CALGARY - WestJet Airlines Ltd. unveiled Monday its long-delayed credit card and frequent-flyer programs as it competes with rival Air Canada for more lucrative business travellers.
The programs were initially to be introduced last June, but were put on hold until kinks in WestJet's new reservation system could be worked out.
"It's been a long time coming," said Patrick Sojka, founder of Rewards Canada, a website that weighs various travel rewards programs.
Customers can earn "WestJet dollars" for purchases they make on a new Royal Bank (TSX:RY) MasterCard, that then may be used for flights or vacation packages.
The dollars earned may also be put toward seat sales and will not be subject to blackouts or seat restrictions, WestJet (TSX:WJA) said.
"These programs are designed to be simple, open and transparent," said Lauri Feser, vice-president of marketing for the Calgary-based airline.
"Canadians want to be able to understand the way their rewards are calculated, and they don't want to worry about whether they have enough points to do what they want."
WestJet's new reservation system needed to be up and running in order for the rewards programs to be rolled out. The new software had a rocky startup, but most of the glitches have since been fixed.
The airline is offering two different RBC-branded MasterCard reward programs. One offers rewards of 1.5 per cent in WestJet dollars, as well as travel insurance, hotel discounts and upgrades for an annual fee of $79.
Another earns cardholders one per cent back in WestJet dollars for an annual fee of $39.
"After reviewing everything, to me it's kind of an average program," said Sojka, adding the perks are a little weaker than those offered by Air Canada's (TSX:ACE.B) Aeroplan (TSX:AER)program.
However, he said the WestJet plan gets points for being easy to use and understand.
"Whether you have $10 ... in your account or $100 you can put those toward a flight. You don't have to reach a set amount of points like pretty much every other program," Sojka said.
WestJet, which wants to snatch business customers from rival Air Canada, is also offering a loyalty program for travellers who spend more than $1,500 per year on WestJet flights.
The program will likely play well with those who travel for business on their own dime - like self-employed people, Sojka said.
Those types of business travellers will probably opt for the cheapest possible flight, whether it's WestJet or Air Canada, and sign up for both airlines' reward programs.
"There are people that travel enough each year who'll want to join it and get some sort of reward, even if the rewards aren't big," said Sojka.