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With airfares rising, here’s how to find a travel deal this year

Competition creating good value on Canadian domestic flights
An Air Canada jet takes off from Trudeau Airport in Montreal, Thursday, June 30, 2022. Passenger numbers are finally approaching pre-pandemic levels after Canadians emerged blinking from COVID-19 confinement last year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

As demand surges and airfares soar to new heights, many Canadians are in search of travel deals this year.

And low prices are out there — particularly for domestic flights.

“In general, flight prices to nearly everywhere have increased, particularly in the past three months,” said Chris Myden, founder and CEO of Ydeals Inc., a Vancouver-based travel site.

But with increased competition among local carriers, trips within Canada mark the exception.

Roundtrip domestic flights for 2023 averaged $294 as of last week, up 16 per cent from the same time last year but still 15 per cent below the $354 average of 2019, according to Montreal-based travel data firm Hopper Inc.

“It wasn’t that many years ago you had your choice of two airlines between Toronto and Vancouver, and it came with a standard price tag of around $500 to $600 roundtrip including taxes,” Myden said.

Today six carriers ply the same route: Air Canada, WestJet, Flair Airlines, Lynx Air, Canada Jetlines and, as of last month, Porter Airlines.

Last week, Flair and Lynx — the two budget carriers — were offering roundtrip flights between Toronto and Vancouver in late April for $147, while Air Canada and WestJet’s Swoop posted prices as low as $295 and $143, respectively. The prices roughly match Ydeals’ averages for this year.

Myden noted that low-cost airline prices don’t include carry-on bags. “Surprise, surprise, it works out to around $250 with a piece of luggage, same as the larger carriers.”

Budget airlines’ smaller fleets can also mean fewer options in the event of a cancellation, with some passengers rebooked days later on less frequent routes. Meanwhile, the most basic tickets on most airlines allow no changes or cancellations by the customer, even for a fee.

Another heavily trafficked route, Vancouver-Calgary, offered late-April roundtrips between $94 and $145 on the two low-cost carriers last week, and $137 and $141 for Air Canada and WestJet, respectively.

“Domestically the prices are in good shape for consumers, at least until June,” said John Gradek, an aviation management lecturer at McGill University.

Even as demand shoots up, Canada’s seat capacity isn’t expected to reach 2019 levels this year, barely topping 80 per cent at the moment but levelling out at 95 per cent in the second half of 2023, when greater supply should ease prices, TD Cowen analyst Helane Becker said.

While flights abroad are pricier than in years past, there are still a few deals to be had.

“There have been a few gems lately to Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Costa Rica,” Myden said. “To destinations outside of Canada great prices have certainly been few and far between since November.”

Airfare to Asia averages $1,475 for a roundtrip, a jump of 97 per cent since 2019 and the biggest increase over pre-pandemic levels compared to other regions, according to Hopper.

“Of all international regions, the U.S. ($368) remains the best relative deal, with prices only 12 per cent higher than pre-pandemic,” Hopper spokeswoman Ellie Breslin said in an email.

With pocketbooks increasingly strained, would-be travellers can use a range of tacks to navigate higher prices.

Flexibility is helpful when looking to save cash, since the times you choose to book and travel — and which airport you take off from — can play a key role in the cost.

Weekends are often pricier, and flights scheduled early in the morning and late at night are frequently cheaper, as fewer folks want to fly then.

Duncan Dee, former chief operating officer at Air Canada recommends travelling in the off-season rather than peak summer months, or to consider less sought-after spots, such as Latin America during Canada’s summertime.

Booking one to three months in advance for local flights and three to four months for international ones may also yield cheaper fares, he said. However, “dynamic pricing” means there are no hard and fast rules, as algorithms respond to demand and booking curves on the fly.

One way around attentive algorithms are alternative airports. Those in Hamilton, Ont., Buffalo and Plattsburgh, N.Y., and Abbotsford, B.C., can present more palatable prices and fewer delays.

For those seeking package deals, Marie-Pier Guilmette, owner of the Inspirations Voyage travel agency in Gatineau, Que., said all-inclusive trips are often $300 more per person than a year ago.

“For families, it’s a lot of money,” she said.

A one-week trip to an all-inclusive four-star Cuban hotel in March would now cost two visitors between $1,600 and $2,000. The Dominican Republic would be a couple of hundred dollars more.

Hotel-flight packages to Rome in the fall would cost a couple between $1,800 and $2,300 for one week at a three-star venue, she said.

“For Europe, the price for the flights is more expensive, and you need to book well in advance.”

—Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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