The Best Low-Cost Airlines in Canada
In other parts of the world, including the U.S., cheap airlines seem to be everywhere, but that hasn’t been the case in Canada. With only two major airlines in Canada (Air Canada and WestJet), a lack of competition has traditionally kept prices fairly high.
In recent years, however, several low-cost airlines have either launched or expanded their operations, offering more choices to Canadian travellers looking to save money.
But because many of these discount airlines are very small, you may not be familiar with several of them. To help you find cheap flights, I’ve compiled a list of cheap airlines in Canada. It includes several ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCCs) and a couple of budget airlines owned by WestJet and Air Canada.
What Is an Ultra Low Cost Airline?
All of the airlines on our list are low-cost carriers. But a few are considered ultra-low-cost carriers, or ULCCs. The term refers to discount airlines offering a very low base fee with little to no additional services. For example, a ULCC may not offer complimentary refreshments or snacks on a shorter flight, and you may be required to pay extra for a carry-on bag. Seat selection will require an additional fee, as will any other extras.
Many ULCCs fly in and out of the secondary airport in a large city to keep costs low because it’s more economical for the airline. As a traveller, if you can cope with these inconveniences, you can save money on your flight. With that in mind, let’s get to the list.
The Best Low-Cost Airlines in Canada
The low-cost airlines on our list are all based in Canada. Remember that they tend to be smaller and don’t have the same route coverage as a major airline. Some of them, like Sunwing and Air Transat, mainly travel to vacation destinations from select Canadian cities.
Air Canada Rouge
Air Canada Rouge is Air Canada’s budget airline. Its affiliation with Canada’s largest airline means that Rouge has the most extensive route network of any low-cost carrier in Canada. They currently operate three types of Airbus narrow-body aircraft (40 in total) between more than 50 destinations in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.
Air Canada Rouge’s prices are lower than what you would pay on Air Canada, but they aren’t the lowest among the various airlines on our list. That said, you do have more options when it comes to purchasing premium seats and in-flight meals.
Air Transat has been a low-cost airline specializing primarily in leisure travel for over 35 years. It operates 36 aircraft and flies between 60 destinations in Canada, the U.S., Europe, Central America, and the Caribbean. Recently, they added South America to that list with a new route to Peru.
When you fly with Air Transat, you can bring one personal item and a carry-on bag at no charge. At the lowest fare, the cost for the 1st checked bag is $35, or $40 if you pay for it within 24 hours of the flight. Air Transat includes checked bags with some higher fares.
Flair Airlines has been synonymous with low-cost flights since its inception in the mid-2000s. Today, they operate a fleet of over 20 aircraft, most of which are modern 737-800 and MAX 8 models, from hubs in Calgary, Edmonton, Kitchener/Waterloo, Toronto (Pearson), and Vancouver.
You can find great deals on flights to over 30 cities around Canada and the U.S., along with a few Caribbean destinations.
It’s important to note that Flair has encountered some operational turbulence (pun intended) in the recent past. For example, in 2023, the Canadian Transportation Agency reported that Flair received the highest number of complaints per 100 flights of any major Canadian airline during a 12-month period ending March 31, 2023.
Flair isn’t the only Canadian airline to encounter these types of issues, but it’s something to be mindful of before booking a flight.
One characteristic of low-cost carriers is that they often operate out of smaller airports in order to reduce costs. This is true of Porter Airlines, which is based at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport on the Toronto Islands.
Porter operates flights to several cities in Canada and the U.S., using a fleet of Dash-8 turboprop and Embraer jet aircraft. One advantage for passengers is that by using smaller airplanes, there are no middle seats onboard. All passengers receive a window or aisle seat.
Also, while Porter is a discount carrier, they offer free Wi-Fi for all passengers on their new planes and complimentary snacks and refreshments. Depending on your chosen fare, you can also get free carry-on or checked bags.
Lynx Air, a relative newcomer to the Canadian aviation scene, is an ultra-low-cost carrier with an expanding route network. The airline is led by executives who previously worked with other airlines, including WestJet, Air Canada Rouge, Etihad Airways, and Tigerair Australia.
