VIA Rail will be making changes to their Preference program that will take effect on March 25, 2023. The program will offer expanded points earning opportunities, it will be moving away from a set reward chart to dynamic reward pricing, and they will start charging taxes & fees on reward tickets.
The rates at which members earn points on tickets and travel passes will remain unchanged. However in the revamped program members will also be able to earn points on eligible fees and optional products such as extra bags and fees for travelling with a pet.
This is where the big changes are happening. The program will be following in the foot steps of so many loyalty programs by moving to a dynamic points redemption model.
Points requirements for a reward trip will no longer be based on a fixed points rewards chart. The number of points required will be based on the cash fare at the time of booking. Truly dynamic and just like with airlines and hotels this is both good and bad. The good is that members may be able to use less points for ticket when that ticket price is low and the bad is the opposite end in that it will cost more points when trying to redeem for a more expensive ticket.
At this time there is no indication of the points that will be required – that is will it be a flat rate per dollar of ticket value or will there be fluctuation like we see from programs like Aeroplan and AIR MILES.
Do you redeem now or later? The good news is VIA will honour the refund rules at time of booking so you could book tickets now and if your travel ends up requiring less points as of March 25 you can cancel and rebook:
The refund and exchange conditions in effect at time of booking are those that will apply if your travel plans change. If you book your reward trip now, you’ll be able to cancel it or modify your travel dates as of March 25 or after without being charged more points, service charges or taxes. If you notice that it would have been to your advantage to wait until after March 25 to book, you’ll always have the option to cancel your trip and rebook it under the new program conditions. Contact the VIA Préférence Service Center to cancel or modify a reward trip as of March 25, 2023.
Speaking of refunds for points redemptions, as of March 25 they will follow the same rules as the paid fare that was redeemed for.
Tickets paid with points starting on March 25, 2023, will be subject to the refund and exchange conditions of the fare you purchased. If the fare is exchangeable or refundable, you’ll receive the points back in your account, less the applicable refund/exchange fees.
Also starting March 25, 2023, the program will now charge the taxes/fees on products purchased with VIA Préférence points. Applicable taxes will be calculated based on the dollar amount of the products purchased with points. It does appear their systems are in the process of being updated so they are going to be reducing points redemptions by 30% on a temporary basis. I am assuming this is to cover the taxes and fees?
Until this is adjusted, and even though our redesigned loyalty program offers more value to our members, we will temporarily be reducing by 30% the number of points required for all redemptions made as of March 25, 2023. We will be communicating directly with our members when adjustments will be made to the program.
More redemption options
The program is also expanding the products that you can redeem points for. It will no longer be limited to tickets as you will be able to redeem for travel passes, fare upgrades, as well as eligible optional products and fees.
The revised VIA Preference program will now allow for points transfers between members for free. Each member will be limited to five transfers per year.
The program will be keeping Préférence, Privilège and Premier levels and their associated benefits. The qualifying dollar spend is not changing to reach the levels however they are making it potentially easier to reach Premier as they are removing the segments requirement.
The only other change with Elite Status is also a positive one and that is you will no longer have to wait to receive benefits when you qualify. Currently the program’s elite status kicks at the end of the annual qualification period so now you don’t have wait until the following year to receive your elite status.
Wrapping it up
Two days into this week and we already have news of two programs going through changes. First it was Porter Airlines and now it is VIA Rail. I’ll be honest I am not very familiar with VIA Preference (based in Calgary we don’t have VIA service) so I can only report on what VIA has provided.
They state the program is new and improved but in my 20+ years of covering loyalty programs most of the time that is simply marketing spin. It is improved as you may be able to use less points for the cheap fares but they ignore telling you you might use more points for the more expensive fares. On top of this members will now also have to pay out of pocket for the taxes on the products redeemed.
There are definitely some positive changes that can attest to the program being improved. Those include earning points on more products and those who qualify for elite status being able to receive their benefits right away.
So is the program really improved? I’ll need some of our readers who are VIA regulars to chime in and let us know what they think! Do the enhancements outweigh the dynamic pricing? And what about paying the taxes? Do please let us know in the comment section below.
Image via VIA Rail