Over There (in the UK)

June 13, 2002 at 1 PM

Hints for the Weary Canadian Traveller

Attaboy presents:

A Seasoned Domestic Flyer Tells All: How to Fly Cheap, Or At Least Not Get Your Eyes Gouged Out By Air Canada

* * *

It is a sad curse of Canada that to travel across it involves flying obscene distances. I travel between Montreal and Vancouver often enough to hate flying, and not because of fear or nausea. It’s not just the arrogance of the national carrier, Air Canada. No, it’s the red-eye flights coming east where you eat breakfast at 4:00 AM. The blizzards at Pearson and the hell that is early January. The ubiquituous “airport improvement fee” despite an utter absence of “improvements.” Now in the 21st century, the gods have seen fit to add overpriced flights to the burdens of the Canadian traveller.

With that in mind, I would like to propose a series of hints on how to get the most for the least when you fly domestic.

First, try a travel agent, but don’t bet on them. The airlines have cut back commissions so many travel agents must now charge extra to cover their costs. In addition, remember that for the discount airlines, Tango, Jetsgo, Canjet and WestJet, a travel agent sees exactly what you would see if you went to their web sites and used the online reservation system. So you can probably find the same price yourself.

Air Canada’s regular non-Tango flights are often almost the same price as Tango, with better service and fewer stops. But they are also still a labyrinth of different prices, classes, rules and dates. A travel agent can help you make sense of them, but it seems that travel agents no longer have access to the lowest fares. If you search for some flights on Air Canada’s web site, or use their new service, you may find better flights for lower prices. There are now special web-only fares that won’t show up for the rest of the travel booking community.

As an alternative to regular travel agents, sites like Expedia and Travelocity are pretty good at finding lower fares. There are a couple tricks though. First, try altering the time of day you fly. A slight variation in the departure time can affect the price depending on what seats are still available on any given flight. Second, try accessing the list of published fares that an airline offers. Both of the above sites offer this service. You may see a much lower fare, and then you can try clicking it to see what dates flights are available and if there are seats left. If you’re lucky, this may lead to a cheaper flight. But not always. Sometimes the published fares don’t match reality. And often there are a lot of fares with really obscure rules or that don’t apply to the current season.

If you don’t mind flying like a sardine, then try Air Transat via Their domestic flights aren’t that great a deal, but they’re usually a bit cheaper than mainline Air Canada flights.

Finally, a word on taxes. Quebec and the Atlantic provinces charge provincial taxes on airfare. Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC do not. Hello, loophole! If you are buying your ticket from a travel agent, and you live in the former provinces, you might try phoning up one in Vancouver or Saskatoon. You may save $50 or $100 on tax, even if your flight departs from Montreal. This doesn’t work online since the web site will determine your taxes from your point of departure. But wait. If you are using a discount airline, and you’re departing from a taxing province but returning from a non-taxing province, there’s still hope. If you purchase two one-way flights instead of a return flight, you can confuse the system and pay no provincial tax on the return flight.

Complicated? Yes. A little ridiculous? Sure. But hey, I’ll take my savings where I can get them.

Bon vol!



Previously: Telnet Star Wars

Subsequently: Music and Where to Get It

June 2002
the Archives

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