Rundown of VIA Preference (updated March 1, 2019)
I have mentioned this many times throughout my blog that travelling by train is my favourite mode of transportation. The two mains are because it feels the most comfortable and most eco-friendly option.
Before owning a car, travelling by train was my primary mode of transportation within the Windsor-Quebec City corridor with VIA Rail, which I enjoyed very much.
It has been over 2 years since my last VIA Preference update, so this post is probably long overdue.
VIA Preference has two points on their expiry policy:
- All VIA Préférence points expire on December 31, 2021, regardless of when they were earned. However, this date may continue to be extended regularly and in such case, all VIA Préférence points will be carried over to the next expiration date.
For this first point, VIA has been regularly extending the program, so it has not been a concern.
- VIA Préférence reserves the right to cancel the membership of any member who shows no point-earning activity in the 12 months following registration.
In my experience, they have been fairly generous with not enforcing the 12 month policy, which is very much appreciated.
The qualifying period for elite status runs from May 1 to April 30. Once you qualify for elite status, you will immediately enjoy the perks until April 30 of the following year. VIA Preference has two levels of elite status (in addition to the basic Preference level). Below are the key highlights of each level:
- Earn 1 point for every $1 spent on base fares (before taxes)
- Unrestricted reward travel (except December 23 and December 24)
- Spend at least $1,000 on base fares
- Earn 2 points for every $1 spent on base fares
- Choice of 2 exclusive coupons
- Access to a priority ticket line in major stations
In terms of the choice of coupons, personally I always chose the bonus points rather than any discount codes. I find the points are more flexible to use.
- Spend at least $2,000 on base fares and complete at least 8 segments
- Earn 3 points for every $1 spent on base fares
- Choice of 4 exclusive coupons
- Lounge access with an Economy Plus ticket or Economy BizPak
- Receive priority meal selection in Business class
Sign Up Bonus
The VIA Preference program is free to sign up and offers a generous sign up bonus. You can earn 500 bonus points after spending $250 (on base fares) within the first 6 months. After spending the $250, you will have a total of 750 points (500 sign up bonus + 250 in spending) to jump start your account.
In addition to your elite status level, you can also earn even more bonus points based on the fare class that you are purchasing. Below are the earning ratios:
- Earn 100% points on Escape and Business class fares
- Earn 125% points on Economy fares
- Earn 150% points on Economy Plus and Business Plus fares
Note that VIA Rail also often runs limited time bonus points promotions on certain routes, but you need to register for these offers to qualify. So because you book a ticket, be sure to register for any offers available to you.
Below are the items that you can earn VIA Preference points with.
- Base fares on all trains owned and operated by VIA Rail
- Maple Leaf train between Toronto and New York (Canadian portion only)
- Upgrades to Business class
- Tickets purchased with a CN or CP pass
- Youth Summer Pass
- Unlimited Semester Pass
- VIA 6 Pak
- Commuter ePass
- Use of VIA gift cards
- Service charges or baggage fees
- VIA Rail boutique purchases
- Tickets purchased with a VIA Rail pass
- Tickets purchased with an AD75 or AD50 coupon
- The rail travel portion of a package trip
- Rail travel purchased through a tour operator or sales agent
- Partial or group charters
- Purchase of VIA gift cards
- Use of Promotional Travel Credits
- Services offered by VIA’s partners and intermodal services (e.g. Amtrak, Trentway-Wagar, STM, Pacific Coach Lines, GO Transit or AMT)
You can also earn VIA Preference points by completing surveys with AskingCanadians.
I value each point at 6 cents a piece. The good part about redeeming VIA points is that the redemption includes any taxes, which is why you can get at least 6% return on your points earned. If you are not getting at least 6 cents per point, I would suggest purchasing the ticket instead and earn more points.
I think that it is time for VIA Rail to offer a co-branded credit card. I would be happy with a no annual fee card that earns 1 point for every $1 spent. Perhaps 2 points for every $1 spent on VIA Rail purchases. Such a card would no doubt be in my wallet.
Otherwise, I hope that VIA Rail continues to invest into improving their product to make it more accessible. Improving travel speeds would make a big difference, along with keeping prices affordable. They would recover the cost with high occupancy on their trains.
Spend $13,000, get a one-way diner ticket on The Canadian? That’d be way too generous to be sustainable for a credit card where the commissions are around 2%.
What would you propose?