Flair Airlines touts unlimited travel pass as discount competition heats up

Flair Airlines Ltd. is looking to lure customers during a sluggish time of year by offering an unlimited three-month travel pass amid rising competition between budget carriers.

The flight pass costs $700 and allows limitless domestic flights between Feb. 13 and May 13. A $500 version has some blackout dates and excludes flights on Fridays and Sundays.

Flair offers routes between seven cities, all in Western Canada except for Toronto.

The travel pass is aimed at students on spring break, small business owners and families for whom more frequent visits or a weekend getaway would otherwise be unaffordable, said CEO Jim Scott.

“Parents say, ‘We just can’t afford to fly our kids back and forth to see us. It’s killing us,’” he said in a phone interview.

Filling seats during the shoulder season was a key reason for the promotion.

“Everybody travels at Christmas. Everybody travels when the weather’s warm…but when the temperature goes down, people tend not to travel as much domestically,” Scott noted.

“If you have seats that are not full, how do you stimulate people to travel more? You just say, ‘Pay for a pass and then travel for the full 90 days.’”

Flair is not the only discount airline to offer eye-catching promos as domestic competition heats up.

Earlier this month, Swoop unveiled a so-called loonie sale, offering up to 100,000 seats for a base fare of $1 before taxes and fees.

The sale disproportionately targets the one remaining route — between Edmonton and Abbotsford, B.C. — that overlaps with Flair, according to that company’s number crunching.

About 32 per cent of the seats under the deal are on that route — technically two routes, one each way — out of about 45 routes with $1 fares, according to a Flair submission to the Competition Bureau last month obtained by The Canadian Press.

A Swoop spokesperson confirmed that loonie fares were “readily available” on the Edmonton-Abbotsford route, as it is the highest-frequency route with 16 flights per week in the winter and 24 flights per week in the summer.

In 2018 the Competition Bureau launched an ongoing predatory pricing investigation into Swoop and parent WestJet Airlines Ltd. over allegations the two carriers used anti-competitive practices to crowd out Flair from at least three routes.

Last year the Edmonton-based upstart opted to leave Hamilton for Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, just months after Swoop landed at the smaller airport.

Swoop, based in Calgary and launched in 2018, is newer than its four-year-old northern rival. Though both sport a fleet size of 10 aircraft, Swoop nonetheless enjoys some of the advantages of incumbency as the subsidiary of 24-year-old WestJet, complete with more financial resources, fleet flexibility and experience in a cutthroat market.

Analyst Ben Cherniavsky of Raymond James noted in January 2018 that Swoop was poised to “blanket-bomb Canada with ultra-low fares…by taking advantage of its established position, deep pockets, and strong understanding of the market.”

The market may get more crowded still. Enerjet, a charter airline aiming to launch as a budget carrier this year, has attracted investors including Indigo Partners, a Phoenix-based private equity firm specializing in ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCCs).

“Right now Flair and Swoop are jockeying for position in the Canadian marketplace, ahead of the entry of Enerjet,” said Robert Kokonis, president of Toronto-based consulting firm AirTrav Inc.

“They’re all going after similar passengers, so they’re both aggressively competing…but we are going to get increased ULCC competition in this country.”

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