Below are the screen shots of a flight from Victoria to Edmonton. I picked it because I was booking it – and that’s what got me thinking how much WE have to pay for loyalty…
The Air Canada basic fare is $202. No seat, no checked bag, no frequent flyer miles. Pay $23 more and you get HALF of the frequent flyer miles. Or pay $44 more for 100% of the miles, a seat selection, and a checked bag.
Westjet’s basic fare is $160. So right there it’s $42 cheaper than Air Canada if you were a free agent and just shopped by price and not loyalty. But after that, Westjet is the same as Air Canada: Basic fare is zero reward dollars in their program for tier levels and perks. Pay $23 more and you get only the reward dollars. Pay $90 more for those rewards and a seat selection and checked bag.
One charges you $23 to get your points, the other charges $44. You’ll need $3,000 total (before taxes and fees) to be a somebody in their loyalty programs, and always need to pay way higher than basic fares to earn any! That’s about 12 flights which would cost you almost $300 to $500 in order to BUY your loyalty points. AND you could never fly the other airline.
As a free agent, I took the $42 cheaper flight, skipped the $23 to get my reward dollars, let the computer pick the seat instead of spending $20 or so, and my credit card waved the $30 checked bag fee. That saved me $115. THAT is a lot of money – but not something I would have done last year when I was tied to Air Canada! Even if you make the “silver” Westjet level – have a look what that gets you: 6 free lounge visits, priority boarding (the flight leaves when everyone is on – not just your zone 2, though, and two free checked bag that your Westjet credit card can get you anyway. Yes, you do get to use the reward dollars towards future travel. (Air Canada is pretty much the same rewards but with two lounge visits.) That ain’t much for about $4,500 of spending ($3,000 plus all the taxes and fees for each flight).
For 99% of us, take the cheapest flight at the cheapest price. Pay the rip-off luggage fee if you don’t have their credit card to get a free bag. And for flights under 2 or 3 hours – forget paying for a seat. I’ve done studies that show row 5 arrives at the same time as row 26. The seat pitch is awful and there’s no leg room. Step up to buying a seat only if it’s a long flight.