While many people are already happily booking their summer holidays, Canada has some of the most expensive airfares in the World, with airline tickets costing much more for similar distances here than in the United States, Europe, Asia or even Australia. Although it is no secret that a large portion of these extremely high costs comes from various government taxes, the final price is often a result of additional fees for baggage, seat selection, and more.
Meanwhile, the arrival of budget airlines in recent years has brought more affordable options for travelers. The team at TradingPedia set out to check whether these low cost flights are really cheaper, or whether after paying for their baggage and various other extras, travelers end up spending the same amount.
We analyzed the prices for one-way domestic fares and one-way fares for flights to some of the most popular holiday destinations among Canadians – Orlando, Florida, Hawaii, Mexico, London, and Paris. Interestingly, domestic flights are not much cheaper than flights to the United States but more importantly, budget airlines have larger “hidden” fees than well-established carriers with large fleets and more expensive fares.
Hidden Federal and Regional Taxes & Airport Surcharges
Until just a decade ago, there were no budget airlines in Canada, and large companies such as Air Canada and WestJet did not have a lot of competition, allowing them to charge their clients as much as they wanted to. Moreover, compared to the United States, the low population density in much of Canada means that fewer people tend to fly to and from particular destinations. However, this is not the real reason why airfares are so expensive in Canada.
A large percentage of the prices are, in fact, various government taxes and surcharges, including the Goods and Services Tax (GST), the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), Air Travelers Security Charge, and the Airport Improvement Fee for departing travelers. A fuel surcharge, an NAV Canada surcharge and more may also be added to the base fare price. In fact, roughly 15% to 40% of the airfare could be federal and regional taxes, as well as airport surcharges. The exact rate of these taxes varies, depending on the province and the airport, so in order to calculate the approximate tax burden on airfares, we carried out an experiment.
Our team “booked” a one-way flight from Toronto to Orlando, Florida during peak season (July 3) with one of the largest airlines in Canada. We found that out of the $287.08 (in Canadian dollars) we had to pay for the standard economy ticket, $174 was for the transportation service and around $113 or roughly 39% of the total fare price was collected in various federal, regional, and airport taxes:
- $4.55 HST
- $9.31 GST
- $35.00 Airport Improvement Fee
- $12.10 – Air Travellers Security Charge
- $5.19 – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) User Fee for the United States
- $28.60 – Transportation International/Domestic Tax (US)
- $8.84 – Customs User Fee (US)
- $9.49 – Immigration User Fee (US)
It should be noted that these taxes are mandatory, with travellers unable to complete a booking without paying them. These fees and taxes are not levied by the airlines themselves but by the local and federal governments, or by the airport authorities. Almost all Canadian international airports have an Airport Improvement Fee, for instance, that does not depend on the airline you fly with. It is a fixed tax and its amount is determined by airports, whereas other taxes such as HST or the GST are a percentage of the cost of the fare and vary, depending on the province and city of origin on your booking.
Since some of the taxes are tied to the city of origin for both one-way and round trips, it may be a better idea to book two one-way flights rather than one round trip flight. The great thing about all these taxes is that they are not exactly hidden – they are included in the airfare price but travellers can see a full breakdown before confirming the booking and paying the final price.
Along with these, however, we had to pay for seat selection and checked baggage, which are both free when opting for a more expensive class of service.
Additional Fees Make Airfares Even More Expensive
Depending on the airline, the class of service selected, the itinerary and the date, various hidden fees may be added on top of the base airfare price. For our comparison of airline fees, we decided to opt out of any loyalty programs or promotional offers. We booked several flights in economy class with six different airlines, picking a standard airfare in economy class (or the equivalent) rather than the most basic option. All prices below are in Canadian dollars.
Carry-on Bag Fee
Air Canada, Canada’s largest carrier, allows passengers to bring three items on board free of charge – one small carry-on bag or suitcase (23 cm x 40 cm x 55 cm / 9 in x 15.5 in x 21.5 in), one personal handbag, briefcase, or laptop, as well as a coat or a small purse. These are included in all fares unlike checked baggage, which is available for a fee for those who opt for Basic or Standard fares.
With WestJet, passengers are allowed to take one piece of carry-on baggage in the cabin for free such as a backpack or small suitcase – the bag should fit into the overhead compartment. A personal item can also be carried – this could be a purse or a laptop, for instance, and it should be small enough to be stored underneath the front seat. Air Transat also does not charge a fee for carry-on baggage and passengers can bring one personal item such as a purse and one small suitcase or other bag that would fit in the overhead compartment.
Passengers who choose to fly with one of Canada’s budget airlines, Lynx Air, will most likely purchase a more affordable airfare, but compared to the above-mentioned larger carriers, this airline allows only one small personal item to be brought into the cabin for free. This includes handbags up to 15cm x 33cm x 43cm in size that should fit under the seat in front of you. Larger carry-on bags (23cm x 40cm x 55cm, up to 10 kg) can be brought for a fee – between $59.99 and $91.99.
Another low-cost carrier is Swoop Airlines and just like Lynx, it charges a fee for all bags, including carry-on bags. It allows only one small personal item to be taken on board free of charge – this could be a small backpack, purse, laptop bag, or briefcase. Carry-on baggage is available for a fee and should not exceed the maximum dimensions of 52cm x 23cm x 38cm. It costs $42 – $67.80 if the bags are added to the online booking, but as the departure date approaches, so does the fee for carry-on bags. It starts from $52.50 for bags added during check-in and from $63 if this is done at the airport. In addition, the fees increase by $2 for travel during peak season (June 29, 2023 – September 4, 2023, and December 15, 2023 – January 3, 2024).
