A popular feature that many WestJet travellers take advantage of is the companion voucher, which offers a discounted base fare for a second passenger when the first passenger pays full price.
When we were recently exploring some redemptions with the companion voucher, we noticed some unusual patterns that form when comparing fare breakdowns with and without the companion voucher applied.
As it seems, there may be some additional fees associated with using a companion voucher to some destinations, which could warrant further investigation.
Since originally publishing this article, we’ve received an initial response from WestJet, which has been added to the discussion below.
A Closer Look at WestJet’s Other ATC Fees on Companion Voucher Bookings
Whenever you redeem a WestJet companion voucher, it’s important to always compare the cost of a booking with and without the voucher applied.
This is because the companion voucher only offers a reduced base fare for the second passenger, and you’re still on the hook for what WestJet terms Other ATC (Air Transportation Charges) – a catch-all category for fuel surcharges and other fees added to your booking.
Recently, we were comparing the price breakdowns of bookings for two passengers to various destinations, and we noticed some discrepancies between the amount of Other ATC fees with and without a companion voucher applied.
For example, for a round-trip booking between Calgary and Toronto without a companion voucher, we see the following fare breakdown:
In this example, we see a total cost of $784 as the base fare for two passengers, or $392 each. In the Other ATC field, we see $0 in fees.
However, with a companion voucher applied, we see the following breakdown of costs:
Under Air Transportation Charges, we see a $119 companion voucher fee for the second passenger (expected), as well as a $392 base fare for the first passenger (expected).
However, there’s a $20 fee in the Other ATC field, which is unexpected, since it isn’t there when booking the same flights without the voucher applied.
Importantly, this isn’t just another airport improvement fee or other government-imposed charge, as those all appear under the “Taxes, fees, and charges” section. As we expect, those are the same in both breakdowns with and without the voucher.
Curious to see if this was just a one-off charge, we conducted a few more searches to see if there’s any sort of pattern.
WestJet also offers direct flights between Toronto and Vancouver, which is one of the most popular routes in Canada, and likely one for which many passengers might redeem a companion voucher.
Here’s a breakdown of the round-trip fare for two between Toronto and Vancouver without a companion voucher applied:
Under Air Transportation Charges, we see a base fare of $1,024 for two passengers ($512 each), as well as $120 in the Other ATC field.
For comparison, here’s a breakdown of the fare for the same flights with a companion voucher applied:
This time, the breakdown shows a $119 companion voucher charge (expected), as well as a $512 base fare for the first passenger (expected). On the other hand, the Other ATC fees total $140 this time, instead of $120 without the companion voucher applied. Once again, there’s a $20 difference.
Next, we looked at some destinations in the United States to see if this pattern continues.
Here’s a breakdown of a round-trip fare for two passengers flying between Calgary and Los Angeles without a companion voucher applied:
For this flight, the base fare for two passengers is $659.98, or $329.99 apiece, with no fees listed in the Other ATC field.
Now, take a look at the breakdown of the fare for the same flights with a companion voucher applied:
As expected, we see a $119 companion voucher fee for the second passenger, and a $329.99 base fare for the first passenger. However, there’s now $20 showing in the Other ATC field, which isn’t present in the breakdown without the companion voucher applied.
Next, we took a look at flights a bit further afield to see if the same fee difference emerges.
Here’s a price breakdown of a round-trip booking for two between Calgary and Honolulu without the companion voucher applied:
Under Air Transportation Charges, we see a total cost of $1,155.96 for the base fare for two passengers ($577.98 each), and no fees listed in the Other ATC field.
Now, take a look at the breakdown of the fare for the same flights with the companion voucher applied:
Once again, we see a combination of expected and unexpected Air Transportation Fees:
- $398.98 companion voucher fee (expected)
- $577.98 base fare (expected)
- $20 Other ATC fee (unexpected)
Lastly, we did the same comparison of round-trip flights to international destinations.
Here’s a fare breakdown of round-trip flights for two between Calgary and Rome without a companion voucher applied:
For this trip, we see the base fare priced out at $1,220, or $610 each. However, unlike with the previous examples, there are fees totalling $1,400 listed in the Other ATC field.
For comparison, here’s a fare breakdown for the same flights with a companion voucher applied:
As expected, we see a companion voucher fee of $399, as well as a base fare for the first passenger of $610. However, whereas we may have expected the Other ATC charges to total $1,400, as they did without the companion voucher applied, those charges have actually dropped down to $1,067.50.
It’s worth noting that we saw the exact same drop in Other ATC for other bookings to European destinations. Unlike in the previous examples to North American destinations, the Other ATC fees appear to be reduced with a companion voucher applied when it comes to international destinations outside of North America.
In sum, there appears to be a pattern of a fee appearing in the Other ATC field with a companion voucher applied for North American bookings, which isn’t present for the same flights purchased without a voucher applied.
For some international destinations, the companion voucher appears to drop the Other ATC fees.
Is There a Fee for Using a Companion Voucher?
After poring over a number of flight pairings with and without the companion voucher applied, we can come to a few conclusions, based on our observations.
It appears that there is a $20 fee associated with using a companion voucher for flights in North America. This is indicated by an extra $20 charge appearing in the Other ATC field when a companion voucher is used, which isn’t there when the same flights are booked without a voucher.
In fact, it seems as though this fee has been around for some time, and it may have even been $40 as recently as last year.
In May 2023, we updated our guide to the WestJet companion voucher. In all pairs of screenshots for North American bookings, there’s an unexpected difference of $40 in the Other ATC field for bookings with and without companion vouchers.
