WestJet Adds Fees the Right Way

Once again, it appears that those north of the border have figured out a better way to raise money . . . charge for new services instead of ones that are currently free. The latest comes from WestJet, which has announced it will begin offering seat assignments for a fee.

WestJet currently uses a model we don’t see much of here in the US. You can’t reserve a seat at the time of booking on WestJet. But, when you check-in, you can pick your seat. This is different from Southwest which doesn’t ever assign a seat and just has you pick when you get onboard. Of course, check-in behavior for both airlines is the same. People try to check in as early as possible so they can get the best seats.

Now on WestJet, you will be able to reserve a seat any time prior to after booking for $10 (I assume that’s US or Canadian money.) For $15, you can reserve an exit row seat. Not a bad deal, huh? It’s funny how perspective changes how you view a fee.

If an airline currently offers me a seat assignment for free (or a first bag, or really anything), it makes it a lot more annoying when they take that away. It’s a reduction in value, and that doesn’t go over well. On the other hand, when an airline offers me something that previously wasn’t available, I think it’s great.

Legacy carriers in the US have a problem in that a lot more stuff used to be included in the fare than is the case with someone like WestJet. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Air Canada has done a great job of adding value by charging for things that previously weren’t available. Yes, they’ve charged for things that were free as well, but at least they’ve tried to add value.

So, is there anything bad about this? Well, I had one reader say that if you buy a sale fare, you can’t pay to reserve a seat. That doesn’t make sense. Charge more for sale fares if you’d like, but why turn away money? I’m not sure what the full story is there.

Other than that, if I fly WestJet, I’m probably happy about this, because I’d rather be able to select my seat ahead of time for that nominal fee. If someone doesn’t want to pay the fee, however, that person is probably not so happy because now all those people that pay the fee will take away seats that could have previously been had by checking in early. Still, it’s a net positive for the airline’s customers, and it’s a net positive for the income statement as well.

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