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.