How two Air Canada fares, $99 each, cost $408.41

July 3 2008 by Ellen Roseman

This week, I booked a return trip to New York at Air Canada’s website. I chose flights at $99 each on Tango Plus. Here’s the result.

Flight 1 – Departing airfare (Tango Plus) 99.00
Flight 2 – Returning airfare (Tango Plus) 99.00
Surcharges 115.00
Taxes, Fees and Charges
Canada Airport Improvement Fee 20.00
U.S.A Transportation Tax 31.18
U.S Agriculture Fee 5.06
Air Travellers Security Charge (ATSC) 7.94
U.S Passenger Facility Charge 4.56
Canada Goods and Services Tax (GST/HST #10009-2287) 17.05
September 11 Security Fee 2.53
U.S.A Immigration User Fee 7.09
Total airfare and taxes before options 408.41

How did my cost more than double by the end of the booking process? I clicked the FAQs and got a mealy-mouthed explanation.

What are the additional charges in my Fare?

Note: This information is intended as a guideline only. Actual fees and surcharges are subject to change and some exceptions apply.

Your fare may include NAV CANADA surcharges, Fuel surcharges and Insurance surcharges where applicable. Ticketable Airport Improvement Fees and the Air Travellers Security Charge (ATSC) are included in taxes component of your fare.

Fuel Surcharges: For travel within Canada, the fuel surcharge is either 20 / 30 / or 45 CAD each way based on distance. For travel between Canada and the U.S., the fuel surcharge is 50 CAD/USD each way.

NAV Canada Surcharge: Nav surcharges within Canada are either 9 / 15 / or 20 CAD based on distance. For transborder itineraries, 7.50 CAD / 7.50 USD each way. This surcharge is collected to cover the fees that Air Canada pays to NAV Canada to operate Canada’s Air Navigation systems.

Insurance Surcharge: In order to account for the rising costs of aviation insurance, Air Canada along with other North American carriers have implemented an insurance surcharge. This insurance surcharge is 3 CAD, each way for travel wholly within Canada. (Some exceptions apply).

ATSC: The Canadian Parliament has enacted the Air Travellers Security Charge Act to fund security personnel and security equipment in response to the events of September 11. For domestic itineraries, the ATSC is 5 CAD one-way to a maximum charge of 10 CAD. For transborder itineraries, the ATSC is 8 CAD / 7 USD one-way to a maximum charge of 16 CAD / 14 USD.

Airport Improvement Fees: Many airports in Canada and around the world have implemented Airport Improvement Fees (AIFs). Some Airports collect these fees at the airport at time of departure, other’s are collected at the time of ticketing and are reflected in the additional charges portion in your fare.

How do airlines get away with quoting such deceptively low fares? Why isn’t there a law?

Well, a law was passed a year ago, saying that airlines had to advertise an all-in price. But it was never enacted.

Consumer groups were outraged. They sent a letter of protest, asking why transport minister Lawrence Cannon refused to go ahead and continued to consult with the industry.

The search for consensus that has been commenced by the Minister serves to obscure the real consequences of the Department’s failure to act.

First of all, passengers of the approximately 80 million flights per year in Canada will continue to be subject to a disgraceful shell game of airlines advertising one price, and then selling a ticket for an amount which may be many times greater than the advertised price.

Secondly, the practice carried on by airlines is strongly opposed by the overwhelming majority of Canadians who want it changed.

Thirdly, the government has taken sides with the airlines against close to 15,000 travel agents working at over 3,500 outlets in Ontario and Quebec, many of them small family businesses. The government is content to allow any cost of misrepresentation by airline advertising to fall on them.

Fourthly, it is inexcusable that a government would adopt a policy that allows misleading and deceptive marketplace conduct to continue in order to allow certain preferred constituents to thrive.

Now there’s more pressure on Ottawa to act. A private member’s bill was passed June 12 by a vote of 249 to 0, calling for an airline passenger bill of rights.

Michael Janigan, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, pushed for a passenger bill of rights when Air Canada acquired Canadian Airlines International Ltd. in 2000. But he didn’t get enough political traction back then.

