If you have some extra cash in your travel fund, you might want to take a glance at WestJet’s premium class fares on their non-stops between Halifax and Glasgow, London, Dublin or Paris. I don’t usually pay much attention to fares beyond economy, but there may be some value to be realized if you have plans to travel across the pond this summer or autumn.
What is WestJet Premium?
WestJet uses the 737 MAX aircraft for transatlantic flights out of Halifax and premium refers to the twelve seats at the front. They’re in a 2×2 configuration in contrast to 3×3 back in economy. The seats are wider with more legroom and recline. You can check out lots of reviews on YouTube to see details or view WestJet’s own little promotional video. Premium is a change from the former “Economy Plus” offering where the middle seat was blocked.
How do premium fares compare to economy fares?
I initially assumed that the dates with lower economy fares would at least roughly correspond to those with lower premium fares. But that does not appear to be the case. I guess it makes sense because the two classes are distinct commodities. A flight with very little availability in economy might be wide open in premium, or vice versa, so pricing will vary accordingly on top of other factors that go into setting fares.
For example, let’s try a summer trip to London for 8 nights. A quick check of Google Flights, filtering for non-stop to Gatwick in economy, reveals fares ranging from $905 to $1861 round-trip in July and August. When you switch to premium (by selecting “premium economy”) you’ll see a range of fares between $1667 and $3572.
On dates with the lowest premium fare of $1667, corresponding economy fares range from $956 to $1386.
What does a premium fare include?
To make an accurate comparison between economy and premium tickets, you’ll need to consider whether you’ll be purchasing any of the add-ons like checked bags or seat selection. The total cost will also depend on precisely what type of economy fare you purchase. If you’re checking two bags and selecting preferred seats at the front of economy or in the exit row, there will be fairly significant additional charges. Yet both of those extras are included with premium. Do a practice booking to see the actual numbers.
What about one-way fares? Can you mix and match economy with premium?
With WestJet, you can often book reasonably priced one-way tickets. Therefore, to get the full picture of your airfare options, you’ll need to look at each flight individually. You might decide to book economy in one direction (or use Aeroplan points etc.) and premium in the other.
For instance, say you want to go to Paris in September and you have fixed travel dates. The outbound one-way economy fare on September 21 is only $364 compared to $1447 in premium. However, there are no similarly low priced fares for your chosen return date of October 2 where the economy fare is $620 compared to $705 in premium. For a modest additional amount you could have a more comfortable 7 hr+ journey home.
How about Air Canada?
Air Canada offers non-stop service to London Heathrow on a 737 MAX with premium economy seating similar to WestJet’s. I understand there are some differences including the presence of leg and foot rests along with seat-back screens for in-flight entertainment. And there are 4 rows instead of 3 for a total of 16 seats rather than 12.
Using the earlier example of an 8 night trip to London in summer, the non-stop economy fares range from $935 to $1275 round-trip in July and August. The premium economy fares range from $2276 to $3911 – a bit higher than WestJet and not as easy to mix and match with a cheap one-way economy fare.
Want to redeem WestJet dollars?
The most annoying aspect of redeeming WestJet dollars is that they only cover the base fare – not the taxes and fees. Sadly, the base fare is typically only a small fraction of the total cost of an economy ticket on these transatlantic flights. Booking premium could be a way to use up your WSD by bringing the paid portion down to a reasonable amount.
Here’s a stark example. An economy fare to Dublin for a 7 night trip in October is a nice low $502 round-trip. Want to cover some of that with your WestJet dollars?
Only six bucks worth of base fare. Now to check premium…
At least when booking premium you can put a nice dent in the cost. You could rationalize that your WestJet dollars let you pay something closer to an economy price for an upgraded seat. In the example above, you’d be reducing a fare of $1386 by $600 which isn’t too bad.
Go west instead?
WestJet also flies non-stop Halifax to Vancouver in the summer. It’s interesting to compare the flying times of the YVR route with the transatlantic options.
Vancouver – 6hr 25m / 5hr 33m
Glasgow – 5hr 18m / 6hr 19m
Dublin – 5hr 22m / 6hr 7m
London – 5hr 50m / 7 hr
Paris – 6hr / 7hr 11m
Unsurprisingly, they’re in the same ballpark and the red-eye is on the homebound flight coming east. But, if you have flexibility with your travel dates (and destination), the premium fares in summer are lowest to Vancouver at $1356 round-trip.
Before you book your trip, you should definitely look into all your airfare options. It’s possible that paying a little more will actually be the better deal. There is a Flyertalk thread on the ability to bid for a last minute upgrade and that might be worth considering as well. I think if you’re able to try premium for a reasonable cost, you can then decide going forward how much extra it’s worth to you personally.