How to Avoid Airport Fees

It’s no secret that Canada’s airport fees are amongst the highest in the world. And the situation is probably not about to improve if recent events at St. John’s International Airport are anything to go by. They’ve announced plans to increase airport fees by $5, starting on Canada day.

So serious is the taxation problem across the country it’s now reported that an estimated five million Canadians prefer to cross the border and take a flight from a U.S. airport rather than pay the prohibitive taxes back home. The reason for the high taxes is that the airports are run by private companies which pay ground lease or rent back to the Canadian government.

Now, while there’s not much you can do to avoid charges like airport improvement taxes and fuel surcharges – short of bypassing certain airports or cities – there’s still plenty you can do to better manage the cost of your ticket and maximize your travel dollars.

Here’s a look at some of the pitfalls you can avoid:

1. Ticket Change/Cancellation Fees

Last year, Air Canada increased the change/cancellation charges for its Tango and Flex fares and as a result changing your flight can now cost you C$75 and C$100 respectively for the two ticket types. If you’re an Aeroplan member it costs C$100 per ticket. Carriers like American Airlines and Delta are even worse, charging $200 for a flight change. Luckily, there are still a few tricks you can use to get around this challenge, namely:

Take advantage of the 24-hour full refund policy observed by most carriers and change your flight before this window lapses. I checked out Air Canada’s website and found out a refund can take up to 3 weeks to process, a minor inconvenience – if you ask me – compared to losing your money altogether. On WestJet you’ll only enjoy a penalty waiver if your booking date is more than 7 days to the departure date, otherwise, you pay a C$100 fee.

Look out for schedule changes: airlines sometimes make changes to the flight schedule, especially if a flight is booked well in advance of the travel date. You can use this to your advantage to show that the change is an inconvenience for you, even if it’s only a 15-minute change. Of course, the airline still reserves the right to honour or reject your request, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

Try using the same day confirmed or standby flight: if you’re travelling on Air Canada’s Rapidair routes (like Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal) standby is complementary on their Tango and Flex fares. But for other routes, you’ll still fork out the same amount as the cancellation fee, so it may not be worth it.

For a list of flight change and checked baggage fee charges, you can see Air Canada’s schedule here.

2. Checked Baggage Fees

Baggage fees may not be the most expensive cost you’ll incur on your air fare (Air Canada like WestJet charges C$25 for the first bag and $35 on the second when you travel economy), but that doesn’t make them any less irritating. One way to get around this problem is having elite status with a carrier, which lets you check your first bag for free (and even up to 3 if you have higher tier status). The other is booking your flight with an airline co-branded credit card. For example, if you book your flight using a WestJet RBC MasterCard your first bag is checked free on WestJet; they also extend this benefit to 8 additional guests on the same reservation.

Another way is to do what I do. Since airlines started to charging passengers for first checked bag, I’ve made it a policy to only bring a carry-on bag whenever I can. I’m able to do this because I pack more efficiently and only bring what I absolutely need. You’ll find that packing light also allows you to breeze through the airport without having to check in your luggage before you fly or wait for it at the carousel when you land.

3. Book Award Seats Early

Many airlines start loading award seats 356 days ahead of departure date, so you may want to start your search early to increase your chances of success. This is especially the case so if your planned flight is on a popular route and you need to book more than one seat. Alternatively, if you enjoy elite status, you’ll find many airlines can help locate an award seat for you and even waive close-in booking fees which can be as high as $75 on some flights.

4. Phone ticketing fees

Calling to book tickets has become expensive so it’s another cost you want to avoid if you can by booking online whenever possible. If you can’t book the flight you want online – like when you’re trying to book an award ticket on a partner airline, and you can’t see the partner airline’s itinerary – you can call the airline for assistance. But be sure to inform them that you’re unable to book online so they can waive the fee. Another alternative is to speak to online support; you’ll find that more times than not they’ll make the reservation for you without charging extra as it will be logged as an IT error.

5. Avoiding Fuel Surcharges

Fuel surcharges can be a real damper on your trip, sometimes rising as high as $500 on an international flight; if you can find a way of avoiding them, you should grab the opportunity with both hands.

Avoiding surcharges when booking with Aeroplan

If you’re planning to book an international flight using Aeroplan you can opt for one the following Star Alliance carriers to avoid paying hefty fuel surcharges: Air China, Brussels, EgyptAir, Ethiopian, EVA Air, Scandinavian Airlines, Singapore, Swiss, Turkish, United, and US Airways.

Here’s what I do to find out what taxes, fees and surcharges I’ll get charged when booking using Aeroplan. I simply click on the “SELECT” button to the extreme right and I’m immediately able to see how much tax I’ll incur when booking the flight.

6. Search For Outbound and Inbound Itineraries Separately

Selecting one-way trips when booking your flight online can help you find out how much tax, fees and surcharges you’ll pay for each leg of your trip. Armed with this information, you can then select the most attractive outbound itinerary in terms of taxes and fees and combine it with the best inbound itinerary. Try at all costs to avoid trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific flights on Air Canada, or other flights, which impose fuel surcharges.


What it all boils down to is that there’s a lot you can do to avoid paying hefty airport fees and taxes. This can range from avoiding making stopovers in certain airports, to being efficient in your packing to avoid extra baggage fees.  Next time you make a ticket cancellation, make a point of first finding out if they have a 24-hour refund policy – you’ll thank yourself later for having taken the initiative.