When WestJet launched its rewards program back in 2010, it was a sure bet it was going to be a bit different than the rewards programs offered by other airlines. Instead of adopting a program based around the rather nebulous concept of “points, or miles,” WestJet wanted to create a rewards program based on a currency everyone could easily understand and have the flexibility to use: dollars.
What is it?
With WestJet Rewards, guests earn and redeem WestJet dollars based on their spending, with one WestJet dollar being equal to one Canadian dollar. Currently, the first $1,500 spent on WestJet flights earns a WestJet Rewards member one per cent back in WestJet dollars, plus a 35 WestJet dollar bonus. After that, the member earns 2.5 per cent back on WestJet flights, plus a 25 WestJet dollar bonus for each additional $1,500 spent. At higher levels of spending, members are awarded tier bonuses including Canadian and international Jet-Aways, which include free companion tickets, airport lounge passes, and complimentary seat selection.
RBC, a partner of WestJet Rewards, offers two co-branded credit cards that allow cardholders the chance to earn WestJet dollars on their everyday purchases—even more when they purchase WestJet flights or vacation packages. It adds up fast—WestJet RBC MasterCard clients who purchase WestJet flights with their cards are able to "double dip" and receive dollars both ways—up to 4.5 percent in WestJet dollars in total.
One major advantage of the program is that it is transparent and flexible. In other programs, it can be difficult to gauge the true cost of the rewards currency, with complicated award charts and the inability to redeem when you want to. In WestJet’s program, dollars are, well, dollars.
The structure of the program also allows members to redeem their WestJet dollars similar to cash. Unlike many points-based programs that only allow the member to redeem once the entire cost of the reward item has been achieved, WestJet Rewards allows members to use their WestJet dollars to either pay in full, or partially pay for the cost of any WestJet flight or vacation package. There are no restrictions as to when rewards dollars can be redeemed—no “blackout” periods, as they are known —and members are welcome to redeem their dollars toward any flight at any time. Members can easily redeem their dollars through the WestJet website.
WestJet dollars can also be used to purchase WestJet flights and vacations for other travellers, not just the primary program member. It’s a great fit for the frequent business traveller who wants to bring their spouse along from time to time, or the family for the holidays.
As for what the future holds? An expansion of the flight network to include rewarding for partner airlines and a growing list of ways to earn and redeem is on the horizon, allowing members more ways to see more of the world with every WestJet dollar earned.
Family of Flyers
With home bases in both Calgary, Alta., and Kelowna, B.C., and a current healthcare-related business venture that requires frequent travel across Western Canada, Mark McLoughlin estimates he was in the air more than 120 times in 2011 and says he is on pace to surpass that number in 2012.
A rewards program member and WestJet RBC MasterCard holder, the former place-kicker for the Calgary Stampeders says he mostly uses his WestJet dollars and Jet-Aways to purchase flights for his wife, Nicky, so she can accompany him on business-related trips and shuttle between the two McLouglin residences in Calgary and the Okanagan. Another frequent flyer in the McLoughlin clan is their three-year-old cockapoo dog, Huff, who rides in-cabin. “He’s on a flight a minimum of twice a week. He’s a very good traveller,” says McLoughlin.
The McLoughlins certainly aren’t the only ones “air-commuting” between residences these days. “You see a lot of the same individuals on the flights leaving Kelowna and going into Calgary and coming back on a Thursday or a Friday,” McLoughlin says. “It’s quite common to see the same group of people and you do get to know them.”
Program members since day one, Liz Rivard and her husband, Patrick, are both still in the workforce in Calgary, but make between six and seven trips per year to their second home in Palm Springs, Calif., on flights purchased with WestJet dollars acquired through their frequent flight purchases, as well as their use of the WestJet RBC MasterCard.
“Gas, food, everything goes on the WestJet RBC MasterCard,” says Rivard. “It sort of makes travelling guilt-free because it’s found money.”
While the couple used to fly into Los Angeles and commute to Palm Springs from there, Rivard says the convenience of WestJet’s direct flight to Palm Springs from Calgary has sweetened the deal. “We can leave Calgary at 10:40 a.m. and be at our house, poolside, at 2 p.m. You can’t beat that!” she exclaims. And, as an avid tennis player, her husband certainly appreciates the accessibility of the 13 lighted courts in the vicinity of their vacation home, particularly during the months when Calgary’s courts are covered in snow.
The rewards program, says Rivard, has made their vacation-home lifestyle feasible.
“Palm Springs is like heaven,” she says. “As soon as one trip is done, another one is booked.”