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The oneworld airline alliance and Canada's WestJet announced they are offering Canadian companies "special rates" through a new cooperative corporate travel program. The "canadaconnect" program provides discounts on flights operated by WestJet and the seven participating oneworld carriers but differs from traditional airline partnerships in that there is no code sharing, no interlining and "no plans at present" for WestJet to actually join the oneworld alliance.
Both code sharing and formalized alliance participation are potential future developments for WestJet, according to a oneworld spokesman. "WestJet has made clear in the past, once systems capabilities are in place, that it would be interested in bilateral links with key oneworld partners," he said.
The oneworld members participating in the canadaconnect program are: American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Lan, Qantas and Royal Jordanian. Others "may" join in the future. The cooperative sales program covers all flights operated by those participating carriers; they need not be connections between WestJet and a oneworld airline. For example, intra-Asia flights on Cathay Pacific or intra-Latin America flights on Lan would qualify, in addition to transborder and international flights to and from Canadian airports.
"It is purely a corporate sales link at this stage, aimed purely at businesses in Canada" that require both domestic and international air transport, the oneworld spokesman explained. "They previously had to strike two separate corporate sales deals to cater to all their needs; now they just need one. That probably means negotiating better discounts. It's a classic airline corporate deal: The more people fly on the basis of this deal, the more they are likely to save."
"Now we can provide transborder and international access to discounted fares for corporate customers and travel management companies," added WestJet vice president of sales Duncan Bureau. "There are no longer those handcuffs forced on the marketplace by Air Canada in the form of marketshare requirements that were unrealistic."
For the airlines, collaboration means international reach for WestJet and a domestic Canadian presence for oneworld. Within Canada, both WestJet and oneworld are looking to compete more vigorously against market leader Air Canada, a founding member of rival Star Alliance.
For Canadian companies, WestJet and the oneworld partners will aim to provide "account management that is as simple as possible," said the oneworld official. Each customer would be appointed "a single account handler to represent both WestJet and oneworld."
Bureau added that negotiated rates would be available to clients via their travel agencies and online corporate booking tools.
One Canadian corporate buyer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, applauded the partnership for providing companies another option, "but for those companies not already dealing with WestJet, nothing will change. WestJet's infrastructure still is not as mature as Air Canada's."
Noting a more aggressive sales approach in recent months by WestJet, especially in dealing with travel management companies, the buyer suggested that a lack of code sharing and interlining limits the utility of a oneworld partnership. "If the partnership matures, and they start code sharing, it could have a very positive effect on the Canadian market," the buyer said. "Otherwise, it's just a hassle to pick up your bags [between connecting flights], etc., even if you are saving 10 percent."
Press reports in 2007 had linked to both oneworld and Air France of the SkyTeam alliance, but WestJet this year signed a codeshare pact with Southwest Airlines. Though Southwest is a direct competitor of oneworld anchor American Airlines, the oneworld spokesman said "there is no conflict with this agreement whatsoever."
Meanwhile, in March 2007, WestJet said it planned to "leverage" its new status as retailer giant Wal-Mart's "preferred Canadian airline" as a means to "appeal to a broad range of corporate business travelers--anywhere from local to international organizations."
WestJet's Bureau said the Wal-Mart relationship "continues to grow significantly year on year. It showed that we're capable of fulfilling the needs of some of Canada's larger corporations."
It was another multinational company, an unnamed "large financial institution in Canada," that prompted the oneworld link, Bureau explained. "It was looking to remove its business from Air Canada and was looking for alternatives on transborder and international."
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