Friday, October 15, 2010

Buyer Beware: WestJet vs. Air Canada

Advertising isn't just about brainstorming in offices while wearing suits or drinking rye while proposing to your secretary (Mad Men), it's about research. Over the past few weeks, my Advertising class got a taste of what it is to research by doing a "Buyer Beware" project.

With travel junkies and people with contacts inside airlines, my group chose to compare the two Canadian airlines: WestJet and Air Canada. As part of our research we booked three mock trips, polled customers, researched baggage and flight cancellation fees, and talked to a professional travel agent.

The first step my group took was to conduct some primary research. We booked three mock trips:

-one domestic to Vancouver over Thanksgiving

-one international to Cancun Mexico during winter break and

-one vacation package over reading week (spring break).

While booking the trips, we set tight parameters on dates and times. We did this not only to test the companies' availability of flights, but because in life there are often strict parameters like school, work, family, and length of vacation time. By including parameters, we made the trips as close to how real people would book them as possible.

Based on our three mock trips, we learned the following:

Domestic flight to Vancouver

Air Canada was better in price, cheaper by $84.00. In regards to travel time, WestJet was better, the flight 41 minutes faster.

Best Buy: Air Canada

Why? We concluded that a savings of $84.00 was better than WestJet’s flight that was 41 minutes faster.

International flight to Cancun, Mexico

WestJet was better in price, cheaper by $265.98. In regards to travel time, Air Canada was superior. The flight was nine hours and eighteen minutes faster.

Best Buy: WestJet for price with $1190.40, a savings of $265.98.

Vacation Package to Montego Bay, Jamaica

WestJet was better in price, cheaper by $338.96. In regards to travel time, Air Canada was better. The Air Canada flight was five minutes faster.

Best Buy: WestJet

The second part of our research consisted of polling people who had flown with both airlines in the past five years. Here were the results:

Best Price:

Air Canada: 20%

WestJet: 80%

Accommodations/ Services:

Air Canada: 52%

WestJet: 48%

Customer Satisfaction:

Air Canada: 22%

WestJet: 78%

Who Will You Book With Next?

Air Canada: 32%

WestJet: 68%

Polls were conducted with 25 participants. If the interviewee enjoyed both airlines equally a point was awarded to both airlines.

WestJet had a consistently lower perception of price, while providing a consistently higher customer service rating.

The majority of people interviewed found that Air Canada planes were more up-to-date and provided better services such as food and entertainment. However, we concluded that this heightened level of accommodations and services did not lend Air Canada a solid foundation or loyalty with their customers as more were willing to switch to WestJet flight for their next trip.

Conclusion: After all the research, which is the better buy?
Better buy for domestic flights: Air Canada. (Surprised me! I always thought Air Canada was more expensive). Air Canada has more flight options so they can offer lower prices for their domestic flights. However, through consumer and professional interviews it can be concluded that if the availability were the same, more people would prefer to fly with WestJet than Air Canada.

Better buy for international flights: WestJet. Although Air Canada has more international destinations, WestJet has created a niche market by providing more direct flights and shorter flight times. This can be coupled with WestJet’s ability to offer better customer service and match Air Canada’s services and accommodations for international flights.

Better by for international vacation packages: WestJet. WestJet offers a more competitive price and is able to match flight time almost directly with Air Canada to the point where time becomes irrelevant in comparison with the high price differences.

WestJet also has a better consumer outlook, consistently beating Air Canada in consumer perception of price, customer satisfaction, and overall consumer opinion. WestJet also rated high enough to become competitive with Air Canada in the areas of accommodations and services, an area which Air Canada has prided itself on.

We also concluded that from a professional standpoint (the interview with a travel agent) that WestJet is the preferred company because of their willingness to work with travel companies and agents to ensure customer satisfaction.

We found that WestJet had more lineate policies on their extra charges such as baggage, change fees, and cancelling. We did discover though that Air Canada had better policies for those flying Business Class.

Therefore, our group made the conclusion that the airline company WestJet is the better buy in Canada.


  1. The VP Communications of WestJet spoke at the CPRS National Conference last summer - he did a great presentation on employee communications, and showed how they're able to motivate the great customer service that leads to such high customer satisfaction.

  2. My boyfriend's cousin works for WestJet's head office in Calgary and she says it's hard to stay in a bad mood on your shift because everyone is so friendly and nice. She also said that on her first day, on a tour of the building, she walked past a windowed office with a very important-looking meeting going on. Her tour guide said the people in the meeting were the pilots and then they all looked out at her and waved. They really are doing a great job at keeping their employees happy, which in turn keeps their customers happy.