Lynx Air is still a small airline with a fleet of 9 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft operating out of its Calgary hub. However, they currently fly to 12 cities across Canada and six destinations in the U.S.: Orlando, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Fort Myers, and Tampa Bay.
Keep an eye on this growing airline for great deals on domestic flights. As with other budget airlines, prepare for additional fees for baggage and services.
Like Lynx Air, Canada Jetlines is an airline to watch. They currently operate three Airbus A320 aircraft from their base at Toronto Pearson Airport but plan to expand to 15 airplanes by 2025.
Canada Jetlines focuses on leisure travel. By November 2023, their flight map will include routes between Toronto and Montego Bay, Cancun, Las Vegas, and Orlando.
Sunwing has long been a go-to airline for affordable vacation packages and flights to tropical destinations. With frequent deals and competitive prices, Sunwing makes it easy for you to enjoy a getaway without breaking the bank.
The airline offers direct flights to warm destinations from more than 20 airports. And if you’re booking a vacation package, you can enjoy a free checked bag for each traveller, a nice perk for a discount airline. This doesn’t include vacation packages to Florida or regular flight-only trips.
Sunwing was purchased by WestJet, with the sale being finalized in May 2023. For now, the two airlines will continue to operate separately. However, WestJet has indicated it plans to bring Sunwing under the WestJet banner and work as a single airline within two years. For now, it’s business as usual.
Update: In June 2023, WestJet announced that it would move Swoop Airlines under the WestJet banner and operate as a single carrier by the end of October 2023.
Swoop Airlines, a subsidiary of WestJet, is an ultra-low-cost carrier offering cheap tickets for domestic and international flights. Since 2017, Swoop has offered discounted flights within Canada, the U.S. & Mexico, and several destinations in the Caribbean. They offer direct flights to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tampa Bay, Orlando, and Fort Lauderdale from various Canadian cities. When you book with Swoop, your ticket includes your seat and a small personal item.
Be mindful of extra fees for checked and carry-on luggage and in-flight snacks.
Are Canadian Low-Cost Airlines Worth the Savings?
When it comes to air travel, saving money is often a top priority for many Canadians. Low-cost airlines in Canada offer an attractive alternative to more expensive carriers, but are they worth the savings?
One concern when flying with a budget airline is the quality of the in-flight experience. While it’s true that low-cost carriers may not offer all the amenities you’d find on a more expensive airline, they can still provide a comfortable experience.
Most airlines have adopted a “no-frills” approach, which means you may not have access to in-flight entertainment or a premium economy section, but you’ll still get from point A to point B for less money.
Another advantage of flying with a low-cost airline is the availability of ticket deals. These carriers often have promotions and cheap tickets to attract travellers.
However, it’s important to be aware of the hidden fees that can come with these discounted prices, such as charges for seat selection, priority boarding, carry-on baggage, and checked baggage. This means that the cheapest option upfront may not always be the most cost-effective in the end.
Airlines like Flair and Lynx Air are great for shorter domestic flights, as the lack of some amenities may be less significant on a shorter journey. However, when considering flights to farther destinations, it might be worth spending a little more for a traditional airline with the amenities you desire, such as wider seats or business class.
Do any Canadian budget airlines fly to Europe?
Most Canadian budget airlines do not travel to Europe. At one time, Air Canada Rouge did, but they have cancelled their European routes. Air Transat is the only airline on our list currently offering flights to select European cities.
What’s the difference between Swoop and Flair Airlines?
Swoop and Flair Airlines are two major low-cost carriers in Canada. Swoop Airlines is a subsidiary of WestJet and focuses on providing ultra-low-cost airfare options. On the other hand, Flair Airlines is an independent low-cost airline with a similar goal of offering affordable travel options. Both airlines operate primarily within Canada but offer some United States and Mexico flights. Their pricing and routes differ, so comparing their offerings is essential when planning your trip.
Are there new budget airlines launching in Canada?
New budget airlines occasionally launch in Canada to cater to the growing demand for affordable travel options. Lynx Air and Canada Jetlines are two of the most recent low-cost airlines to emerge.