In the first move of what promises to be a huge week in the Canadian loyalty scene, WestJet Rewards has relaunched their Member Exclusive reward feature as of today, November 5, allowing members to book seats in any cabin on any WestJet flight at a meaningful discount compared to the regular fare.
If you’ll recall, the old WestJet Member Exclusive fares were paused in June 2020, with the promise that a “new and evolved” loyalty offering would be introduced later in 2020.
While the old program offered a limited set of inventory at fixed reward pricing levels, the new Member Exclusive fares will be opened up to a greater pool of WestJet seats (including Premium and Business cabins), although the discount on any given flight will vary based on the market, cabin, and travel date under a dynamic pricing model.
In This Post
- The Start of Something New for WestJet Rewards
- The New WestJet Member Exclusive Fares
- My First Impression of the New WestJet Member Exclusive Fares
- Improvements to the WestJet Companion Fare
- Coming Soon: Ability to Gift Gold Status
The Start of Something New for WestJet Rewards
In addition to the new Member Exclusive fares launching today, WestJet is also adding the following two promotions:
- Until December 31, 2020, for travel until June 27, 2021, you’ll get up to a 35% discount on the base fare when booking a Member Exclusive fare (this will be automatically factored into the Member Exclusive pricing).
- Until November 11, 2020, holders of the WestJet companion fare from the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard may book travel for two other passengers using the companion fare, without having to travel themselves.
Furthermore, WestJet is also hinting at the following two new features, coming in 2021:
- A new qualifying spend milestone benefit for WestJet Rewards Gold and Platinum members, allowing them to earn the ability to gift one-time WestJet Gold status to another passenger travelling separately on a round-trip flight. This ability will be earned upon reaching the milestones of $6,000, $8,000, and every $2,000 thereafter in qualifying spend.
- There will soon be the ability to exchange your WestJet companion fare from the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard for lounge access (including the brand-new WestJet Elevation Lounge in Calgary), although the specifics of this exchange are yet to be disclosed.
There’s plenty of details for us to digest here, so let’s get started with the big one: the new Member Exclusive fares.
The New WestJet Member Exclusive Fares
Historically, WestJet Rewards members have had access to two primary ways to redeem their WestJet Dollars:
- Applying WestJet Dollars at a flat rate of 1 WestJet Dollar = $1 against the base fare of any WestJet flight
- Using WestJet Member Exclusive fares to access a limited set of inventory at a fixed pricing, the highlight of which was the ability to redeem 125 WestJet Dollars for any one-way journey within Canada and the US
The latter redemption option presented great value for WestJet Rewards members who were able to locate Member Exclusive availability, but it wasn’t very accessible to the majority of WestJet Rewards members due to the relative opacity and complexity of the program (i.e., there was never a published award chart or anything).
Plus, the Member Exclusive booking process was gated off from the main search and booking engine for WestJet flights, meaning that the majority of WestJet Rewards members had no idea about the value of Member Exclusive fares in the first place.
Indeed, the numbers show that about 1% of WestJet Rewards members ever booked Member Exclusive fares, with the vast majority failing to realize the value in Member Exclusives and simply applying their WestJet Dollars as partial payment towards the base fare.
With a view of improving and evolving the Member Exclusive program, WestJet put redemptions “on pause” in June of this year, and the relaunch is now complete as of today.
Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know:
- WestJet’s new Member Exclusive fares will be seamlessly integrated with the main search engine, providing members with a significant discount on the base fare of WestJet flights in any class of travel: Econo, Premium, and Business (i.e., WestJet 787 Dreamliner business class).
- Currently, the new Member Exclusive fares are limited to WestJet flights only. International partner redemptions on Delta, Air France, KLM, and Qantas (including in business class) are on the roadmap for the future.
- Member Exclusive fares need to be paid for in full using WestJet Dollars, with the additional taxes and fees being paid in cash.
- As long as you’re logged in as a WestJet Rewards member when searching for flights, you’ll see the Member Exclusive pricing available as a discount on the base fare compared to the corresponding regular fare:
- Member Exclusive Economy is discounted off the Econo regular fare
- Member Exclusive Premium is discounted off the Premium regular fare
- Member Exclusive Business is discounted off the Business regular fare
- Member Exclusive fares are not discounted off the following fare bundles: Basic, EconoFlex, PremiumFlex and BusinessFlex.
