WestJet ‘UltraBasic’ Fare Panned Online


WestJet has introduced a bottom-tiered economy fare it calls UltraBasic that, among other things, denies participants a carry-on bag. The new fare class, which has unleashed a storm of online backlash, is an attempt to kill two birds with one stone. “UltraBasic has been designed to both expedite the boarding process and provide our most competitive pricing,” the airline told CBC News. Fares are roughly two-thirds of regular prices in the new class and checking a bag will cost $137. UltraBasic passengers who show up at the gate with a checked bag will have it taken away and checked in the baggage compartment for the fee plus a service charge.

UltraBasic passengers are not allowed to preselect their seats and will be assigned a seat in the back of the plane. They will board last and won’t be able to collect credit card points on the fare. Social media reaction was immediate and caustic, including marketing slogan suggestions like “Give us $600 and also we hate you” and “WestJet: Have you considered not going?”

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. I really think there is a class action suite coming here. I’m an experienced traveler and recently booked a JetBlue flight. I was shocked to learn a month after booking it that my fair did not permit a carryon. I can assure you, if I missed that note while booking, so did many others.

    Yes, the fair was cheaper, but it way more expensive after having to pay the carry-on baggage fee at the gate. I was beyond pissed off, as were many other customers.

    This has to stop.

  2. Who’s first to the bottom? And who floats up when this is all over? Airline Limbo? There is a basic truth here that everyone knows: We want cheap! A full disclosure of all associated costs on a ticket together with any limitations on rebooking etc. will answer most questions passengers have. Kudos to Westjet for “flying” this offer and history will show us what the end game will be.

  3. How will that make loading the airplane faster?
    If they want to load faster load seat a and f first. Followed by b and e and then C and d. Aot of the time is spent people in the 2 center seats having to get up and let the window seat in. It’s it’s not the bag In the overhead bin creating the delay. And why are first class in first and all the rabble has to go past them. Creating envy?

    • I actually agree with you on the first class part – I hate sitting there and having all the economy class staring at me while they pass through first class. That is why I prefer the airline that have a dedicated first class entrance so I don’t even have to see the economy class travelers

      • You aren’t that special, princess. Your ticket doesn’t make you better than any other ticketed passenger. You don’t own the plane and your first class ticket doesn’t guarantee nobody will look at you, as if we give a rat’s patoot about somebody sitting in first class. You don’t want to see them? Don’t look. When we get to the center of the universe, your sorry butt won’t be there waiting for us.

          • But you WILL get there ahead of those flying steerage, with only part of the crew getting there ahead of you.

  4. Great. Finally, a company that dares to offer a product where you don’t pay for transporting other luggage. This is how it has been done in Europe for decades. Democracy includes the freedom to choose, no one is forced to buy the cheapest ticket. It can also be asked if such a person is eligible to travel on an airplane who does not understand the terms of the ticket.

    • I disagree : the market doesn’t allow for fair competition, it forces a race-to-the-bottom. If you want the cheapest ticket then maybe the market is working well. But what if want to search for the cheapest flight where I can have a carry-on, enjoy x inches of legroom, check-in a 33kg suitcase, and not have to pay extra for seat-selection. There is no way. The market is standing in the way of fair competition. By the way not sure what part of Europe you live in but thankfully all flights I have flown have included carry-on of standard size.

      • I disagree. I have no problem finding seats that offer more room, etc – for a higher price. The airlines promote those seats because they provide a higher profit margin. Travelers considering the cheaper fairs cerainly know by now that they need to check the baggage limitations – I just booked two tickets last night on Expedia and they display those limitations very clearly. I remeber the days when airlines fares were government regulated – and many couldn’t afford to fly. We do NOT want to go back to those days.

  5. Its a sad state for travelers and consumers. Clearly this is a scam airline scheme designed to trick travelers into paying outrageous prices for bags which are typically needed and a part of what we call “traveling”. Frontier and Spirit started charging extra for carry-on bags (not “personal items” below a certain size). If you showed up w a stuffed backpack, sometimes they wouldnt care. Other times it was like the Nazi regieme inspecting your bags for size at the gate, then forcing you to pay an outrageous price for a carry-on. And Frontier also insisted you show up to the gate 45min early so they can carry on their antics. I think we as consumers have had about enough of this nonsense. It is time for the industry to adopt a standard that a “plane ticket” comes with a 50lb checked bag, a carry-on and a personal item, plus a non-alcoholic beverage and a bag of peanuts. Time to level the playing field so that we dont keep pushing for a lower and lower standard. Sorry if it would put someone out of work whose job it is to dream up stupider and stupider schemes to rip off the consumer.

