, and the thought process behind this new offering, centres around the fact that less than 1% of WestJet Rewards members booked Member Exclusive fares under the old scheme, and this new structure will make it more accessible for the remaining 99% of members.

But by and large, those 1% of members who knew how to maximize the program were readers here at Prince of Travel and the wider Miles & Points community. We may be a small percentage of overall users, but we’re also a very dedicated bunch, and will happily become fiercely loyal to any given program when it offers good value.

Make a program appealing, exciting, and fair, and we’ll happily put in the effort to participate in the program, rack up enough points (or Dollars) to book our dream business class flight, and sing the praises of the program and the airline product to the wider public.

But completely gut the value from the program and make it akin to coupon-clipping… and there’s simply no reason to bother when there are so many better alternatives on the market.

Yes, the previous Member Exclusive fares were difficult for the average member to find, book, and understand. However, it was entirely possible to improve things like the user experience, flexibility, and changeability – and yes, perhaps even raise the pricing structure in a reasonable way – while preserving some semblance of a value proposition for the program’s most enthusiastic users.

(It wouldn’t even have been very difficult, since WestJet already has the prospect of a high-value redemption on its 787 business class as a carrot to dangle in front of members!)

Instead, the pendulum has swung far too wildly in the opposite direction: more of WestJet Rewards’s casual user base will discover the Member Exclusive option, sure, but the program’s most dedicated users are now entirely left behind, and the value simply isn’t good enough for those of us who are looking to earn meaningful rewards from the program in exchange for our meaningful participation.

Between all of us in the community, we’ve seen plenty of loyalty program devaluations in the past, although I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a spectacular swing-and-a-miss when it comes to capturing the core essence of what drives loyalty in a loyalty program as we’re seeing here.

Ultimately, my greatest sense of regret on behalf of WestJet is due to the sheer magnitude of the opportunity that was available for the taking here – only for the ball to be dropped at this critical juncture.

The airline has been on a hot streak lately: making the first move in issuing refunds on cancelled flights, partnering with the province of Alberta to offer rapid testing as an alternative to the 14-day quarantine, and opening their brand-new Elevation Lounge in Calgary.

A competitive loyalty program offering strong value for all types of travellers would’ve been the final piece of the puzzle, especially given the timing of today’s announcement, just in advance of Air Canada’s big Aeroplan launch this weekend – making WestJet extremely well-positioned to steal their rival’s thunder.

Instead, as things stand, it’s Air Canada who will rest easy knowing that their loyalty offering won’t be threatened much by their primary challenger.

After all of the hype about becoming a full-service premium airline, and plenty of action to back it up over the past few years, WestJet’s new loyalty offering today sadly comes straight out of a budget carrier’s playbook – and that’s just a real shame.

Conclusion

WestJet has rolled out its new-and-evolved Member Exclusive fares, which are supposed to offer a discount of up to 35% on the base fare if booked by December 31, but in reality tend to offer discounts which mostly float around the 3–10% range.

Most disappointingly, that’s all there is to the new Member Exclusives – a discount – with zero intention of offering valuable redemptions as a reward for the program’s most dedicated members.

It isn’t too late for WestJet to chalk this up as a blip and turn this ship around, but they absolutely must listen to the feedback of their most dedicated user base if they wish to incentivize them to stick around in the long run.

Even as a media partner who’s invested in their success – nay, especially as someone in this role – I must encourage them to give serious consideration to member feedback and make a more concerted effort to compete on the loyalty side.

I’m far from the only WestJet member feeling this way. Many of you have already piped up in the comments earlier – and if you fly with WestJet regularly or have elite status with the airline, I’d encourage you to call in and make your voices heard, too.

Together, it’s my hope that we can convince WestJet to at least revisit the thought process behind the new Member Exclusive offerings, so that it isn’t entirely bereft of value for us going forward.