After disappearing for a few months, WestJet’s Member Exclusive fares recently returned. Unfortunately, they are a shadow of their former selves. They went from being an outstanding perk of the WestJet Rewards program to a modest benefit. Here are my thoughts on the new ME fares but you’ll definitely need to form your own opinion, especially if you’re a holder of a WestJet credit card.
Member Exclusive Fares – Before and After
Previously, the Member Exclusive fare was the feature of WestJet’s loyalty program that offered the most potential value for your WestJet dollars (WSD). Although the moniker sounded more like a special airfare discount for members, it was actually a fixed reward despite the conspicuous absence of a published reward chart.
A great example was the flat 125 WSD (+ taxes and fees) one-way reward for a flight anywhere in Canada and the continental United States. These reward fares bookable only with WestJet dollars were limited but if you could find availability on popular travel dates, the savings over a cash fare could be very significant.
Now, however, the Member Exclusive fare is more closely aligned with the plain meaning of the words. It’s a reduced fare exclusive to WestJet Rewards members – not a loyalty reward in the traditional sense. Where available, members get a variable discount on a booking when they use their WestJet dollars. As before, the entire ME fare must be paid for with WestJet dollars. If you need to purchase some to top off your account for a redemption, you can still do so, but the price has been raised making this option much less appealing than before.
You can of course continue to use your WestJet dollars to wholly or partially offset the cost of a ticket by redeeming them at their face value. It’s just that the perk of getting significant extra value from your rewards is apparently no longer available.
WestJet is not breaking any new ground with this change. There is a general movement by loyalty programs toward variable pricing of rewards. Like several other frequent flyer programs, the redesigned Aeroplan has opted for a dynamic structure for Air Canada reward flights. Many hotel loyalty programs have likewise embraced this approach.
A problem with the previous Member Exclusive fares was that the average WestJet Rewards member might not have even known they existed. To see the fares, you needed to tick a box at the initial search page, and as mentioned, the name itself did not really convey the nature of the reward.
And yet, this newer version requires one to be signed in to your account when you search, otherwise you won’t see the ME fares. For people who sign in only after they’ve selected a flight, just before the payment phase, they’ll be unaware of the possible savings. I’d assume that displaying how much you could save on your ticket if you had some WestJet dollars could be an incentive to join the program or sign up for a WestJet credit card. So it’s a bit puzzling to me that it’s set up this way.
What About These New Discounts?
I searched a few routes and didn’t find any deals. If they exist, they are elusive. For example, here are a couple of options out of Halifax:
Halifax – Toronto (one-way)
Dec. 10, 2020
Basic – $268.09
ME Fare – 152 WSD + $97.69 ($249.69)
Economy – $293.39
The Member Exclusive fare saves $43.70 off the Economy fare but only $18.40 off the Basic fare.
If you were to depart on the following day…
Dec. 11, 2020
Basic – $184.14
ME Fare – 119 WSD + $92.45 ($211.45)
Economy – $218.64
The ME fare saves only $7.19 off the economy fare and the ME fare is actually $27.41 higher than the basic fare.
Halifax – Vancouver (one-way)
July 3, 2021
Basic – $538.34
ME Fare – 400 WSD + $134.83 ($534.83)
Economy – $559.04
Before the change, that 400 WSD could have been 125 WSD. Although you likely needed to book well in advance or have some flexibility in your schedule, it was quite doable. I know someone who booked Member Exclusive fares Halifax to Calgary round trip on popular travel dates in July of 2019 and saved a lot on their flights that way.
I don’t mean to be unappreciative of a discount; it’s just that loyalty programs, in my opinion, have to offer something to shoot for – an actual reward for your loyalty – in order to be worth consumers’ attention. When the discount is inconsequential it’s not going to generate much excitement about the program.
RBC WestJet Mastercard – Keep or Cancel?
The elimination of one the best reasons to collect WestJet dollars raises the question of whether to apply for or keep a WestJet credit card, either the RBC WestJet World Elite Mastercard or the lower tier RBC WestJet Mastercard.
I think this decision comes down to how you approach the program. If your goal in accumulating WestJet dollars was primarily to book Member Exclusive fares, you might want to rethink your strategy in light of the devaluation. However, if you’ve never been able to take advantage of a Member Exclusive fare and you find the annual companion voucher (plus the free checked bag with the World Elite) to be worth the annual fee, then there’s no reason to ditch the card.
When it comes to everyday spending on things like gas and groceries, there are cards like the Amex Cobalt or Scotiabank Gold Amex that offer better earning rates. If you shop mainly at retailers that do not accept Amex, it would be a good idea to consider your likely future travel plans and see how much flexibility you’d like with your points. Explore your options and remember that another way to earn WestJet dollars is by converting RBC Avion points and those points have more flexibility by offering a number of different redemption avenues.
This devaluation is particularly unfortunate for Canadians who like to fly across the country. With this change, along with Aeroplan’s new program structure, those long transcontinental trips have now become tougher to achieve with reward points.
The potential to get outsized value for your WestJet dollars was a big draw for points and miles enthusiasts. I do wonder though if maybe these changes are still a work in progress. Perhaps one reason there was no published chart for the previous Member Exclusive fares was an intention to preserve some latitude for unannounced adjustments. This new format also allows for leeway to offer better deals if people need more of nudge to book travel in the future.