WestJet Launches Cashback-Style Rewards Program

Leave it to those wacky Canadians to launch one of the more unique and straightforward frequent flier programs. WestJet has rolled out its Frequent Guest program along WestJet Frequent Guestwith a WestJet Mastercard, and I like the idea even if it’s not the most lucrative program around.

As I said, the program is simple and it’s only targeted at frequent fliers. In other words, “if you fly Air Canada, please stop and fly us.” Once you reach $1,500 in spend on airfare within 12 calendar months of enrollment, you get a $50 credit to use for a future flight. After that, for every $1 you spend on WestJet, you get 2.5 cents to spend on a future flight. Oh sure, there are a couple of tweaks, mostly around WestJet Vacations spend, but otherwise, that’s pretty much the deal. The dollars you earn must be used within five years. The credit card works the same way. You get 1.5 cents back per dollar you spend on regular “stuff” and bonuses for spend on WestJet.

So how do you spend these magical “dollars”? Each dollar is worth one real dollar when you spend on WestJet. Well, not one “real” dollar. It’s actually one Canadian Dollar, but close enough. So it’s effectively like a cashback card but instead of cash, you get a bank of dollars to spend toward travel on WestJet.

On top of that, you also get a bonus for every $1,500 you spend. When you spend $4,500 a year ($3,000 for this year only), you get a free companion ticket to be used within Canada along with a few advance seat selection vouchers (everyone else pays) and a couple lounge passes. Swanky. At $6,000 a year, you get a companion ticket for international travel along with more free seat selections and lounge passes. You also get some bonus bucks at each level along the way.

So is this a great deal for travelers? If you’re an infrequent flier, no. It’s worthless to you, because if you don’t spend $1,500 a year, you get nothing. But those are people who are more than likely shopping on price anyway. This is a fight for the lucrative business traveler.

But even if you are a business traveler, whether or not it’s better than Air Canada’s program is highly dependent upon what you’re doing. If you fly from Vancouver to Montreal, you’ll earn about 4,600 miles roundtrip. Six of those and you get a free trip domestically, if you can find availability. On WestJet, let’s say the price is $500 per roundtrip. Six of those and you get $105 to use on a future flight, any flight you want. If you spend more, you earn more, of course. So we’re really comparing apples and oranges.

The reality is that this is a nice, if small, bonus to keep those fliers that really wanted to get some sort of recognition flying with WestJet. It’s not the most lucrative program, but it’s simple and straightforward, and that’s something we’re lacking in this industry all too often.

12 Responses to WestJet Launches Cashback-Style Rewards Program

  1. Jason H says:

    Lots of WestJet news as of late. Trying to hook up with several Asian carriers, as well as KLM, and now looking like they are going to snub WN and link up with DL. With all that and now this program it looks like WestJet is looking to really expand its reach and market itself as a truly internationally linked competitor to Air Canada.

  2. Oliver says:

    How is it simpler that “earn 1 mile per mile flown, then get a free flight if you reach 25,000 miles” (which is how most legacy programs work, and how most travelers see it)?

    For frequent travelers the WestJet program isn’t very inspirational, I think.

    • CF says:

      I think we all know it’s not that simple. It’s 25,000 miles if you can find availability and only on domestic flights. Otherwise it’s 50,000 miles (or it could be segmented even more) for domestic flights. International can vary depending upon where you want to go and even time of year with the peak/off peak awards. And earning miles can be harder as well. Some fares aren’t eligible for mileage earning while higher fares get bonus miles.

      • Oliver says:

        Sure, only on domestic flights, but I’d bet that the vast majority of infrequent US flyers aim for one of those 25,000 mile ticket. A free ticket just sounds a whole lot better than “get 50 bucks back” :)

        So spending $1500 on WestJet gets me a $50 discount. Sorry, but that just doesn’t get me very excited. Looking at my travel with United this year, I have probably flown/booked about 20,000 miles for roughly that amount of money so far. And actually, that’s 40k RDM, since I get 2 RDM per mile flown as an elite. But even if I didn’t get that elite bonus, I’d be pretty close to a free ticket, which — if used wisely — is worth a lot more than $50. In fact, I just canceled a 25k award on UA from SFO to Florida that was “worth” about $400. Was pretty easy to get for the exact dates I wanted.

  3. A says:

    I have to agree with Oliver. The 25,000 miles = free ticket is a very simple system if they stuck to it. All the fine print and availability issues is what turns people off the system, that and it’s not fair. Case in point racking up the miles on $200 transcon flights while my 500 mile puddle jump costs twice that. I’m a huge advocate of awarding people based on the money they spend and not the distance they travel, but the WestJet program does not appear very lucrative.

  4. Is anything simple and straightforward in the airline biz?

    I think if people can see value in the program it will work.

  5. SEAN says:

    Sounds interesting for West Jet. EH

    Off topic, are you a Press Your Luck fan Brett? Nice touch with the Big Bucks! & Whammy squares.

  6. Ken says:

    Simply brilliant. Actually rewards “frequent” flying. Useful bonuses. No concerns with availability. The flying “reward” percentage is 2.5% (3.3% on those first $1500), which is better than a lot of folks valuing their FF miles at 1-2 cents each. And even the credit card at 1.5% on spend is better than most 1% cash-back credit cards.

    I’ve never flown them, and this program has little interest to me personally, but it IS innovative and is where the industry should be heading.

    • Oliver says:

      Well, Southwest’s Rapid Rewards scheme rewards frequent flying (16 flights = 1 free flight), so rewarding frequently flying isn’t exactly a new thing. And in fact the WestJet scheme is based on revenue, not the number of flights (frequency).

  7. Ron says:

    Not “real” dollars — I assume the spending is measured in Canadian dollars as well, right? Or do you get CAD 2.50 in rewards for each USD 100 in spending?

    I noticed this kind of currency mismatch when I visited Ireland in 2006. I had a UK-based Tesco card that gave 1 point per pound spent, and each point was worth 1p in redemption. In Ireland I got 1 point per Euro spent, and these points too were redeemable for 1p each back in the UK. At the time, the exchange rate was about GBP 1 to EUR 1.50, so one could raise the effective reward rate to 1.5% by making purchases in Eire and redemptions in the UK. Not the greatest bargain for someone living east of London, but potentially useful to someone living close to the border. Of course now that the pound has plummeted, this is a lot less attractive.

  8. Scott says:

    @Ron

    Firstly, why would a Canadian airline price something in a foreign currency that’s not legal tender in Canada.

    Secondly, you really think the 1US$=C$1.014 is going to make a difference?

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