Buyer beware: Ticket reseller boosts discount flights from Edmonton but hidden costs abound

If you're planning to buy airline tickets from an online reseller, experts warn you might want to look elsewhere.

'Ticket resellers can do whatever they want,' says consumer advocate

Budget flight company NewLeaf launched in Canada this summer. (NewLeaf)

If you're thinking of buying airline tickets from an online reseller, experts warn you might want to think again.

NewLeaf Travel Company, Canada's newest ticket reseller, announced in February it would sell more seats on its partner airline Flair Air between Edmonton and Halifax beginning in June — at the low price of $39 each way. 

To the untrained eye, that price looks like a steal — until you factor in the cost of everything besides your seat and seatbelt. 

NewLeaf's website outlines additional costs for everything from carry-on luggage, to use of the plane's overhead bin. 

With taxes, a $235 round trip flight from Edmonton to Halifax becomes $483 before you factor in all the bells and whistles. 

The same flight was $1,158 on a WestJet economy ticket and $1,012 via Air Canada. 

NewLeaf spokesperson Julie Rempel said the reseller "constantly looks at how to cut [operating] costs," allowing them to offer lower prices than Air Canada and WestJet. 

But what travellers don't see, according to air transportation analyst Ken Beleshko, is the lower quality of services on flights sold through ticket resellers. 

"What they're buying here is the bottom line," he said in an interview.

It starts on arrival at the airport, he said. Airlines will have check-in desks and support staff for passenger assistance. But when a traveller books through a third party, these supports are not there. 

"There's a lack of communication between the individual and the airline directly," he said. "That complicates the travel process." 

Unscheduled stops

Ticket resellers like NewLeaf are not considered airlines, and do not have to comply with national transportation standards, according to a ruling by the Canadian Transportation Agency. 

"The only protection you have is by buying [your ticket] with a credit card," Bruce Cran, executive director of the Consumer's Association of Canada, said in an interview Thursday.

The association issued a alert warning travellers of the NewLeaf-Flair partnership in March. Cran said the warning remains in effect after several complaints of delayed and cancelled flights.

In 2016, Flair Air was hired by Air Transat to conduct flights from Cancun to Edmonton. A CBC investigation found Flair Air intentionally planned unscheduled stops on these so-called direct flights to refuel in New Orleans. 

No protection

The federal government introduced a motion to create a passenger rights bill in May, giving travellers access to increased compensation for cancelled flights.

However, there are no provisions in the bill for ticket resellers — something Cran said is problematic for customers.

"There are no rights for passengers in this bill," he said. "Ticket resellers can do whatever they want." 

Beleshko said that buying through a ticket reseller ultimately comes down to the traveller's preference.

"It comes down to a level of convenience," he said. "For that price, you have to be prepared to deal with delays."