WestJet lately has branched out in what they do, perhaps in an attempt to compete with Air Canada. They launched WestJet Encore for regional flying as well as Swoop, an ultra low-cost carrier. On the other end, they plan to attract more high-yield passengers. Part of their plan includes an order for 10 Boeing 787 Dreamliners with an option to purchase 10 more. These planes will be their first aircraft with business class. Later, WestJet will also be retrofitting several Boeing 737’s with domestic business class seats.
WestJet 787 Dreamliner Flights
On Wednesday, WestJet announced the initial routes the aircraft will be flying. These flights are now bookable. The WestJet 787 will have 16 business class seats in a reverse herringbone configuration. Most airlines with this type of business class tend to have larger cabins, but a smaller cabin is a smart choice to start with. The plane will also feature Economy and Premium Economy seating, along with a new livery.
WestJet will put the aircraft initially on routes to Europe. These will begin in April, May, and June 2019 are will be year-round.
- Calgary – London Gatwick: Daily
- Calgary – Paris: 4 weekly
- Calgary – Dublin: 3 weekly
The flights have a similar schedule with most transatlantic flights – a overnight departure in the evening eastbound, and a return in the early afternoon westbound. I’m surprised they put these planes on flights from Calgary rather than a market with greater demand such as Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal, but it’s likely that they will add routes from these cities as they receive more aircraft.
In order for this business class product to be successful, they must have good connectivity. They should leverage their joint venture with Delta Airlines and expand their codeshare partnership with Air France/KLM to open additional feed onward from Europe. The Calgary – Europe routes they’ve launched the planes on doesn’t really have that much demand for business travellers. They likely could fill their planes to a decent capacity in economy similar to Air Canada Rouge or Air Transat, but that those economy fares have much lower margins.
WestJet currently has three booking classes for WestJet Business Class – J, C, and D. There is no award bucket just yet. At this point, the only way to access these flights are through paid tickets. Business Class fares are very reasonable, starting from $1400, especially since you can purchase them on a one-way basis. You can purchase a ticket through westjet.com or other OTAs such as Priceline, which is my preferred booking site for simple itineraries. Unfortunately, you can’t use the companion fare from the RBC WestJet World MasterCard on business class.
WestJet Rewards Changes
As part of their press release, WestJet Rewards is also adding a new Platinum tier elite status. The program will also make minor changes to the other elite tiers. Platinum status will be the highest level, above their current Gold tier. Sadly, I find their current elite program lacking, with the only tangible benefits being free same day changes. Many of the benefits are easily duplicable, such as priority security with NEXUS or a Visa Infinite Privilege credit card, and lounge access (with unlimited visits) using the American Express Platinum card.
Platinum members will have access to complimentary upgrades, but only to their Premium Economy cabin. This is disappointing because customers will need $8,000 annual qualifying spend to earn this status. It would make sense to add better upgrade options to business class – whether through a credit program like Air Canada or with upgrade certificates. I also hope they add other benefits to improve their value proposition.
Hopefully, WestJet will also introduce competitive rates for business class redemptions. While most mileage redemptions are for economy class domestic routes, I suspect that many frequent travellers, who travel in business class, will not want to redeem their rewards for economy. Aligning a redemption to the revenue cost of a flight, as WestJet does currently, would be a disastrous value as fares will likely rise with increased market share.
Overall, this news is really exciting. WestJet coming in and shaking up the market is awesome, and I look forward booking trying out their new business class in the future!