    • LOL – trick travelers?! By now travelers considering the cheaper fares cerainly know by now that they need to check the baggage limitations – I just booked two tickets last night on Expedia and they display those limitations very clearly. Why should I have to subsidize everyone else’s 50lb checked bag if I can travel with just my backpack? Please stop trying to limit ticketing options and discounts because you don’t want to check an offered fare’s baggage guidelines!

  6. Search engines are to blame : there is no way to compare fares while stating “I want a carry-on and a 23kg checked-in bag”. This means the airline with the cheapest no frills fare will come out on top of your search. Then they have your attention, they waste your time filling out data etc, then at the very end they offer add-ons for your desire to breathe oxygen etc.
    So a race-to-the-bottom is being triggered, not necessarily by the airlines themselves, but by other market players. If anyone can point me to a fare search engine that allows a selection of minimal services, please feel free.

    • Hi, Peter DC! I wouldn’t put the blame solely on search engines, but I do agree with you that a way to find the lowest APPLICABLE fare is needed. We used to have travel agents whom we would trust to find us the best fare – but I understand that since they were compensated by the airlines, their motivations were more geared towards maximizing commissions rather than passing on the best fares. When online ticket purchasing came around, it was viewed as a win for the consumer, as it took the agent out of the way and drove price transparency. But, as with seemingly all things commercial, it has become the case that it is more advantageous to the airlines to advertise low prices that deliver products that most people can’t use – and to charge higher prices for what is actually needed.

      Ultimatel I think this falls on the airlines for their deceptive pricing practices, or perhaps the government for weak consumer protections. But as ever, buyer beware!

      Have a great day!

    • I agree that some ticketing search engines could be improved by allowing those who have specific baggage needs/desires to indicate those requirements at the start of their search – ideally be checking off a couple boxes (e.g. “Carry-on included” or “1 Checked back included”). The displayed fares could then be recalculated to include those desired option if not included in the cheapest base fare. It would speed up the search and decision process a bit.

    • The travel search site “kayak.com” has the filters you are looking for. In searching for a flight just now, I counted 15 different filters I could apply. That included the number of carry-on bags and checked bags which I wanted to include in the price quote. With zero bags, the cheapest itinerary was $297. With one checked bag, a different itinerary was cheapest, at $401.

      Part of markets working is customers using effective tools to comparison shop.

  7. oops sorry i wanted to provide an approving comment on vipirate66’s entry, not report it. Please ignore my ‘report comment’.

  8. As I have said many times before, everyone should be charged per pound including carry on and luggage. It could not be more fair. It would end all foolishness. Many would not like it, however, it is the fairest way.

    • Wrong. Fair to who? I take up the same seat as the fat guy or the skinny little kid, and what it costs the airlines to do that is not an issue. There is no “per pound.”

      • Same seat, but higher fuel bills. I’d favor tickets with a fare (based on class) plus a gross weight fee (same rate for all). The fare portion would be paid up front, the GWF at the airport.

      • Sorry, but I’ve sat next to people who took up more than THEIR seat. I’m not angry they charge extra for more seat room, but I am angry with the terms (no real guarantees, and they don’t actually describe what you get).

        Also, because of that, I resent so many regular seats are not comfortable or safe for me.

  9. The parent company of Westjet is a company called ONEX.
    ONEX is not noted for being a benevolent entity.
    This “Fare” is a perfect example of the ONEX “management style”;
    Treat the customers (and employees) with contempt!
    Take the money; give as little as possible in return.

    • If true then don’t buy their product. If enough consumers feel the way you do the company won’t survive – that is competition/capitalism at work.

  10. Well???, it looks like WestJet won the race to the bottom. Who would have thunk? I mean Spirit, Allegiant, come on! This is the reason if my destination is within 1,000 miles from home, I drive. At the end of the day, the cost of gas, one hotels in both direction, is worth the aggravation of delays, unruly passengers, crummy service, and no ownership by airlines when events go pair shape, and disappear into the woodwork when problems arise.

