For the past 14 months, travel companies around the world have announced countless updates to their policies as our plans have been in turmoil. We’ve seen full cash refunds on non-refundable fares, elite status extensions, and pauses on points expiration, among other consumer-friendly emergency measures.
Today, WestJet has announced that they’re extending the expiry date of companion vouchers and lounge passes once again, for use when the pandemic is over.
All Vouchers Extended to December 31, 2021
All unredeemed companion vouchers that were set to expire between June and December 2021 will now be valid until December 31, 2021.
If you have a WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard, you likely have one of these vouchers in your WestJet Rewards account. As an annual benefit, all cardholders receive a discounted round-trip economy fare, which can be used when a travelling companion flies with the cardholder (who must book a cash fare at full price).
Expiry refers to the date you make your booking, not the date you take your trip. You can use these vouchers to book flights for travel up to one year in the future.
As it stands today, if you wait until December 2021 to buy your tickets, you’d be able to book travel for dates as distant as December 2022.
If you’ve exchanged a companion voucher for lounge passes, their expiry dates will also be extended to the end of December 2021. Remember, lounge passes have the same expiration as the original companion voucher. (Sadly there’s no way to pre-book a lounge visit for 2022 to extend them further.)
WestJet has already extended the expiry date twice through the pandemic, and most old ones were set to expire in June 2021. Any vouchers that were previously extended will be extended again.
Furthermore, if you’ve cancelled a flight booked with a companion voucher which was set to expire between June and December, the extension will apply to the reinstated voucher.
The WestJet RBC Mastercard also comes with an annual companion voucher, albeit with a higher co-pay and restrictions limiting its use for Canada or US travel only. These vouchers have also been extended, so fear not if you have the lower-tier card.
How to Use the Extended Companion Voucher
This policy likely won’t affect you much if you recently opened your WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard. Vouchers are valid for a year after they’re issued, so any vouchers that you received in 2021 (and expiring in 2022) won’t be extended at this time.
Old Vouchers & Sun Destinations
If you did have an expiring voucher and you’ve been eyeing some revenge travel to a Sun destination, a December extension sounds like the perfect medicine. Long-haul flights to the tropics during high season are usually the strongest value proposition for the companion voucher.
Indeed, I’ve used a companion fare to book a last-minute trip to Hawaii, saving about $130 for my trouble.
In particular, this extension would be useful if you still have any companion vouchers issued under the old terms prior to April 2020:
- $99 co-pay to Canada or the US, now $119
- $299 co-pay to Sun destinations, now $399
It’s conceivable that you applied for the card as early as March 2019, received an old voucher in April 2019, set to expire in April 2020 as the pandemic set in, and swiftly got an extension. In that case, this is a very welcome development.
However, for the past few months until May 31, 2021, the WestJet World Elite card has been offering new applicants a one-time companion fare with a $0 co-pay to most destinations, covering all of WestJet’s network except for Europe. That’s an awesome value proposition, one that makes me hesitant to use the traditional companion voucher at all.
If you’re a long-term holder of the card, or if you’ve recently opened another one, you’ll likely find yourself with multiple companion vouchers in your account. Unfortunately, I’d say the benefit of this is limited.
When you use a WestJet companion voucher earned from a credit card, the cardholder has to be one of the passengers travelling. As you can’t use several vouchers from the same account to book a group trip, there’s not much advantage to having an extension for something that you might struggle to use anyway.
On the other hand, the companion fare offered by the Alaska Airlines credit cards, including the MBNA cards in Canada and the Bank of America cards in the US, lets you use the discount for other travellers as long as the cardholder pays the taxes and fees. In comparison, this is a big weakness of WestJet’s credit card benefits, with much easily-achievable room for improvement for the Canadian airline.
Instead, the people who will most benefit are those who book multiple trips for two during the period in which you have overlapping vouchers.
Alternatively, you could exchange one voucher for four lounge passes so you and your partner can enjoy the WestJet Elevation Lounge on a Calgary layover both ways between, say, Toronto and Hawaii. Then, you could use your other voucher to book the trip itself.
WestJet follows a first-in, first-out system when you exchange a voucher for lounge passes. The next voucher to expire is the one that gets used, so be careful that you’re converting the right one if you have several with different terms.
Fortunately, when you book a flight, you can choose which voucher to use, so you can save your high-value vouchers for trips where they have the strongest comparative advantage.
Cancelling Your Credit Card
Finally, don’t forget that you forfeit your unused vouchers if you cancel your linked WestJet credit card before redeeming them. If this extension compels you to keep the card open longer than you’d planned, consider asking for an annual fee waiver.
Luckily, you don’t have to keep the card open until your travel dates, only until you’ve made the booking. If your plans are a long ways off, you might consider booking with a voucher, cancelling or downgrading your credit card to save annual fees in the interim, and reapplying shortly before your trip.
That way, you’d still get cardholder benefits like free checked bags (which are linked to your status as a cardholder at the time of travel, not to which card was used to make the booking), without paying for unused travel benefits while you’re at home.
I’m glad to see that WestJet is yet again extending the expiry of their credit card benefits until December 31, 2021. I have no doubt that savvy travellers can find value from the companion voucher or lounge passes, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another extension depending on how quickly the world returns to normal.
Overall, I’d say the biggest benefit here is the extension of lounge passes. The temporary $0 co-pay option is far superior for flights, and those vouchers expire even further into the future already.
Look for the expiry dates on your vouchers and lounge passes to be updated in your online account by May 31.
With travel plans still up in the air as many of us remain grounded a little while longer, a little flexibility goes a long way. In these tough times for travellers and the industry alike, I’m always relieved to see companies doing little things to show that they’re committed to building loyalty with their customers.