WestJet introduces new ultra-low-cost airfare model

The move has been foreshadowed by WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech in recent months

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WestJet introduced a new fare class on Tuesday that will give air travellers the choice to fly with fewer services at a lower cost.

The Calgary-based airline’s model mimics strategies used by ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCC) such as Flair Airlines in which carry-on bags are allowed only for an additional fee.

Under WestJet’s “UltraBasic” fare, guests are allowed one personal item stored under their seat, will be seated at the back of the aircraft and are last to board, WestJet wrote in its Tuesday announcement.

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“We are committed to air travel affordability, and UltraBasic is an innovative cost-effective solution that strengthens WestJet’s ability to offer guests budget-friendly airfares to more destinations,” John Weatherill, WestJet Group executive vice-president and chief commercial officer, wrote in a statement.

UltraBasic travellers also aren’t allowed carry-on baggage stored in overhead bins, however they’re permitted to check bags for additional fees. They will still receive the same food and drink options all other passengers receive.

The model will be familiar for passengers who’ve used ultra-low-cost carriers like Flair Airlines, which charges fees for carry-on bags stored overhead. Now-defunct Lynx Air pursued a similar business model, however food and drink were not offered on the no-frills airline.

The move eliminates basic fare from WestJet’s offerings. The next cheapest airfare behind UltraBasic is now Econo fare, which provides all the offerings of a traditional flight ticket, with charges associated with cancellations and fees for seat selection and checked bags.

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WestJet had updated all its flights from June 4 onwards to include UltraBasic fare. For example, a June 25 flight from Calgary to Toronto costs $172 for UltraBasic fare, then scales up to $566 for Econo fare. Other flights on the same day have significantly smaller price disparities; a flight earlier that day is currently going for $256 for UltraBasic and $309 for Econo fare — a barely $50 difference.

The first checked bag for those flights using UltraBasic fare costs about $47 — approximately $10 more than what’s charged for Econo travellers for their first checked piece of luggage.

The move has been foreshadowed by WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech in recent months.

Alexis von Hoensbroech
WestJet Group CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech speaks during a Calgary Chamber of Commerce event at the Hyatt Regency in Calgary on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. Brent Calver/Postmedia

The shift also comes amid von Hoensbroech’s efforts to pressure the federal government to freeze fees on flying and to stop collecting airport rents, which he says are driving up the cost of ticket prices in Canada.

The airline executive was previously CEO and CFO of Austrian Airlines, where he restructured the airline and its network to compete with ultra-low-cost competition in Austria.

WestJet folded ultra-low-cost subsidiary Swoop Airlines into its mainline operations late last year. At the time, von Hoensbroech said WestJet had been pushing plans to densify the rear sections of its 737 aircraft while offering premium flights. Those back-of-the-bus seats, he said at the time, would be offered at ULCC prices.

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