- Member Exclusive fare availability will be wider than it was before:
- As long as there is an Econo regular fare (i.e., not Basic or EconoFlex) for sale, there will be a Member Exclusive Economy discounted fare available
- Meanwhile, availability in Premium and Business cabins, which were not previously bookable, will come from a subset of the total available seats for sale in the Premium and Business regular fare buckets
- Member Exclusive fares will give members a discount on every eligible WestJet flight (as outlined above):
- Like before, there is no published award chart to the Member Exclusive fares program and its associated discounts.
- However, in the past, there was a predictable pricing pattern which we could figure out on our own; in contrast, the new Member Exclusive fares will offer a variable discount based on the flight, route, cabin, travel and booking period, and any promotions that WestJet puts on.
- As an introductory offer, Member Exclusive fares will offer members a discount of up to 35% on the regular base fares until December 31, 2020 with travel by June 27, 2021.
- Unlike previously, there will be no blackout dates on which Member Exclusive fares are not available – if there are eligible seats on a WestJet flight (as outlined above), it will be subject to some form of discount if booked as a Member Exclusive fare.
- Unlike previously, Member Exclusive fares are now combinable with other non-Member Exclusive fares and across different classes of service. You can book a Member Exclusive on your outbound journey and a regular fare on the return, without having to split things up into two separate reservations like you did previously.
- Unlike previously, Member Exclusive fares are now exchangeable if a traveller needs to change their plans:
- Any fees and/or fare differences (for example, if the new discounted Member Exclusive fare is greater than the one you originally booked) will need to be paid separately with cash. WestJet Dollars may not be used to cover this.
- Changes will need to be done over the phone for the time being, although an online functionality for making changes is in the roadmap for the future.
Now that the new Member Exclusive fares have launched, I’ll be following up this post with a deep-dive in the search engine to gauge the level of discounts that we can expect and locate the best sweet spots for your WestJet Dollars – stay tuned.
Remember, the base fare component of Member Exclusive fares will need to be booked in full using your WestJet Dollars balance, with the additional taxes and fees being paid in cash.
If you don’t have enough WestJet Dollars in your account, you can top-up by purchasing WestJet Dollars via Points.com at a rate of $2 per WestJet Dollar – which has increased from before, in order to encourage members to use Points.com as a means to top-up their balance, rather than simply purchasing the entire sum of WestJet Dollars required for an award outright.
Alternatively, you can boost your WestJet Dollars balance by applying for the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard. The card is currently offering 350 WestJet Dollars as a signup bonus, although there might be better offers coming around in the future, too.
First Impressions of the New WestJet Member Exclusive Fares
Update: Read this post for a closer look at how the new WestJet Member Exclusive fares work, and some of my honest impressions of them. You can also read my first impressions below, which were written prior to delving into the search engine and assessing the prices.
For now, my first impressions of the new Member Exclusive fares are mixed, as there are clearly a few downsides and upsides compared to before.
The program seems to be following the direction of the broader Canadian (and indeed, North American) loyalty market by appealing to the broader user base and integrating award bookings more seamlessly with regular flight searches, all while reducing the complexity of the pricing and framing it as a simple “always on” discount on the regular fare.
That’s good news for the average WestJet Rewards member, who will now have a much easier time finding Member Exclusive fares and using them to extract greater value from their WestJet Dollars, compared to the simple partial-payment option at the flat rate of 1:1.
However, it’s decidedly a very significant devaluation for the more dedicated “1%” of WestJet Rewards members who were familiar with the magnificent value of Member Exclusive fares from before.
The fixed pricing of 125 WSD on any transcontinental journey within Canada and the US was particularly attractive, since the one-way cash fare could sometimes be three or four times that amount. Member Exclusive fares were not available on every single date, but if you were somewhat flexible within a few days’ window, there was usually a decent chance of snagging one.
Ever since Air Canada announced a dynamic pricing model on their own flights under the new Aeroplan program, I’ve always said that WestJet could win out as the most attractive option for domestic travel if it just kept the 125 WSD one-ways under Member Exclusive fares.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and all that. I suppose it’s no surprise, but still disappointing, that the underlying economics of domestic and transborder – the same market forces that Air Canada is subject to, of course – ultimately pushed WestJet to move towards dynamic discounts as well.