“We can’t rely simply on the goodwill of airlines to protect passengers,” Janigan said.

The bill’s sponsor, Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal MP Gerry Byrne, has heard “grumblings” the government may not follow the spirit of the motion. But he is optimistic it will, given the unanimous support it received.

Both Mr. Byrne and Mr. Janigan suggest the issues passengers face exceed mere inconveniences. They each cited examples of passengers unable to exit the airplane for hours, with limited access to water, food and restrooms.

Fallacious fares are just a symptom of a bigger problem, the abuse of passengers by airlines. Let’s all push to get these new laws into force.

30 comments

  1. bylo

    Jul 3 2008

    Well Ellen, at least you got a breakdown of how Air Canada et al calculated their rip-off prices. The following is the entire explanation that I got when I booked a flight to Europe using Aeroplan miles:

    Aeroplan Flight Reward: ClassicFlight
    Taxes and Fees per passenger
    Canada Security Charge (CA): $17.00
    Canada Goods and Services Tax (GST/HST #10009-2287) (XG): $1.00
    Combined Taxes (XT): $502.60

    Additional Information:
    • THE AEROPLAN SERVICE FEE OF CAD30.00
    • PLUS 1.50 GST PER PASSENGER
    • FOR A TOTAL OF CAD31.50
    • HAS BEEN CHARGED TO YOUR CREDIT CARD

    That’s right, over $500 in various fees, levies, taxes, fuel surcharges, kitchen sinks and god knows what else. That plus another $30+GST for booking through an AP agent because the AP website can’t book certain types of itineraries.

    And here I’d thought that I was accumulating AP points to get a free flight. Apparently not. Those 60,000 points didn’t actually pay for my flight. They only served to make a small discount on the real cost of the flight.

    Silly me 🙁

  2. Rob Madrid

    Jul 4 2008

    I think the fees have jumped dramatically over the past year. Last Christmas when my wife and I took our free flights home, the fees were about a 100€ in total. This year, I booked a last-minute flight to NYC (surprisingly there were still free seats available) and the fees jumped to over 400€.

    Ouch!

    Due to a change in plans, I never ended up going — but still!

    British Airways have added fuel surcharges ranging in the 100’s of pounds for overseas flights. Gone are the days of cheap air travel.

  3. Charles in Vancouver

    Jul 4 2008

    A tip: Certain searches on certain travel agencies (for example, the +/- 1-5 day search on Travelocity) will display all-in fares up front in the selection grid (except for things like second bag fees).

    Even if I don’t ultimately book through the agency, these numbers give me a rough idea of what I will really pay when I book at the airline site.

  4. luc

    Jul 4 2008

    This is a cause worth fighting for. Is there a petition to sign?

  5. Unspending

    Jul 4 2008

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve been monitoring costs for a Toronto-Vancouver flight and I’m also appalled by how my flight ends up being $200-300 more after all those charges.

  6. Jane Edwards

    Jul 4 2008

    Sounds like the surprise I got yesterday when I looked into the WestJet special $19 fare from Montreal to Toronto and found the total cost for the return flight was over $200!

    Think I’ll stick with the train.

  7. Norm Nicol

    Jul 4 2008

    Ellen, I wonder if the politicians would care more about this if they in fact had to pay their own way! What if they there flights were expensed only at the advertised price of a flight and subsequent the remainder of the bill would have to be footed by them! I bet we would hear about this in the house of commons.

  8. Steve

    Jul 4 2008

    To be fair, this is no different than with any other vendor. If you go to a store and see a price, it does not include GST and PST already. And on Ellen’s breakdown, all those Taxes, Fees and Charges are levied by airport authorities (appointed by government), the Canadian government, Navcan (appointed by government) and the American government.

    It’s not easy to just come up with an “all-in” price as the gas stations do. There are so many things that can affect it, including which flights you choose to combine. (With Toronto – New York, you will have totally different taxes and fees if you choose two $99 segments than if you choose a $99 and a $129 segment.)

