WestJet’s discount airline Swoop took to the skies on June 20, with the promise of delivering 30 to 40 per cent lower than a national carrier. But Canadians using travel-booking websites like Expedia won’t find the airline’s uber cheap prices among their search results.
That’s because Swoop, like many other so-called ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCC), only allows bookings through its own website.
“Currently, Swoop flights can only be booked on FlySwoop.com,” company spokesperson Kelly Steward told Global News via email. “One of the primary reasons for this is that it enables us to control our costs, so we can, in turn, pass those savings on to the traveller by offering ultra-affordable fares.”
This is typical for ULCCs, due to the added costs of listing on Expedia and similar sites, said John Korenic, adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.
“A couple of years ago, I looked at the characteristics of ULCCs around the globe, and none of the ULCCs subscribed to Expedia. This way, they are able to offer lower fares,” Korenic told Global News.
Swoop competitor Flair Airlines, which began operating as an ULCC in June 2017, also doesn’t currently appear in Expedia’s search results.
However, the airline told Global News that Canadians can purchase Flair tickets through Flighthub and “a few other online travel agencies.”
The company said it is also working with mainstream travel agents and added that it will make an announcement prior to the end of June about “new ways in which a person can book travel with Flair.”
Swoop also said it is considering “cost-effective booking channels” in the future, including online travel agencies that are “aligned to the ULCC model.”
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Asked for comment, Expedia provided Global News with the following emailed statement: “We are excited for the launch of additional players in the travel space and the variety of Canadian airline options available to travellers. At Expedia, we are always exploring new ways to broaden the products and offerings on our site, but cannot comment further on specific airline contracts and agreements.”
Expedia also owns Travelocity, Trivago, Orbitz and Hotwire.
But while Canadians can’t use one of the world’s biggest travel-site operators to book Swoop and Flair flights (at least for now), they can still spot those unbeatable low ticket prices on fare-comparison sites like KAYAK.
While users can compare price information on sites like KAYAK, actually making reservations requires navigating away to an online travel agency or to an airline, hotel or car-rental site.
Reached by Global News, KAYAK said it recently launched a new baggage fee feature, which “helps users better understand how flight costs change as you add more bags.”
This may be particularly useful for budget travellers opting for ULCC flights, of which prices can increase considerably if passengers choose the option of having checked luggage or, sometimes, even a carry-on bag.
With Swoop, for example, initial one-way flights start at $49 tax included from Abbotsford, B.C. to Winnipeg, $129 between Hamilton, Ont. and Abbotsford and $99 between Hamilton and Halifax. But the fares don’t include a range of fees, including carry-on luggage and checked bags starting at $26.25.
Charging for add-ons like bags, seat selection and access to food and beverages on board is part of what allows ULCCs to offer such low prices. Other cost-saving strategies include squeezing more passengers into a plane – think, 75 cm of legroom instead of 85 cm and non-reclining seats – flying from secondary airports that charge lower landing and terminal fees, and flying only one type of carrier, which doesn’t require training pilots and crew on different kinds of planes.
ULCCs have long thrived in Europe, Asia and the U.S., but are new to Canada, where no budget airline has successful taken off until recently.
The emergence of today’s no-frills Canadian upstarts has much to do with Ottawa’s decision, announced in 2016 and translated into legislation in May of this year, to raise the foreign ownership limit on domestic airlines from 25 per cent to 49 per cent.
The change makes it easier to access the capital needed to get an airline off the ground, which takes $50 million to $150 million in Canada, Korenic previously told Global News.
— With files from The Canadian Press