Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Month: April 2018

The basics of ‘Basic Economy’ airfares

The growing trend of North American airlines introducing a stripped-down economy fare has spread north of the border with both WestJet and Air Canada in recent days unveiling their own ‘basic economy’ fares but is this a good thing for Canadian travelers?

Delta Airlines was the first among legacy carriers to pioneer no-frills fares which it’d offered on some routes as early as 2014 but expanded in 2017 with American Airlines and United quickly following suit. What you get for the price of a basic economy ticket varies by airline but generally it gets you a seat and a carry-on and the same in-flight service as any economy passenger but little else as no itinerary changes are allowed and if you don’t use the ticket you won’t receive a refund or a credit to use on a future trip. As well the option to upgrade or select seats in advance even for a fee are also not permitted.

Dubbed ‘Economy Minus’ by some aviation commentators, ‘Basic Economy’ fares are in vogue as  a way for legacy airlines to be competitive with ultra low-cost carriers by offering flyers the choice of not paying for features that aren’t important.

This à la carte approach to fares looks like a win for consumers at first glance however in reality takes away perks that had until recently been included and without a noticeable price savings as Basic Economy fares are only the lowest fares an airline offers and are not necessarily a lower fare than the ones they replaced.  The benefit to consumer of having more choice is also only an advantage if they actually understand what they’re purchasing and given the myriad of fare types many don’t invest the time to research the online fine print and focus only on the lowest price.  In some cases the spread between the Basic Economy fares and the least expensive regular economy fares is small enough that paying a little more but getting more flexibility can be well worth it.

photo by author

Here in Canada, WestJet launched it’s Econo (Lowest )fare on select domestic routes to coincide with its 22nd anniversary in late February. The fare comes with some notable exclusions:

Keep in mind these WestJet Econo (Lowest )Fares may wind up competing with WestJet’s own ultra low cost airline called Swoop which takes flight in June 2018.

On WestJet’s website when pricing out an Econo (Lowest )route such as Edmonton – Vancouver the fares are displayed in a vertical grid.

After selecting the Econo (Lowest) fare, a confirmation screen requires users to confirm that they accept the restrictions before proceeding to payment.

There’s a summary of the WestJet fare options here.

Air Canada meantime has come out with its own version of Basic Economy on select domestic routes and like WestJet its no-frills fares earn no frequent flyer miles and checked bags may be added for a fee however unlike WestJet will allow passengers to assign a seat in advance for a fee. A chart showing all five flavors of economy airfares for travel within Canada is here. Note that all Basic fares may only be purchased through Air Canada channels.

One of the Air Canada Basic Economy routes is Edmonton – Vancouver and so this is how the pricing screen looks with the five levels of economy fares, their corresponding features and all-in prices with taxes displayed.

After selecting the Basic fare option a pop-up advisory reminds shoppers the realities of the fare and the difference to opt-up to the more flexible fare type Economy Standard which Air Canada used to call Tango.

The small fare upgrade to gain more flexibility in this case seems well worth it but each consumer will have to weigh the options for themselves.

Time will tell whether these bare-bones economy fares are a hit or a miss with the Canadian traveling public but it appears they are here to stay.


Seven bays tour in Huatulco; smooth sailing after a rocky start

The best way to explore and experience the scenic beauty of Huatulco’s famous bays is to head to sea for a day-long snorkel tour and so I signed up for an excursion that went swimmingly after a rocky start.

I confirmed the Amstar Seven Bays tour with the tour company rep. in the lobby at Dreams Huatulco a few days in advance and at the appointed pick-up time loitered in the lobby awaiting the tour pick-up which failed to show up. Figuring the driver was running on Mexican time we waited patiently but after a spell asked the tour company staffer on duty for a status update and after a few cell phone calls found out that despite having a receipt the reservations hadn’t been logged into the system so the pick-up never arrived. As a Plan B a taxi ride was arranged for the short drive to the nearby Santa Cruz marina but with no tour company staff on hand we weren’t sure where we should go or who we should see but luckily a local boat boss took charge and made sure we were in the right place at the right time.

photo courtesy of Shannon Poole

The tour begins with a leisurely route north from Santa Cruz along the rugged coast with the hills a brown dry colour during dry season in February when barely any precipitation falls.

video by author 

A number of notable local marine landmarks are seen including El Faro (the lighthouse), a blow hole and the Stone Face.

photo courtesy of Shannon Poole

Special guests appeared during the coastline cruise as dolphins appeared off the starboard bow.

video by author 

Organo Bay is within the Huatulco National Park which has preserved its virgin bay and long  crescent beach.

photo by author 

photo by author 

The tour’s first stop is Chachacual Bay which is accessible only by boat.

photo by author 

Savvy local entrepreneurs sell shade under beach umbrellas for MXN100 or about CAD$6 which for a 90-minute rental is a virtual necessity given the scorching sunshine.

photo by author 

The snorkeling equipment is included and there’s 90 minutes to view the scenery above & below the waterline.

photo courtesy of Shannon Poole

The visit to Chachacual Bay included a visit from a local hermit crab who turned out to be a handful.

photo courtesy of Shannon Poole

After our aquatic adventure we pulled anchor and set a course for Maguey Bay which is lined with local restaurants offering shaded dining under thatched roof that extend almost to the waters edge.

photo by author 

The two hour stop was about an hour too long for me as beyond having something to eat and swimming among the crowded waters of the bay there really isn’t too much to do. My lunch of a side of fries and a couple of local beers was almost the equivalent of CAD$15 with tip so nowhere near as inexpensive as elsewhere I’d experienced in and around Huatulco.

One tip I’d pass along for those joining a day-long snorkeling tour is to have a waterproof plastic container to store resort room key, I.D. such as a drivers licence and some smaller U.S. bills as this will allow you to keep your essentials with you instead of leaving them on the boat.

It should go without saying that any day of leisure snorkeling and soaking up the scenery of the bays of Huatulco is a good day but I would’ve preferred more time in the water in different bays and less time sitting around at waterside diners. For the price this tour is a good value and know the booking problems encountered at the start were an oversight so would close by noting that this is a day-long tour with snorkeling rather than a dedicated snorkeling tour so those wanting more time in the warm waters of Huatulco should plan accordingly.


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