Open Jaw

Tough Decisions…Ongoing Commitment

WestJet continues to invest in agency channel

Staying successful in Canada’s highly competitive airline/tour operator business sometimes means making tough decisions. WestJet made one of those tough decisions in March, following Air Canada by eliminating commission on its no frills Econo fares and reducing compensation on Flex fares from 7% to 4%.

The airline knew the changes wouldn’t be popular with retail travel agents. But Director of Agency Sales Jane Clementino says WestJet did what it could to soften the blow and remains committed to the agency channel. She also believes WestJet still offers better all-round agent compensation.

"We increased commission on Plus fares to 8%."

“One good thing is that we moved the timelines so people could get ready (the new structure takes effect October 1, 2015 while AC’s changes were immediate). We also didn’t take commission away from the leisure side. And we increased commission on Plus fares to 8%, while Air Canada is paying 4% on its higher fare categories.”

An industry veteran who spent 20 years of her career on the retail and TMC side, Clementino says that when agents are fully aware of the distinguishing characteristics of how WestJet does business, both in terms of service and compensation, retailers come away with a more nuanced perspective.

Investing In Indirect

“We continue to invest in this channel, rather than targeting direct bookings. For example, in late March we launched our new Travel Support Team at our call centre. Team members speak the language of agents – they understand GDS and have in-depth knowledge of our products and services. We’ve had very good feedback from agents,” Clementino says.

“We also continue to improve our Travel Agent Resource Site, and we’re weaving it into agency intranets to make it easy to access,” Clementino says.

Another area of improvement in agent relations is communications. “We’re focused on getting earlier communications out to our trade partners. That’s new for WestJet and we’ve had a positive reaction.”

Honest Pricing, More Commission

One area where WestJet Vacations has stood out – and stuck to its guns – is its policy of including everything but actual taxes in its pricing. Competitors are still placing fuel surcharges and other fees outside the package price, resulting in a misleadingly low advertised price. The practice also impacts online search results, often putting WestJet Vacations at a disadvantage.

“We’re really hoping the community realizes the commitment we made to all-in pricing. It’s right for the consumer, it’s right for the trade. It gives them the compensation they deserve.”

At 8%, commission on WestJet Vacations packages is competitive with other players. But since it is applied to a higher base price – a real base price – Clementino says it often tops 10%.

She’s hopeful the situation is beginning to shift. Some large agencies, including iTravel, have shifted to all-in pricing on the consumer-facing end of its booking engine.

“We don’t want to be on the 4th page of results with prices that are as good as or better than competitors,” Clementino says.

With Canada’s Competition Bureau currently investigating Avis Budget for similar pricing practices, Clementino holds hope that the situation will change. “It’s no different than what’s happening in our part of the business. In the meantime, we rely on astute counsellors to educate their customers on the differences in pricing.”

Clementino says honest pricing fits well with WestJet’s public perception. “People love us for being who we say we are, for offering a good experience from door-to-door.”

“Our most successful trade partners understand the product and the differences. They sell the product and the value, our schedule and our bundles. And they feel confident in our end-to-end service, for them and their customers. With Encore and our wide-body plans, WestJet is here to stay, and so is our commitment to the travel trade.”

COMMENTS

Kathy Pauly
May 12, 2015 at 15:41

I too was very surprised and disappointed in West Jet that they dropped commission on the lowest fares. I have heard it said that West Jet sets themselves apart as an air carrier, but do they? Not anymore so it seems. In making this move, they have shown they do not value travel agents like they claim they do. Very very disappointed. Set yourself apart from your competitor, just because they dropped commission to agents, doesn't mean you had to. Be a Leader not a Follower !!

Albert Correia
May 05, 2015 at 14:53

Jane must be delusional. Almost 100% of the fares that I have sold on WestJet have been the no frills econo fares. Now that there is zero commission involved I will no longer be selling your airline.


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