For example, here’s a fare breakdown of a round-trip booking for two between Calgary and Toronto with $0 in the Other ATC field, taken in May 2023.
For comparison, here’s the breakdown with the companion voucher applied to the same flights, taken in May 2023.
Lo and behold, we see an unexpected difference of $40 in the Other ATC field, which is consistent with the other examples in that article, as well as with the pattern we see at the present day (albeit for $20 instead of $40).
On the WestJet website, the World Elite companion voucher, which is a perk associated with the WestJet RBC® World Elite Mastercard, is marketed as the second guest being subject to a base fare of $119 or $399, plus taxes, fees, charges, and other Air Transporation Charges, when the first passenger pays full price.
Given what we’ve observed, we believe it would be more appropriate to list the companion voucher charges as $139 and $419, rather than $119 and $399, respectively, at least for North American bookings made with the World Elite companion voucher.
This would be a more accurate reflection of the charges that come with using a companion voucher for North American bookings observed in our analysis.
If this turns out to be the case, then it’s not transparent to lump what appears to be a fee for using a companion voucher into the catch-all Other ATC category.
There’s no official breakdown of what’s included and excluded in WestJet’s Other ATC fees, at least on the WestJet website.
On X (formerly Twitter), WestJet has previously defined them as including NAV Canada fees, insurance, and fuel surcharges.
The “Other ATC” charge refer to Air Transportation charges. These include fees such as NAV/Insurance fees and fuel. You’re welcome to give us a call at 1-888-937-8538 for a full breakdown of taxes and fees.
— WestJet (@WestJet) June 20, 2019
When considered as part of the total cost of airfare, an additional $20 fee can easily be overlooked, especially when you have to look closely to notice it in the first place. This is particularly so as it appears in an undefined category of charges.
However, when you consider how many companion voucher redemptions are made every year, a relatively insignificant $20 fee adds up to a significant amount of cash unknowingly paid to the airline by passengers who were expecting to get a second base fare for $119 or $399, and not $139 or $419, for North American destinations.
Furthermore, if the fee used to amount to $40 (as indicated by our previous screenshots), then for as long as WestJet may have been tacking on extra fees in the Other ATC field for using companion vouchers, passengers would have been unwittingly paying more than what they signed up for.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t good value to be found in redeeming companion vouchers – there is, if redeemed strategically.
Rather, it’s a matter of being transparent about exactly what passengers are being charged for when they use a companion voucher, and not tucking an additional fee under a catch-all category that’s easy to miss.
WestJet’s Response to Our Observations
Prior to publishing this article, we reached out to WestJet to provide comments on our observations, and received the following response after it was published:
WestJet ticket prices are made up of the base fare, carrier surcharges, and third party fees and taxes. The carrier surcharges (or Other ATC) can reflect fuel costs and navigational charges. Our pricing and revenue management team use surcharges and base fare adjustments as components of our pricing strategy to address high demand periods or increased fuel costs. These surcharges will continue to be used as such and can change from time to time. Transatlantic and Transpacific bookings (including Europe as the example from your article) are made up of base fares and carrier surcharges which is standard industry practice. The difference in carrier surcharges when using a companion voucher is a pricing strategy to ensure our cardholders gain the benefit of using these vouchers for these international flights.
We firmly believe that the companion voucher is a differentiator and a hero benefit on our cobranded credit cards. In fact, in 2023, the World Elite companion voucher saved cardholders on average $500 (vs. the lead traveler fare) for a 2-person booking. Our cobranded cards are the only travel cards in Canada that offer a companion voucher every year, without any spend requirements. These vouchers can be used for economy or premium bookings and have no black-out dates.
Let me know if you have any further questions or follow-ups.
In WestJet’s response, it’s confirmed that the Other ATC field is partially made up of fuel costs and navigational charges, which is what we already suspected and knew.
The only part of the response that carries much substance is the last sentence of the first paragraph, which states that the differences in carrier surcharges with and without a voucher applied is a pricing strategy “to ensure our cardholders gain the benefit of using these vouchers for these international flights”.
As mentioned in this article, with the companion voucher applied on flights to Europe, the Other ATC charges are reduced beyond what we’d expect. If you use a companion voucher for flights to Europe, this may wind up working in your favour, as long as the base fare is more than the companion voucher fee to begin with.
However, WestJet’s response doesn’t at all address why an extra $20 fee appears when using the companion voucher on North American bookings, or why it may have been $40 (or more) in the past.
Without a clear explanation of why an extra fee appears when using a companion voucher for flights within North America, we can assume that the fee is indeed tied directly to the use of the companion voucher.
Therefore, a more accurate way to describe the costs of using a companion voucher for flights within North America would be $139 or $419, instead of $119 or $399, depending on your destination.
We’ve sent a follow-up email to WestJet for an explanation of why the fee appears on North American companion voucher bookings, and have yet to receive a response.
Upon closer inspection, it seems that there’s an additional $20 fee added to WestJet companion voucher bookings to North American destinations, which isn’t present for booking the same flights without a companion voucher.
This $20 fee appears in the Other ATC field in the fare breakdown, and it isn’t clearly listed as a fee for using a companion voucher. However, since it’s a charge that doesn’t exist without a companion voucher applied, but does with one applied, we can infer that it must be associated with companion voucher redemptions.
We’ve reached out to WestJet for additional comments on our observations, specifically about why a $20 fee appears when using a companion voucher for North American bookings, and have yet to receive a response.