Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Month: February 2017

Have Big-Budget Airline Safety Videos Gone Too Far?

Some airlines have turned dull safety videos into big-budget productions to grab passengers’ attention. But research shows that viewers may remember the sizzle, but not the safety tips.
Photo: Virgin America

Air Canada unveils new livery

The next time you board an Air Canada chances are it might look a little different as the airline recently unveiled its new paint scheme or livery in a trio of high profile events held simultaneously in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

The new colours are, according to a press release, “a bold black and white design that highlights its iconic red maple leaf encircled ensign, or “rondelle,” that returns to the tail of the flag carrier’s fleet after an absence of 24 years. ” Rondelle by the way is the French term for a hockey puck so the airline shoots & scores in two official languages!

The first 3 aircraft bearing the new colours have entered service with the remaining fleet of 297 mainline and regional aircraft to be repainted in schedule as they are brought in for regular maintenance.

In addition to the new livery Air Canada the airline also premiered charcoal grey and black employee uniforms with red accents and accessories tailored by Canadian designer Christopher Bates.

There’s a detailed look at the colour scheme and its inspiration here but one thing of interest was a retrospective of the airline’s tail colours over the years.

I began flying Air Canada regularly in the mid-1990’s so identify with the red maple leaf on the green background and preferred that livery and the new one to the previous minty toothpaste colour scheme.

Everyone is bound to form their own opinion about the new livery but from the first glance I am giving it a thumbs up and will look for it on an airport tarmac one day soon.

Volunteering pays; accepting an airline’s oversold offer

The maxim that time is money was confirmed on my way back from a short holiday in Austin, Texas recently as I was extended an offer I couldn’t refuse: give up my confirmed seat on the last Air Canada flight of the night Toronto – Edmonton in exchange for a seat on the first morning flight, a future travel credit of CAD$800, airport hotel accommodation and a $10 breakfast voucher. Right place, right time never hurts but being flexible can pay off.

Given I really didn’t need to show up at work until 11 AM, I quickly calculated that whether I kept my confirmed seat and arrived into Edmonton past 1 AM and caught a few hours sleep at home or whether I slept for a few hours at an airport hotel and jumped on the first morning flight and showed up at the office near Noon it didn’t make much difference but volunteering would net me quite a haul considering I was travelling on an Air Miles award ticket. I spoke to the Air Canada gate agent letting them know I was willing to volunteer to give up my seat for the offered compensation and left my boarding pass to stand aside and watch the flight board without me, a bit of an odd feeling. One of the other volunteers who accepted the airline’s offer mentioned that the reason the flight home to Edmonton was sold out was because the previous flight had been cancelled and so there were more passengers than seats on the last flight.

After being given our boarding passes back and sent down to the customer service desk where we would be given our hotel and food vouchers and an $800 electronic travel voucher good for future use, a small group of us boarded the hotel airport shuttle bus around midnight for the short ride to our hotel rooms we would be in for a short time before heading back for the first morning flight. I caught a few hours sleep at the Crowne Plaza Toronto Airport hotel, rode the shuttle back to Pearson Airport the next morning, checked in and used my food voucher before boarding the flight back to Edmonton.

It’s worth noting that in airline parlance I’d voluntarily accepted a ‘bump’ in return for compensation and in cases when the flight is overbooked the airline is required to seek volunteers with announcements in the gate. Should nobody step forward to accept the announced offer then passengers can be bumped against their will, or involuntarily bumped, and should’ve received the same or similar future travel credit along with the hotel and food vouchers as I did.

This happens as the majority of airlines overbook their flights by as much as 10% knowing there will be a certain number of passengers who no-show or cancel last-minute based on  sophisticated computer seat management software. The fancy formulas work 99% of the time but there’s 1% of flights that are oversold when an airline needs to bump passengers and as a result of this 2013 Canadian Transportation Agency ruling must compensate them $200 for a delay of less than two hours, $400 if the delay is between two to six hours, and $800 if it’s six hours or more. If you don’t have the flexibility to alter your travel plans there are some strategies to avoid being bumped:

  • Confirm seat assignment as far in advance as possible either without charge if your fare allows it or for a small fee if it doesn’t and don’t be too picky as any seat assignment such as a middle seat is better than none at all and often these seat assignments can be adjusted at airport check-in
  • Check-in as early as possible for your flight; online check-in for most flights opens 24-hours prior to departure so it’s well worth the few minutes it takes to complete this process
  •  Consider how you travel as airline’s are far less willing to bump one of their frequent flyers,  especially those who hold elite status
  • Avoid peak travel times of the day such as the first flight of the day or last flight of the night in favor or midday departures

