America’s Delta Airlines and Canada’s WestJet have announced that they are deepening their relationship by expanding the benefits of their frequent flyer rewards programmes to eligible customers of both airlines.
The new scheme which came into operation on 18 March 2021 expands upon the previous agreements in place which have seen Delta Medallion members and WestJet Rewards members being able to use Delta miles and WestJet dollars on either airline’s services since 2016.
The new enhanced scheme will allow eligible members to receive priority boarding and check-in, lounge access, preferred seats with the selection fee waived and additional checked baggage allowance with priority drop-off and handling through the journey. Where available, fast-track security will also be offered.
‘These enhanced customer benefits are the foundation for creating a more seamless travel experience for our joint customers as we work towards improving our products and services,” said Delta’s Alain Bellemare, E.V.P. and President – International. “Even though the transborder network is limited at present, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these improvements will be available as the network rebounds and customers are ready to travel again.’
The enhanced loyalty scheme continues the close evolving relationship between the two airlines, where an extensive codeshare agreement has been in place for several years.
Joint venture hopes
Both airlines had intentions to develop this relationship further. In December 2017, Delta and WestJet announced a comprehensive transborder joint venture (JV.) According to the press release issued by Delta and WestJet at the time, fundamental to this agreement, was the ability to ‘coordinate flight schedules for new nonstop flights to new destinations, expanded codesharing and seamless and convenient connections on the airlines’ extensive networks in the US and Canada.’ In addition, enhanced frequent flyer benefits were also to be included.
Although approved by the Canadian government, the US Department of Transport (DOT) only gave tentative approval for the JV on 23 October last year. This approval came with strings attached, which included the removal of WestJet’s ultra low-cost carrier, Swoop from the JV and the need for WestJet to divest 16 take-off and landing slots at Delta’s New York hub at LaGuardia (LGA) airport.
On November 20 2020, both airlines announced that the JV was being scrapped, citing the ‘unreasonable and unacceptable’ demands from the DOT. Delta and WestJet said that losing slots would deprive them ‘of critical operating rights at one of the most important strategic hubs in Delta’s global network at a time when Delta is investing billions of dollars of its own capital in a comprehensive facilities improvement project at this airport.’ In addition, Delta would have been forced to sell off slots at a time when demand was significantly down ‘ensuring they were sold at a fire sale price’ according to the comments at the time.
In many respects, this response was not surprising as LGA is an important short-haul hub for Delta in New York. As Delta and WestJet do not have many routes that overlap at LGA, both airlines felt that the remedies required to approve the JV were out of proportion to their proposed alliance.
With the new reciprocity on their frequent flyer programmes, it is clear that Delta and WestJet have not given up hope of deepening their relationship further and a second try at the JV should not be ruled out.
One possible ray of hope for both airlines is that the original JV filing was under the previous Trump administration, where the head of the US DOT was Elaine Chao. With the recent change in government, there is now a new head of the DOT, Pete Buttigieg. In this light, the announcement of the new enhanced frequent flyer programme may be a step towards proposing a new JV.
Perhaps with a new US government and a new DOT, Delta and WestJet will repackage their JV and try again. It would not be a great surprise if this was to happen.