    Sure, it’s a shock for people who think they’re going to pay $99 + PST + GST. But once people know about it, they know to put in their itinerary and get a total price before making up their mind. If anyone is to blame for this, it’s all the governments seeing air traffic as a cash cow. They would rather have lots of different charges than admit they’re taking such huge chunks off the top and just put in a single, easily calculated tax.

    That said, I am 100% in agreement with those who hate the stupid “fuel surcharges”. The airlines are increasing prices because fuel is more expensive, fair enough. But they should increase the price. Don’t try and hide THAT in extra charges. It’s not being charged by anyone but the airline and that, I agree, is deceptive.

  9. bylo

    Jul 4 2008

    Steve, when I go to a store I know that GST/PST will be added at the cash register. Depending on my province I know what the percentage will be (with exceptions for stuff like food, books, etc.) If I buy a toaster for $29.99 I know that I’ll end up paying another 13%, whether I buy that toaster today, tomorrow or yesterday.

    But when I buy an airline ticket I have no idea what extras will get tacked on at the checkout. Worse, the amount and percentage of the advertised price that these levies represent varies all over the map, both figuratively and literally. If the airlines can compute the amounts of these levies on checkout then surely they can compute and post them when I look for seats. And even if they can’t compute the exact amount of the levies for inclusion in their ads, they can at least include estimates, e.g. “Toronto to Vancouver from $599 ($299 airfare plus approximately $300 in levies.)” instead of “Toronto to Vancouver from $299(*)” where the asterisk hides the levies, that the fare is based on buying tickets in both directions, that it’s valid only when the moon is blue and it’s a leap year, etc.

    Imagine if you went to Canadian Tire to buy a toaster that was advertised at $29.99 but when you got to the checkout, they wanted not only GST/PST, but also a store improvement fee, a surcharge for the extra cost of fuel to deliver the toaster to the store, another fuel surcharge to heat the store, a fee for the cost of their shoplifting protection program, a fee for paying a human cashier, etc. By the time your toaster purchase got rung up, the total would be closer to $100 than $30.

    Would you tolerate that?

  10. Craig Hubley

    Jul 4 2008

    Airlines have never been profitable. Charging them fees and asking them to pass these on to customers has always led only to bankruptcy, since competitors from other countries pay lower fees and will happily exploit the situation to undercut prices. Domestic competitors, too, will bankrupt themselves simply to bankrupt their competition. This is how we got here.

    On heavily travelled routes that business travellers need to traverse often (Windsor to Quebec City, at least), this country badly needs high speed trains. London and Paris have revitalized their train stations and radically cut the wasted time at airports with the new Eurostar. And cut carbon output.

    On air flights, the best one could hope for is an international standard way to report all the taxes and fees that will apply when the fare is published. A code, say, that must be published beside each fare so that you can look it up on a neutral web service maintained by some process the airlines and governments themselves can’t derail.

    Maybe Wikitravel would do it.

  11. Steve

    Jul 5 2008

    Bylo, your examples like the store improvement fee, fee for human cashier, etc… are ones that are controlled by the store, much like the “fuel surcharge” is, and there I agree with you, should just be part of the price.

    That said, if they would offer a lower price if I didn’t use a human cashier, then yes, I could see them showing a lower price sticker and then adding on a fee if you CHOSE to use a human cashier… after all, they have to compete and they are going to advertise their lowest price against another.

    However, I think your argument isn’t fair to the airlines when you say you’re fine with knowing GST/PST will be added because those taxes are a set percentage of the ticket price, but you don’t like all the other ones, when it’s NOT the airline that charges them, but the various governments. If you should be complaining to anyone, it’s to them!

    Using your example, what if the government added a flat “police protection fee” to every transaction no matter what the size, a sliding percentage “tool registration fee” that had a cap and only applied to certain items, and “community improvement fees” that were of different amounts depending on which Canadian Tire you shopped in? How could you calculate ahead of time what it would cost, and how could Canadian Tire properly work out the price since it would depend what you bought in that transaction?