Flair Airlines, Canada’s ultra low-cost carrier, also allows only small personal item free of charge, such as a purse, a small backpack or a laptop bag. If the item is larger than 15 cm x 33 cm x 43 cm in size and weighs more than 7 kg, it will be considered a carry-on bag. In this case, a fee between $29 and $59 is charged. Of course, adding this at the airport is more expensive.
Checked Baggage Fee
When you check one bag with Air Canada, it costs $30 but the fee rises to $50 for a second bag. However, this second bag fee is only valid on domestic flights or when flying between Canada/U.S. and the Caribbean/Mexico/Central America. When traveling to other destinations, you are charged $100 for a second checked bag. If your bag is oversized (linear dimensions 62 in or 158 cm) or overweight (more than 50 lb or 23 kg), you will need to pay a one-time fee of $105-$115.
WestJet includes free checked-in bags for the more expensive classes of service but if you opt for economy class and purchase the Econo fare, you will be charged $30 to $35.40 for one piece of checked baggage. If you have a second bag, the fee rises to $50 – $59 and reaches $100 – $118 per item for the third and fourth bags. However, these are the fees if you add checked bags online – the fees are at least $10 higher during airport check-in, and even higher if you travel outside Canada and the U.S.
If you opt for the lowest Air Transat fare, you will need to pay a small fee for your checked baggage. The first bag is charged $35 when booking online, the second one is $55, while the third and any subsequent bags are charged a fee of $225. Excess baggage is charged $100 per piece.
Adding checked baggage on a Lynx Air flight varies in price, depending on the length of the flight and whether you add your bags online (during booking or web check-in) or at the airport. For one bag, passengers are charged between $59.99 and $90.39 online, depending on the length of the flight. Having a second bag adds another $79.99 – $124.29, while a third checked bag costs $99.99 to $135.59. There is also a $99 fee that applies to every checked bag that is considered oversized (combined dimensions of more than 158 cm) or overweight (over 23 kg).
With Swoop, checked baggage fees are, once again, tied to the length of the flight. The first bag is charged a fee of $42 – $67.80 during booking, but this fee increases with every subsequent bag. Higher fees also apply if the bags are added during online check-in or at the airport, reaching $146.90 for a fourth bag added at the airport. There is an additional excess baggage fee of $105 – $115 for bags exceeding 157 cm in total combined dimension or 23 kg in weight. Taxes, of course, also apply and the fee is $2 higher for peak season flights.
Those who fly with Flair may benefit from booking a more expensive fare rather than purchasing carry-on and checked baggage separately. For one checked bag, the airline charges a fee of $44 – $79 during booking, but this fee increases for the second and third bags. It is also more expensive if you check them in at the airport. Excess baggage is charged a $99 fee.
In addition, $5 will be added to all baggage fees for flights during peak season (flights departing between June 28, 2023 and September 6, 2023). Moreover, passengers should carefully check these fees when booking their flights because there are many inconsistencies on the website of Flair – especially when it comes to the baggage fees.
Sports Equipment Fees
Many airlines also allow larger objects such as sports equipment, hunting gear, and even firearms to be checked and transported in the cargo hold. When we compare the bicycle handling fee, we can see WestJet, Air Transat, and Air Canada charge passengers $50 per item. The fee at Lynx, on the other hand, is twice as high – between $99.99 and $112.99.
Swoop does not charge separately for sports equipment or bicycles and for an adult bike, you will likely need to pay the oversize fee on top of the regular checked baggage fee. This means that for a single bicycle, you will pay between $147 and $182.80 as long as you do not have any other checked baggage. If you do, the fee will be higher.
Adding a bicycle to your online booking with Flair Airlines is much simpler, but the fee is quite high at $99 per bike. If you bring it directly to the airport without checking it in beforehand, the fee will be $109.
Seat selection at Air Canada flights could cost anything from $10 to $50 for Standard fare passengers, depending on whether you pick a middle seat, a seat with more legroom, or the so-called Preferred seats, which are practically front seats with more space and legroom. We didn’t compare prices for this type of seat since the price range is too wide – from $19 to $199.
Note that you can simply choose not to select a seat – in this case, the airline will give you a random one free of charge. The same applies to seat selection at WestJet flights – it is optional but available for a fee for Basic and Econo fare holders. Those who wish to pick a better seat or simply make sure that they will sit next to their travel companions during the flight will be required to pay between $5 and $200. The exact fee depends on the class of service picked, the date and the destination.
Seat selection at Air Transat is included only within Club Class fares, whereas passengers who book an Eco Budget fare (the most affordable option but by no means low-cost) will pay between $27 and $67 to choose a particular seat. Standard seats cost $27, while extra legroom is available for $67.
With Lynx Air, passengers can select a seat for a fee starting from $10 and reaching $57.50, depending on the type of fare, destination, date and length of the flight. Swoop Airlines offers seats from $10 to $50 but the cost increases by $2 during peak season. Picking a particular seat on a Flair Airlines flight costs from $10 to $45. Of course, seat selection is optional with all carriers.
It should be noted, however, that a Goods and Services Tax will likely be levied on the seat, as well – if your seat originally costs $23, for example, you will need to pay, let’s say $24.15.
Call Centre and Administration Fees
Airlines typically charge no administration fees on online bookings. But there is usually a fee when passengers make a transaction or a booking through the call centre of the company. There are also fees for similar services at the airport kiosks, which are even higher. Most of the airlines we looked at charge $15 to $20 for bookings or other services made via telephone, with the exception of Air Canada and Air Transat. These two have not specified on their websites if they have call centre fees.
It should be noted that a sales tax is levied on almost anything on bookings – seats, baggage, bicycles, and call centre services. It is separate from the sales tax that applies to the base fare and is added to the final price of the ticket.