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

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…

Read More: Watch out for flying fees: WestJet hikes checked bag cost, Flair adds

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