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I hate the whole thing as well, as well as stupid things like the governments “Security Fee” which goes into general revenues instead of into airport security upgrades… but it’s the government doing it, then letting the airlines catch flack for the confusion.

  12. Will Ashworth

    Jul 6 2008

    Ellen:

    I’ve had so many problems with Air Canada over the years I don’t have enough hands and feet to count them. Robert Milton is the anti-Christ. His airline is going to go broke for the umpteenth time but at least he’ll get a $90 million retirement sendoff. He’s a first class jerk running a crappy, over-rated airline. Give me West Jet any day. How come we never hear whining from Singapore Airlines? Because they actually know how to operate an airline and still make money.

  13. Andy

    Jul 6 2008

    Leaving aside the legitimacy and rationale for the various additional fees (for example, I think that the security expenses benefit all of us and should be part of our taxes, rather than a user fee), anyone who books a flight these days should be aware that these fees exist.

    Anyone who flies even sometimes should know there is a variety of airport improvement charges, etc. that we are going to pay. They are fixed charges most of the time, so the shorter the flight the bigger the hit.

    We can’t blame the airlines (well, maybe for the fuel surcharge, but we all know that the price of fuel is rising). So, maybe it would be nice to see an “all in” price, but that’s not going to make it lower.

    It’s better today than in the initial days of airport improvement charges, when they were collected separately at the airports. At Vancouver, for example, you had to fork out $10 after checking in and before security. It was different if you were just passing through or had VCR as a destination. Or if you didn’t have $10 in your jeans!

    When we book online, the total price that is charged to our credit card is there to see before we commit. We can accept or reject it.

    We don’t have to pay PST or GST unless we want the good or service. As for USA air services, they’re just too much, especially the agriculture fee. Just a tax grab.

    The bottom line is suck it up. Anyone have any other thoughts?

  14. Norm Nicol

    Jul 7 2008

    It all comes down to misleading advertising and I think that is what this is all about. If you were to go into a store today and GST/PST are the norm, these additional taxes are not paid by the general public on a daily basis. So their expectation of taxes are your regular PST or GST. It is misleading for you to go with this carrier.

    I suggest we start selling airline tickets at the Wal-Mart cash. I bet they would simplify it in a hurry and with a guarantee of the lowest price!

  15. Natalie

    Jul 11 2008

    I agree that the advertised prices are misleading and that this can be frustrating. However, please keep in mind that air travel is expensive, and that no reasonable person should ever expect to pay a price as low as the advertised price, at least until the law is enacted so that the advertised price is all-in.

    Running an airline is vastly more costly than running Greyhound. People seem to expect to pay the same for a bus ticket as an airline ticket. Wake up and smell the engine fuel!

  16. Travelincook

    Aug 6 2008

    I don’t see how an airline would refund your surcharge after you have payed. It would be like asking the gas companies to refund the difference everytime you fill your car! ha! could you imagine Shell sending you a cheque saying ‘sorry for the inconvenience’!

  17. Raph

    Oct 3 2008

    I bought two tickets to go to Las Vegas a month back, paying $135 fuel surcharges each. My travel date is Nov. 24th, 2008 (Air Canada).

    Today I can buy the same ticket at the same price but without paying $135 each in surcharges.

    Is Air Canada going to refund the surcharges for the travel in the future? If so, how do you go about doing this?

  18. Joe

    Apr 19 2009

    It’s not the charges as such that causes me to scratch my head is the different amounts for the same service.
    Example: Recently advertised specials in the Vancouver Sun,
    WestJet taxes range $110-$115,Sunwing Travel $206-$280 for same destinations & accommodations????

  19. Cris

    Jun 25 2009

    Well, send the message don’t fly, BA loss of $800+ million pounds, US carriers are banding together because they’re teetering on bankruptcy, and Air Canada is going down that road again.

    I was going to go to Europe but I won’t now. Flight Center has $99* (the * means $450 in fees/surcharges). Oil is low again, why the fuel surcharge?

    ATSC fails over 60% of time, so how am I safe, and Nav Canada well pretty nice for a non-for-profit organization. Why can’t there be another company, oh yeah it’s Canada; monopoly central.

