Air Canada’s Basic Economy Introduction Shows How a Even a Slightly Smoother Booking Process Makes A Big Difference

Air Canada, Fares

Following in the footsteps of its American counterparts, Air Canada has decided to join the Basic Economy club on some domestic Canadian routes. Ok, actually, it’s Economy Basic because, well, I guess Canadians need to do things just a bit differently. In true Canadian fashion, this implementation is friendlier than how those south of the border have handled it. That’s primarily because Air Canada has spent years focused on improving the booking process on its website. If only others could take a hint.

Air Canada is no stranger to product bundles. In fact, it was one of the pioneers in that area over a decade ago. So when Air Canada wanted to add a Basic product, it just had to include another product into its existing architecture. With the addition of Basic, Air Canada will now have four distinct coach fare types (Basic, Tango, Flex, and Latitude), all of which have unique attributes. Air Canada lays this out quite nicely on its grid.

As for the product itself, Basic on Air Canada isn’t all that different than what others have done. In particular, it’s important to compare Air Canada’s offering to that of fellow Star Alliance member and Transatlantic joint venture partner United. The two are expected to get closer, so you’d think at some point there may be some rationalization between the two products. For now, however, there is no overlap since Air Canada is only rolling this out on some domestic Canadian routes. Let’s compare how these two stack up.

Air Canada United
Changeable No No
Refundable No No
Allows Carry-On Yes No
Earns Award Miles No Yes
Earns Elite Miles No No
Elite Upgrades No No
Purchase Seat Assignments Yes Yes

This doesn’t seem all that different with the notable exception of the carry-on bag that Air Canada allows and United doesn’t. We could debate which product is better all we want, but that’s not really the point of this post. It’s the booking process that interests me here, especially how seat assignments are handled. That’s an area where I’ve criticized United’s handling recently.

As mentioned, Air Canada has a long history of working with bundles, so it is better equipped to sell this product than the US carriers which just staple things on. For my example, it took a little searching to find a route that had it. I figured we’d see it in low cost dens like Hamilton, but the first market I came across that had it was the hotly-contested Vancouver to Edmonton run. This isn’t a surprise with both Air Canada and WestJet slugging it out. Flair, an ultra low cost airline, is also in there.

Once you do the search, the grid pops up as usual showing all the various options like you see on many airline sites now. If you click on Basic, it shows this:

That’s a nice and clean description of what’s included, and you can easily flip between products to compare. But here’s what I really like. Note that it says to click on the seat map to see how much seating costs. If you click “View Seats,” then it gives you a seat map that looks like this:

The beauty of this thing is that you can click on the fare type at the top and the prices change depending upon the type you choose. You don’t have to go any further down the booking process to see this information, unlike with most airlines. With most, you have to fill out your personal information before you can even pull up a seat map at all, and that’s frustrating.

Some of this is due to technological limitations, but frankly, I don’t really care. This is something that could be fixed if there had been any forethought and investment. What Air Canada has done is allow a purchaser to make a fully-informed decision right there in the shopping screen. It’s glorious.

Of course, if you stick with Basic, then it pops up the obligatory warning about what you won’t get with Basic versus Tango.

And that’s it. There are no other over-done warnings. You just make your way through the rest of the booking process as you would anywhere else. This doesn’t seem like all that much of a difference compared to other airlines on the surface, but the differences that do exist make the booking process so much better.

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4 comments on “Air Canada’s Basic Economy Introduction Shows How a Even a Slightly Smoother Booking Process Makes A Big Difference

  1. I just have one (multi-part) question, that I haven’t seen answered anywhere. Are airlines’ basic economy fares hard-assigned to a physical block of seats, or are “seats” (as units of capacity) available freely across all (assumedly non-extra-space) seats? Are basic economy and non-be seats capable of being overbooked separately as a single category? I can foresee basic economy fares contributing to a problem with overbookings, but I assume BE status would also be prioritized somewhat higher in the decision to bump. I’m sure it varies from airline to airline, but it would be interesting to know the formulas that are used to determine who gets dragged off the plane when a seat is needed for some fat cat high mucky-muck who shows up at the last second and demands to be accommodated. I haven’t personally been bumped by a FCHMMM since the 1970s when I used to travel on student discounts,)

    1. *Are airlines’ basic economy fares hard-assigned to a physical block of seats*
      No, they could technically be anywhere in the Y cabin, just more likely to be in the less preferable back middles.

      *Are basic economy and non-be seats capable of being overbooked separately as a single category?*
      Not really, but it can depends on how the airline has filed their fares. Most seem to be assigning Basic a fixed booking code, e.g. B, but then filing the fares so that there’s a Basic version and a Standard version. For example, a Standard H fare might be 250.00 but the Basic equivalent is 230.00. If H class is the lowest selling Standard fare, it’ll also be the lowest selling Basic fare, even if it books into B (with an H fare basis). Either way, the H class seats available for sale are going to reduce by one.

      Technically the cabin could be full of Basic fares; if everyone, even those who bought the very last Y cabin tickets, chose the Basic fare to save 20.00 each. The same number of seats are sold/oversold, but no-one decided to buy the Standard fare. Volunteers would still be sought and invol denied boarding (IDB) would still be run in the same priority as if everyone had a Standard fare. I can only guess that it would be the same when there are a mixture of Basic/Standard fares across the cabin, as other factors come into play for IDB decisions (elite status, time of check-in, time of purchase, onward conx, fare paid, etc.)

  2. So if I’m understanding correctly Air Canada has better website design nerds. I don’t think anything here is exactly ground breaking, just a better way to skin a cat as the idiom goes.

    1. Well, I think the idea is that they have better people who care about usability and customer happiness.

      That’s a cultural thing that goes well beyond “website nerds”.

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