    • It’s great that you can make a choice that suits you best. Others want/need the cheapest possible airfare or they can’t make the trip. Let airlines decide how they want to price/position their airfares and consumers/competition will determine which ones survive (or are forced to change their pricing/marketing strategies).

  11. Customers are the dumbest if they can’t figure out that if it’s too good to be true…. Airline costs are airline costs someone will have to pay for these and more for companies to remain viable – instead of going this route shouldn’t WestJet figure out a better way to show value? Just sayin

  12. I would suggest that the fare offering isn’t so much the source of our disdain, except that it comes at the end of a list of outrages and disappointments with the airlines that is as long as my arm. Eddie Rickenbacker would tell us “I told you so”, but either you have government regulation, or a free market. In my experience, trying to get the best of both worlds often delivers the worst of both. Once upon a time I was Executive Platinum with AA – status certainly makes a difference! After far too many disappointments though, I made a conscious decision to fly private whenever possible and sacrifice my status. My wife still flies the airlines weekly and has excellent status with UAL while I have zero and have learned to despise flying commercial. I too have friends who happily prefer to drive 1,000 miles and be in charge of their own destiny, while I complain that my list of “I will never fly with xxxx again!” Has gone full circle, and my current preferred airline was previously the first I swore never to give my business to ever again. Right now my wife and I are planning travel for the 4th of July. She will fly with points on United and I will fly my own friendly skies all by myself. Go figure.

    • No, what we mostly have now are government regulated businesses being mislabeled as being in a free market.

      Otherwise, total agreement. Amazingly, we now get worse in so many ways than 25 years ago. At least us Continental customers seem to think so.

  13. By the amount of comments, it appears that commercial airline travel is an unpleasant experience.However, consumers are unwilling to pay for the services they want, and are willing to settle for less, and complain about it. “Reality be damned! I want first class amenities at baggage compartment rates!”

    • Right, you get what you pay for! After experiencing airline travel nearly continuously for a little over 60 years for both business and pleasure, on the rare occasions I do fly commercially, I now pony up the extra for the amenities business class offers. Unlike the wonderful travels on TWA, Pan Am, Eastern and others which I was fortunate to have experienced, now my desire is to enter and exit the Greyhound bus as expeditiously as possible!

  14. The only way the airlines will change is if the market demands it. Boycott the airlines who engage in practices you don’t like. Patronize those airlines you find agreeable. If we don’t vote with our wallets, nothing will change. Sadly, no matter what you or I may want there are always plenty willing to accept less.

  15. It’s astonishing that people disparage low priced fares as a race to the bottom, ignoring the more expensive fares that include all the things they are complaining about. They don’t want to pay for what they use, they want everyone else to subsidize their particular choice. This is like complaining about cheap cars not having luxury interiors or cheap hotels that don’t put a chocolate on your pillow when they fail to turn down your bed. Anyone who has flown even once in the last couple of decades knows you need to check what is included in any particular fare, as if the label “ultrabasic” is not enough of a clue.

  16. In the last half of my career, I flew at least one transcontinental flight a month. Any distance short of that, I was PIC. At one point, most of the trips were in a 747 on 6pm Sunday IAD-SFO with a 10pm Friday return. I lived on a small grass strip in MD, so on Sunday I would fly down to Atlantic Aero, where they’d whisk me in a limo to the VIP entrance around back, and repeat the process Saturday morning. That 747 ride upstairs was quite comfortable. (I eventually got Atlantic to stop rolling out a red carpet to my C172 for a week of discounted ramp parking and a top-off.)

    Having burned up all those FF-points on a couple of family trips to Oz, I now find airline travel, in general, excruciating. That said, I may investigate this WestJet option. It’s gotten to the point that I can stuff all the essentials from my RONkit in the pockets of my cargo pants, and everything else can be overnight-shipped for less than their upcharge for bags.

    I wonder if we’ll see a spate of pax in the WestJet boarding queue wearing Captain Kangaroo overcoats?

  17. [correction: “a Banana Man coat as seen on Captain Kangaroo.” Not that the Captain’s coat pockets were capacious.]

  18. SWA seems to be making money. Just everyone do it their way. Until then, I ride with SWA (and on points). If SWA doesn’t fly there, neither do I. $137 for a bag. BS!