    And then again, the UK is notorious for charging just $100+ to get into their country. No thanks, I’ll go somewhere else like Frankfurt. Their total fees together equal one of the UK’s fees.

  20. Michael

    Aug 26 2009

    For those people complaining about high prices in Canada and are heading to USA, JUST DRIVE ACROSS THE BORDER ( if you live near a US airport ). first you save yourself trouble, because going through land border is easier and quicker than at airports. The time you waste at Pearson, you can get to Buffalo 10 times. 40% of Buffalo airport travellers are from the GTA. I always see Ontario plates flooding the Buffalo airport. Buffalo – Fort Myers $165 ( round trip including taxes ), Toronto-Ft. Myers $375 and up, so you make your own decision

  21. brian

    Nov 21 2009

    I believe the airlines are the biggest price inflators. It is true, ALL flights cost about double, sometimes more, after the costs are added up. It’s a way of hiding the truth and should not be legal at all.

    I looked into a flight, from Halifax to Montreal. Prices were 59$ there, 79$ return, better than the 15 hour drive, and cheaper, right?

    The reality is that it would be cheaper to drive. The true cost was 409$ for the 2 flights.

    I will no longer be flying! I’m willing to go out of my way to prove a point even if they never know. They won’t get my support in the form of money.

  22. Andy

    Dec 30 2009

    What about this one then? I needed to book flights from Calgary to London Heathrow on BA or Air Canada. Both wanted nearly $3,000 for 2 adults return, whilst on the BA site they have January sales advertised.

    So just for fun, I put in the same dates, same details, but the other way round — i.e. UK to Canada return. Guess what, it cost $1,600. Same goes for Air Canada, so both airlines want $1,400 extra just to fly a different direction.

    At the moment, both will not be getting my business. Ihave sent e-mails to ask for reasons why.

  23. NotAMoronLikeYou

    Nov 20 2010

    Duh, you are a Canadian right? Then you are used to high taxes and fees right? What exactly do you want AC to do, charge less? They are taxes and fees not the money AC sees!

    If you are outraged then change your country and cut the damn taxes!

    Did you not see the total fare before you clicked to charge your credit card?

    Duh

  24. NotAMoronLikeYou

    Nov 20 2010

    Fare = $99 = money to AC

    all the other crap = taxes/fees.

    taxes/fees vary based on if it’s domestic/int’l etc

    the reason singapore doesn’t go broke is because it doesn’t kowtow to the unions and labor costs are way lower and they are known for providing a high quality product with awesome service and beautiful flight attendants.

    Finally, you are your own person. You don’t like the way they disclose the taxes and fees, don’t fly them!

    Why couldn’t Obama have been elected to Ottawa…

  25. Johnson Mapple

    Jan 19 2011

    We have refused to fly Toronto-Vancouver-Toronto because of the ripoffs.

    Now, with the recent indignities of security searches, we shall continue to drive until my licence is revoked.

  26. fnorman

    Jan 19 2011

    The attitude, that if you don’t like the way airlines disguise their total ticket prices then don’t use them, is neither practical nor intelligent.

    If no one complains about this, there’s no hope of getting their practices improved, whether it’s by customer pressure or legislation.

    Since most of the airlines have sunk to the lowest common denominator, it appears as if they have a tacit agreement to ignore customer complaints on this issue, so legislation is likely the only hope. Contact your MP.

  27. SamL

    Jul 29 2011

    Air Miles cannot exchange for cash. So there is no cash value. Then how come Air Canada collects tax (for the government) when people exchange for tickets.

  28. AC KILLER

    Feb 3 2014

    Surcharge should only be $15, rather than $115. This surcharge listed on Air Canada’s website is referring to NAVCAN (Navigation Surcharges), which is $7.50 one-way for flight between Canada and the US.

    The only reason I can think of why it ended up as $115 rather than $15 is that Air Canada implemented a SEASON SURCHARGE where your travel date was in the peak season. However, this rarely happens for trans-border tickets.

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