Beware The New WestJet BASIC Fare

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bad Westjet Basic FareWe recently flew with WestJet and had a VERY minor clerical problem with the tickets.  To make a long story short (you can read the full story at the end of this article, if you want the details), WestJet told us they were unwilling to adjust our ticket even though there were dozens of open seats and the core problem was a WestJet issue.

We were told that the new Basic fare:

  1. has resulted in received a high number of complaints about the service level provided
  2. was introduced to compete with so called ultra-low-cost airlines
  3. had only been offered for 9 months and many customers were still unaware of its restrictions

As if this would make us feel better, we were also informed that WestJet refused to make changes for others in much more dire circumstances including:

  1. when a child went into medical distress at the airport
  2. when there was a car accident near the airport causing a delay

Various staff repeatedly said this was a “policy decision from management”, which does not at all answer the question of why this policy exists.  After contacting the office of Westjet CEO Edward Sims, we were eventually told that the reason for the policy is to avoid setting a precedent that others could use as an argument when complaining to the Canadian Transportation Agency

There is a logic to that argument but the better fix is to avoid the complaints in first place by setting rational limits and clearly marking the reduced service levels.

A customer driven company, as WestJet has claimed to be, should make accommodations when their is no cost to the airline and/or when there is an exceptional situation.  That is what customer service MANAGERS are for, exceptional situations.

There are three critical points to consider:

1 – NO COMPETITION

The premise of the zero service “Basic” fair is a fiction.  There are no ultra-low-cost airlines in Canada at this time.  The only two that claim to be ultra-low-cost are owned and operated by WestJet and Air Canada.  This is like Telus claiming they offer a crappy service plan because Kudo and Public do… Telus owns Kudo and Public.

2 – AVOID PRECEDENT WITH REASONABLE PARAMETERS:

To avoid undesirable legal precedents WestJet could:

  1. Allow one such change in a single 2 year period.  The WestJet CRM / reservation system is the world standard Sabre and it can  easily track such changes.
  2. Make the changes if there is zero cost to the airline.  I think most people would find a small administration fee (say $30) for such exceptions be acceptable.

3 – HIGHLIGHT THE ULTRA LOW SERVICE LEVEL:

WestJet should make the reduced service level MUCH more apparent to consumers.  We had no conception that BASIC was less than ECONO.  Because we were flying to a less popular destination, Palm Springs, the WestJet web page did not display the usual raft of ticket options.  There are only one or two flights per day and the ticket options are quite limited, which means we did not see (or perhaps notice) an Econo option.

To get around this problem, WestJet could:

  1. Offer these discount rates via different website.  For instance a new domain like www.WestjetZero.com or www.FlySwoop.com could be used to sell ultra-low-cost seats.
  2. Use a name other than BASIC.  “No service” fares should be called something more accurate like WESTJET ZERO, NON-FLEX, PREPAID NO CHANGES.  WestJet has a creative team that come up with much clearer branding.
  3. Offer a discount for waiving your rights AT THE END of the booking process, much in the same way Budget Rent a Car does.  Budget displays lowest price is shown as a discount for paying in advance which offers no cancellation of change options

The refusal to make such minor changes based purely on policy and not common sense will surely affect loyalty.  In our case, we paid about 10% more to fly WestJet on this particular flight because of the fine service they have provided in the past.  Those days are done for us.


POST MORTEM:

To add further annoyance:

  1. Our WestJet return flight was TWO HOURS and four minutes late… about the same time we needed WestJet to adjust our tickets, but I they expect use just to smile when the carrier has problems.
  2. One of our bags was 3 pounds over the weight limit and staff told us the fee for overweight baggage was USD $100.  Really.  $135 Canadian dollars sure sounds like price gouging to us.
  3. The flight did not have any customs declaration forms on-board which means when we arrived, we got to line up and wait another 20 minutes to fill out the forms at about 12:30am on a school night.

It is one thing to offer a low level of service.  It is quite another to have punitive fees and malicious policies.


WESTJET FARE CATEGORIES:

As stated we were completely unaware of the difference between Basic and Econo and in fact thought it was simply a branding change.  So you don’t make the same mistake, you might find the grid below useful

What do you want to do? Basic Econo Econo Flex Premium Premium Flex Business Business Flex
Change or cancel your flight within 24 hours of booking Included Included Included Included Included Included Included
Refund to original form of payment No No No No Included No Included
Flight Cancellation Non-refundable No credit for future travel $25 CAD outside 60 days of departure Included $25 CAD outside 60 days of departure Included $100 CAD Included
$100 CAD within 60 days of departure $100 CAD within 60 days of departure
Flight Changes Non-refundable No credit for future travel $25 CAD outside 60 days of departure Included $25 CAD outside 60 days of departure Included $100 CAD Included
$100 CAD within 60 days of departure $100 CAD within 60 days of departure
Same-daIncludedflight changes Non-refundable No credit for future travel $100 CAD Included $100 CAD Included Included Included
Name change, more than 24 hours after booking No $100 CAD $100 CAD $100 CAD Included $100 CAD Included
Checked baggage 1st bag $30 CAD/USD 1st bag $30 CAD/USD Included 2 2 2 2
2nd bag $50 CAD/USD 2nd bag $50 CAD/USD 2nd bag $50 CAD/USD
Advance standard seat selection $5-50 CAD $5-50 CAD Included Included Included Included Included
Premium food and beverages $ $ $ Included Included Included Included
WestJet Rewards earn n Included Included Included Included Included Included
Call Centre Booking Fee $15 per guest No No No No No No

LONG VERSION:

The WestJet online system did not accept a WestJet discount so I called the call center and they explained it was a known issue and to simply re-book the seats under two different orders.  Unfortunately when rebooking I selected the wrong time for one of the flights (2:30pm rather than 5:30pm).  That mistake is on me, although it should not have been a problem in the first place because the WestJet system should have allowed me to take the credit on the original fight… but I digress.

The day before we left we checked in online and detected the mistake.  We called the WestJet call center and confirmed there were MANY spare seats (about 60% load) on both flights but were truly shocked when they refused to move us.  We appealed to the manager on duty, the customer service manager at 7am the next morning and I even contacted WestJet President, Edward Sims.  WestJet consistently told us that the new basic fair provided no flexibility even if it cost WestJet nothing to make the change.

Westjet ConfirmationWestJet told us that the email we had received explained the terms clearly spelled out the ‘WestJet will do absolutely nothing for you” terms which is supposed they did.  However, we just reviewed the emails and can find no such notice.  (see screen shot to the right).

They also told us that we had to click on two alerts during the booking process, and I am sure we did, but we certainly did not detect any alerts about a departure from normal WestJet service.

SUMMARY:

We have loved WestJet for the last 20 years but this has permanently tarnished their brand.  WestJet is fighting hard to play with the big boys of the airline world and I suppose this disappointing level of service means they have arrived.

Comments

  1. Avatar
    Peter Tindall April 30, 2019 at 8:03 pm

    Was booking flight to Toronto for a wedding in October last night and was somewhat bemused to see these new no-service fares. Especially the $30 bucks or so to pick your seat (I have long legs and big feet so I like aisle seats. Decided what the heck and booked Air Transat for about $100 less. At least they only charge $10 to pick a seat. $30 is gouging plain and simple. Any vestige of loyalty I had for Westjet is rapidly disappearing. Next they will start charging for smiles.

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