Will new Canadian airlines save you money in 2018?
Passengers line up at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on January 7, 2014. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim)
New airlines are promising domestic flights at prices up to 50 per cent lower than what Canadians pay on Air Canada or WestJet in 2018. But will they really save you money?
Ken Wong, a professor of marketing at Queen’s University, says it all depends on what level of service you expect. The savings will be possible, he says, but only for those willing to give up things such as hot meals, in-flight entertainment and, in some cases, carry-on baggage, for which the new airlines are expected to charge higher added fees.
The best deals, Wong says, will likely be between airports in mid-sized cities that charge airlines lower fees to land, a savings that can be passed on to consumers. For example, rather than Vancouver, many of the new airlines’ flights will land 70 kilometres away in Abbotsford, B.C. Instead of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, flights will land in Hamilton, Ont., some 80 kilometres from downtown Toronto.
Wong points out that while the fares may be much lower, the taxes and fees tacked onto bills will remain among the highest in the world.
The real question, according to Wong, is whether the new discount airlines will last. After all, low-fare options CanJet, Jetsgo and Zoom all tried and failed.
Wong says WestJet and Air Canada are big enough that they can afford to temporarily subsidize their low-cost competitors during rough patches, a luxury the startups won’t have. In other words, enjoy the savings while they last, he says.
Here’s a closer look at three of the new discount options:
Jetlines says it will launch in the summer and fly primarily out of Hamilton and Abbotsford, connecting to Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Halifax. In the winter, it plans to fly to Cancun, Las Vegas, Punta Cana and Florida. The company has said it’s also interested in flying out of Waterloo, Ont.
Jetlines says prices for a seat will be up to 50 per cent lower than Air Canada and WestJet, but “carry-on baggage, checked baggage and food would all be considered extra.”
The airline says its seat pitch (a measure of leg room) will be between 29 inches and 30 inches, with a width of 17 inches. That means a little less room than on the big airlines. For example, seats on WestJet’s mainline have a pitch of 31 inches or higher. Air Canada’s most common plane, the Airbus A-320-200, offers seats that have a 32-inch pitch and are 18 inches wide.
Flair airlines purchased struggling startup NewLeaf in 2017 and expanded late in the year to serve seven cities: Vancouver, Kelowna, Abbotsford, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Hamilton and Toronto.
It offers fares as low as $39. On Dec. 31, it was advertising flights from Toronto to Edmonton on Jan. 22 for $99, ($25.75 fare plus $73.26 in taxes and fees) and checked baggage starting at $26.25. The cheapest flight on Air Canada between those cities was listed at $171 ($45.28 plus $126 in taxes and fees) plus $25 for checked baggage.
Flair removed its $30 carry-on baggage fee in December, saying that it was “one of the main complaints that we had from passengers.” It allows people to take a personal bag weighing up to 10 kilograms (22 pounds) that slips under the seat, along with carry-on bag of the same weight for the overhead bin, included in the fare.
Swoop is the ultra-low-cost carrier WestJet says it will launch in the summer. Tickets are expected to go on sale in February.
WestJet says fares will be about half the cost of its mainline carrier before “ancillary fees” come into play. Those ancillary fees could be for baggage, or in-flight entertainment and food.
The Calgary-based airline is expected to make use of secondary airports such as Hamilton, Ont. and Abbotsford, B.C., but it’s unclear where else it will fly.
Air Canada has said it could add domestic flights under its discount sun-destination brand, Air Canada Rouge, that would directly compete with Swoop, which should push prices down.