To celebrate the launch, WestJet is offering an “up to 35% discount” on base fares as part of Member Exclusive fares until December 31, 2020, for travel until June 27, 2021.
However, I’d note that this doesn’t fundamentally change the nature of the Member Exclusive fares, since the discounts are variable and could’ve been up to 35% anyway – it’s more of a way to hype up the launch and tempt members with what I assume is a larger-than-usual discount during this period.
In that regard, WestJet has also mentioned that they intend to run regular promotions on WestJet Member Exclusive fares in the future, so we could potentially see promotions where certain routes or classes of service are given heavy discounts as part of a special event.
Improvements to the WestJet Companion Fare
In addition to the new Member Exclusive fares, WestJet is also introducing a few new measures for holders of the companion fare benefit from the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard.
Until now, the expiry date of companion fares issued prior to 2020 has been extended until January 31, 2021 as a courtesy to members during the pandemic.
There may be further extensions coming down the line; however, recognizing that many members aren’t in a position to travel at this time, WestJet is putting on the “Share the Love” promotion until November 11, allowing companion fare holders to book two other passengers using their companion fare without having to travel themselves.
The idea here is that you can easily fly the in-laws, grandparents, or extended family over for a gathering over the festive period, or treat some friends who might be travelling to the companion voucher if you aren’t using it yourself.
At the same time, WestJet hints at a future benefit for companion fare holders: the ability to exchange your companion fare for lounge access, including the WestJet Elevation Lounge Calgary and other contract lounges in the network in Edmonton, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver – although the exact rules of this exchange have not yet been disclosed.
Nevertheless, if you currently hold a WestJet companion fare, you can give some consideration to how you’d like to use it: perhaps by treating two separate passengers other than yourself to a discounted companion flight, or perhaps by trading it in for access to the Elevation Lounge in the future.
(Remember, the Elevation Lounge is accessible via Priority Pass as well, so if you have a Priority Pass membership via another credit card, then you may find this upcoming benefit less valuable.)
Coming Soon: Ability to Gift Gold Status
Coming later in 2021, WestJet Rewards Platinum and Gold members will have the ability to gift one-time Gold status to another passenger who’s travelling separately on a round-trip WestJet flight. This will be granted as a milestone reward for members who reach certain levels of qualifying spend: $6,000, $8,000, $10,000, and so on.
As a reminder, the qualifying spend thresholds for WestJet status are as follows:
Therefore, for members who’ve already qualified for either Gold or Platinum and are satisfied with their status level, this provides an additional incentive to continue racking up qualifying spend through their WestJet flying activity (or any co-brand qualifying spend promotions that WestJet decides to offer, such as the Double Qualifying Spend offer we’re seeing this fall).
The ability to gift status is a welcome improvement to the WestJet status program, and is very reminiscent of Air Canada’s Status Pass which was also introduced recently. I’m sure WestJet’s top-tier Platinum and Gold members will find considerable value in being able to share their status perks with loved ones even when they aren’t travelling together.
After putting the old Member Exclusive fares on pause in the summer, WestJet has now introduced the reimagined version of the program, aimed to deliver value to a wider set of WestJet Rewards members in the form of an “always on” variable discount on the regular base fare for the majority of WestJet flights, including the Premium and Business cabins.
While I certainly expect more than 1% of WestJet Rewards members to benefit from Member Exclusives going forward, I do think a great deal of value has slipped away for those of us who were power-users of the previous edition of Member Exclusive fares – although I’m hopeful that WestJet will put on attractive promotions on a regular basis to tempt us into parting ways with the large sums of WestJet Dollars that many of us have racked up.
At the same time, WestJet is clearly not finished in its ambition to leverage its WestJet Rewards loyalty program to win more business among Canadian travellers, with some exciting new features coming up – spread out across the co-branded credit card, companion voucher, elite status, and the reintroduction of global airline partners like Delta, Air France/KLM, and Qantas into Member Exclusive fares as well.
Stay tuned for the next post, in which we’ll delve straight into the search engine and find out just how much value lies in this new-and-evolved version of WestJet Member Exclusive fares.
In the meantime, WestJet has indicated they’re open to feedback on the new Member Exclusive offering, so make sure to leave your thoughts and first impressions in the comments below.