Watch out for flying fees: WestJet hikes checked bag cost, Flair adds credit card fee

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Here’s the good news: Airfares have declined in Canada. The bad news? You might wind up paying more in added fees.

WestJet and several U.S. airlines recently hiked their checked bag charges. Discount carrier Flair Airlines has raised some other fees, and added a surcharge when customers pay for their flight with a credit card. 

Airlines often say they “unbundle” fares so customers only have to pay for the add-ons they want.

“We keep our fares as low as possible while giving you the flexibility to add additional services,” Flair declares on its website.

But some industry experts warn that if passengers aren’t careful, they may wind up paying far more than anticipated.

Airlines “absolutely entice you with the low cost of the ticket … but then that low price is not as low as it appears with the ancillary fees,” said Karl Moore, an associate professor at McGill University who studies the industry. 

Passengers might “get caught with another $100 in fees they weren’t expecting, which means profits for the airlines,” he said. 

Karl Moore sitting in his office.
McGill University’s Karl Moore says air passengers might wind up paying more than they bargained for when booking flights with added fees. (CBC)

According to Statistics Canada, airfares dropped 14.3 per cent in 2023. Conversely, in the previous year, airfares spiked by 13.7 per cent. 

As airfares declined, WestJet introduced two checked bag price hikes. The airline now charges an extra $5 for checked luggage for travel booked after Feb. 14. That means, for an economy fare purchased online, passengers will pay between $35 and $42 for the first checked bag and between $55 and $65 for the second.

The increase comes on the heels of a $10 hike WestJet introduced four months ago for passengers who choose to check their bag with an agent at the airport.

The higher fees may irk passengers already struggling with other rising costs, such as food and housing. 

“It’s just a clear cash grab,” said Taryn Zielke of Regina who flies WestJet a couple of times a year. 

A couple on the beach.
Customer Taryn Zielke of Regina, left, questions why WestJet needs to raise checked bag fees. (Submitted by Taryn Zielke)

“Did you have to raise the baggage fees by $5? Like, could you have not done that?” she said. “Probably not. But they did, because they could.”

WestJet spokesperson Julia Brunet told CBC News in an email that baggage fees allow the airline to “keep base fares lower for all travellers.”

She said the system-wide $5 hike is WestJet’s first since 2018, and that passengers can avoid baggage charges by paying for their flight with a WestJet RBC Mastercard, or by buying a pricier, flexible fare. 

Will Air Canada hike baggage fees?

Several airlines in the United States have also hiked their baggage fees, including American Airlines and Alaska Airlines which upped their first checked bag charge from $30 to $35 US. American did not provide a reason.

Alaska Airlines said in an email it needed to adjust its fees to “navigate rising operating costs – including high fuel prices.”

First checked bag fees at Air Canada still start at $30, but Moore predicts the airline may follow suit and raise the price. 

“I would not be surprised if they did. It’s very, very tempting to them indeed,” he said.

In an email to CBC News, Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick would only say the airline is “aware of these trends” and has made no recent changes to its baggage policies. 

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Flair Airlines also recently raised some fees. Through an internet archive search, CBC News discovered that sometime after June 8, the airline increased the charge to book or change a flight over the phone from $15 to $25.

The airline also upped its flight change and cancellation fees. For example, the price to change a flight a week or more before departure has jumped 155 per cent to $74 from $29.

Flair also added a processing fee of 1.4 to 2.0 per cent when passengers pay by credit card. The airline did not respond to requests for comment. 

Anshul Singh in his living room.
Ottawa-based travel blogger, Anshul Singh worries that with all the added fees, it will be difficult for travellers to compare airfares and get the best deal. (Submitted by Anshul Singh)

Anshul Singh, founder of travel and loyalty-program website Points, Miles and Bling, says he applauds the airlines for being upfront about their fees, which are clearly laid out on their websites.

“Unbundled pricing models bring a lot of flexibility and predictability for passengers that know exactly what they’re looking for,” he said. 

However, says Singh, the plethora of added charges makes it hard for passengers to shop around and ensure they’re getting the best deal. 

“Often, those add-on fees are not readily available up front, especially when you’re comparing pricing,” he said. “I think it’s quite unfair to expect the customers to sort of keep a handle on all of these fee changes and make sure that they’re doing their price comparisons in a rational way.”

Moore said the best way for passengers to ensure they’re getting the best deal is to avoid paying for upgrades. So he recommends packing your own food, and travelling only with a carry-on bag. However, if you’re flying a discount airline such as Flair, you will be charged for any carry-on that can’t fit under the seat. 



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