How to find cheaper flights this year as airfares soar

For those undeterred by lineups and flight delays at Canadian airports, questions remain about how to save money on air travel amid rising fuel prices and inflation.

For those undeterred by lineups and flight delays at Canadian airports, questions remain about how to save money on air travel amid rising fuel prices and inflation.

Air fares – often the single biggest item on holidays – jumped 11.6% year-on-year in May, according to Statistics Canada. Tickets are now above pre-pandemic levels, up 15% from 2019 at $960 on average for international flights from Canada, according to Montreal-based Hopper Inc., with no sign decline in the coming months.

“Airlines are raising ticket prices to cover higher fuel and labor costs,” said Helane Becker, airline analyst for investment firm Cowen.

Flexibility is useful when you’re looking to save money, as the times you choose to book and travel – and the airport of departure – can play a key role in the cost.

Weekends are often more expensive, and flights scheduled for early morning and late evening are often cheaper because fewer people want to fly then, said Duncan Dee, former chief operating officer at Air Canada.

“Don’t plan to leave for the first few days after the school year ends…and don’t come home the weekend before Labor Day either, because that weekend will be in high demand,” he said. he declares.

Dee also recommends traveling off-season rather than during the summer months, or considering less desirable locations. “Latin America, for example – our summer is their winter, and a winter in the southern hemisphere…is very pleasant,” he said.

“Paris in the summer or London in the summer – that equals high airfares, high hotel prices and full restaurants.”

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

“Many consumers will report receiving a totally different rate and rate — higher or even lower — if they search an hour later,” Dee noted.

Alternate airports are a way to circumvent attentive algorithms. Those in Hamilton, Ont., Buffalo and Plattsburgh, NY, and Bellingham, Washington may have more acceptable prices and fewer delays.

But travel within Canada can be the safest and kindest option on the wallet. The average one-way domestic fare was $159 in May, down from $168 in May 2019, according to data from Cirium, an aviation analytics firm.

“International travel, outside of North America, is really a dice game,” said John Gradek, professor of aviation at McGill University, of a friend’s recent trip.

“To get a car rental in Italy – a small petrol car, a Fiat – and a tiny house for him, his wife and two daughters for a week, it was $1,200 (per day) – plus $200 dollars a day for car rental,” he said.

“If you’re going to Europe, you must really want to go.”

Gradek recommends classic Canadian getaways this summer. “Go to Banff, go to the Rockies, go visit Peggy’s Cove.”

In Ontario, several cities offer to reward tourists for overnight stays. Ottawa, Kingston, London and Guelph are among the municipalities pledging to hand out gift cards of up to $100 or provide a stay-at-home stay at participating hotels.

The incentives are in addition to the Provincial Travel Tax Credit, which provides up to $200 credit per person for travel within Ontario.

Low-cost Canadian carriers such as Flair Airlines, WestJet’s Swoop and recent entrant Lynx Air offer another route to savings – although smaller fleets may mean fewer options when canceling, with some passengers having new booking a few days later on less frequent routes.

A handful of travel hacks offer smarter savings.

So-called hidden city fares, where passengers hop on the second leg of a journey to disembark at the connection point – their actual intended destination – allow travelers who have found cheaper fares on a circuitous route rather than a direct flight to save money, although carriers frown upon this practice.

“Pirate fares”, which refer to two one-way tickets, can also generate savings. Search engines, including Kayak and Google Flights, offer round-trip queries for a pair of one-way flights. Kayak and Hopper also provide price alerts and recommendations on whether to buy now or wait for lower rates.

For the more tech-savvy, bargain hunters can mask their computer address with a virtual private network (VPN) to detect rates that target local residents in other countries, although the offers are not necessarily better. For the less digitally inclined, finding a foreign travel agent may be an easier option.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 7, 2022.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press