If you have the flexibility to accept a voluntary bump the compensation can be several times the fare paid so it can pay to get to the gate early and listen for announcements seeking volunteers although it helps your cause if your don’t have checked baggage. If volunteering there are a few things worth considering:

  • Ensure your delay is worth the advertised offer; airlines will usually start with low compensation offers meaning that the last holdout might get more than the first volunteer
  • Confirm when your next flight out is and that it’s a confirmed seat
  • Confirm that overnight airport hotel accommodation is included
  • Ask for a certificate with a specific dollar amount instead of a more generic ‘free flight’ voucher as often these have restrictions such as blackout dates, limited seating or ineligible flights
  • The travel credit value may be used toward a future ticket’s base fare only, not airline fuel surcharges or taxes

I’d often heard the announcements while killing time in boarding gates but hadn’t accepted the advertised offer however based on my recent experience may be far more willing to consider it in future as being self-employed and not having to conform to an employers work schedule is a hugely liberating factor. My travel credit is valid for a year and may be parcelled out to be used against several smaller trips or one big journey so appreciate the flexibility it offers. The only challenging decision is deciding where to travel with my credit but something tells me I can find a few destinations.

 

WestJet Rewards still rewarding despite some minor changes

As frequent flyer programs go WestJet Rewards has charted a much different course than its big airline competition since its 2010 launch and while there are some changes this year the core advantages are unchanged and help set this loyalty program apart.

Unlike most frequent flyer programs which have traditionally awarded miles based on distance travelled WestJet Rewards from inception has instead rewarded its members with redeemable program dollars calculated on how much they spend  annually on airfare. The reason many legacy airlines have revamped their loyalty programs in the past 18 months including Air Canada’s Aeroplan to include a minimum spend requirement is because of the inequities distance based credits create as a passenger flying a few long-haul routes on a low fare earned more miles and elite status with relatively little money spent whereas other passengers travelling domestically or trans-border may have flown shorter distances but over the course of year spent much more.

In addition to earning WestJet Dollars based on upon the airfare paid, WestJet Rewards members can also earn by booking with WestJet Vacations or WestJet RBC MasterCard or converting miles/points from other loyalty programs such as RBC Rewards which I’ve done a few times in the past 18 months to build my balance when there have been conversion bonus promotions.

The biggest advantages of WestJet Rewards are banked dollars may be spent one-to-one toward the cost of WestJet airfare without blackouts dates or limited award seat availability, members may apply as little as $50 dollars toward a future flights without having to wait until the full value of the airfare is earned before confirming a flight, and dollars may be shared with another member for a small $50 admin. fee per transfer. Since each member must be enrolled to collect WestJet Dollars this last transferability could be used, for example, to move earned dollars from child to parent for a fairly low fee.

If there are downsides to the program it’s that with no set award levels there can be times when fares are high so it’ll require more WestJet Dollars to get a free seat, redemptions for flights originating outside of Canada cannot be done online, and the 12-month annual spend makes it harder for the more infrequent flyers to earn dollars.

To further reward its biggest spenders in 2014 WestJet Rewards introduced tiered elite recognition levels called Teal, Silver and Gold with the two top tiers receiving additional benefits beyond higher WestJet Dollar accumulation including  airport lounge vouchers, advance seat assignment vouchers, priority boarding and free checked bags. There’s an overview of the changes here but the sweet spot that hasn’t survived the 2017 program changes is for those Teal members who spent over $1500 but less than $3000 as they earned 3% between those money milestones under the old rules whereas in the new structure that same member will earn only 1% all the way up to $3000.

The changes to the WestJet Rewards program reward the high travel spenders with more WestJet Dollars they can bank toward future free travel while less frequent travellers who spend less on airfares will earn a little less but  for those who don’t travel enough to qualify for any of the elite levels there’s always Plan B which is the WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard with its perks such as free checked bags and 2% earning on WestJet fares and 1.5% on all other purchases.

Ontario moved ahead with legislation in 2016 called the Protecting Rewards Points Act that would remove loyalty program expiry dates which could impact WestJet Rewards which currently has a five year lifespan for every dollar earned but the airline is taking a wait and see attitude before deciding how to respond with any changes. A removal of expiry dates however would only help add value to what is an already user-friendly loyalty program.

 

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