WestJet embraces tech tools to woo business travelers

Mon Dec 3, 2012 5:38pm EST
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By Susan Taylor

TORONTO (Reuters) - WestJet Airlines Ltd (WJA.TO: Quote) will use technological innovation, including a new reservation system, to help it transform from a no-frills carrier to a lower-cost full-service airline courting lucrative corporate travelers, its chief executive said on Monday.

Canada's second-biggest airline plans to launch a series of technology systems, most notably the new reservation system, which will sell three tiers of tickets, in the next two months.

"Companies evolve or they die," Chief Executive Gregg Saretsky told Reuters in a phone interview from the company's Calgary head office.

"We're 16 and going on 17 years old and we can't stay just as we were 17 years ago. The world has changed. And we are changing to be more relevant for a broader segment of guests."

The new Internet booking system, which WestJet hopes to launch in late January, will sell economy, mid-tier and premium tickets. That is a major shift from its current system, which sells only the lowest-priced ticket available.

Economy tickets under the new system will continue to sell the lowest available fare, but the cancellation fee for them will jump to C$75 ($75.48) from C$50. Mid-tier tickets will have a C$50 cancellation fee.

Premium tickets, unavailable until late March when WestJet finishes reconfiguring its 100 Boeing 737 planes to allow more leg room, will include priority screening and boarding, free cancellations and flexibility on ticket changes.

Pricing for those tickets, which may include free meals and drinks and an extra baggage allowance, has not yet been determined. Fares will be well below half the price for business class at WestJet's bigger competitor, Air Canada ACb.TO, Saretsky said.   Continued...