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Added fees may offset deals on low-cost Canadian airlines, analysts warn

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Airline analysts warn travellers to be wary as they can be lured in by a low advertised price for flights with some hidden fees bringing the overall cost of the trip way up.

Debbie Smith and her family are feeling the pinch, as they wait at the Ottawa International Airport for their flight to take off.

“We’ve been trying to get Halifax for two days. With the cancelation and delays, I checked some bags in yesterday and they charged something like $50 for one bag and they charged like almost double for the second bag. I mean it’s just crazy," Smith said.“It’s just robbery.”

Meanwhile, traveller Grace Kelly who’s on her way to Florida says paying extra for baggage fees “is a little ridiculous.”

“Although I do understand that it could be a weight issue, but I do find it can be a little much some times,” Kelley said.

However, traveller Lionel Thomson believes an extra charge for baggage fees is fair.

“You’re taking more stuff, so it’s going to cost you more fuel, so yeah it makes sense," he said.

Statistics Canada data suggest prices for airfare dropped in 2023 by about 14 per cent. More airlines now offer “unbundled” pricing that they say give passengers the option for a cheaper ticket. However, if travelers want to ‘add-on’ a meal, choose their seat or check luggage, those extras can increase the overall price significantly.

Airlines argue that stripping down the cost of flights, allows them to offer a range of fares and gives the passengers flexibility within their budgets.

Ancillary fees, which include baggage fees are bringing in millions of revenue for Canadian airline carriers. Many airlines now offer tiered options for how many bags you can travel with.

On a basic fare flight, the following airlines list their baggage fees:

• WestJet – first bag $35-42, second bag $50-59

• Air Canada – (Canada/US) first bag $35-42, second bag $50-60; (international) first bag $75, second bag $100

• Flair Air – first bag $49-79, second bag $49-89

Marketing technique 'not transparent'

President of Air Passenger Rights, Dr. Gábor Lukács, says the unbundled prices are a way for the airlines to make their expensive flights look cheaper than they actually are.

“It’s a marketing way (that) some passengers or users may find ‘not transparent,’ but at the end of the day, the prices are what they are when you add up all those fees together,” said Lukács.

He believes the federal government isn’t doing enough, and airline pricing should be legislated and that passengers should know how much they’re paying when they’re purchasing a ticket.

“Currently (pricing) is not regulated in Canada. Airlines can decide to charge for whatever they want and unless there is sufficient public outrage and legislation is passed, the airline will be able to do.” He added. “It really boils down to what is going to bring the most profit to the airline.”

Meanwhile, John Gradek, faculty lecturer for Operations and Integrated Aviation Management at McGill University says pricing is a strategy airlines use in a highly competitive industry.

“Travellers need to understand what they’re paying for. It’s really important that when you make your booking on your airline and you buy your ticket, and you buy all of the things you think you’re going to need,” said Gradek. “Make sure that you got enough that you buy so that you don’t get caught with surprises. The airlines love surprises.”

Gradek also warns travelers to “be very careful, read the fine print, in terms of the baggage allowance -- both weight as well as dimensions and size -- and to make sure you don’t get caught with an extra charge once you get to the airport.”

 

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