Canadians will find ultra cheap airfare this fall

People line up at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, on Aug. 5.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Canadians eager to enjoy the autumn colors this year are likely to find plenty of budget-friendly options to jet to places like New York or Alberta’s Lake Louise.

And the opportunities to fly cheap go well beyond the top foliage destinations.

Flight ticket prices often drop by 10 percent or more in the fall compared to summer’s peaks, Christie Hudson, head of US public relations for Expedia, said via e-mail. But this autumn “the savings are expected to be even richer,” she added.

Growing competition on domestic and Canada-US routes and a likely steeper-than-usual seasonal drop in demand for leisure travel mean airlines are slashing prices to fill planes, according to John Gradek, co-ordinator of McGill University’s aviation management program.

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The discounting is already well under way. As of Aug. 19, for example, Air Canada AC-T was advertising $86 one-way tickets to fly from Vancouver to Calgary in October.

Toronto to Montreal? That’s $124 one-way if you fly on Oct. 20.

Some special offers have already come and gone. No-frills carriers Flair Airlines Ltd. and Swoop Inc., a subsidiary of WestJet Group of Companies, were offering discounts of 35 per cent and 30 per cent, respectively, on base fares for fall travel for bookings made during the week of Aug. 15.

Some price comparisons between summer highs and fall lows are especially stark. Take Calgary-based budget carrier Lynx Air, for example. A Toronto-Vancouver round-trip flight departing from Pearson airport on Nov. 11 and returning Nov. 18 was advertised for $161.26, including taxes and fees, on Aug. 18. The same route was priced at $867.93 with a departure on Aug. 26 and return on Sept. 2.

US airlines are also slashing their ticket prices for the shoulder season between the summer and the holidays.

Round-trip airfare to domestic US destinations in September and October will cost travelers US$238 per ticket on average, down US$142 on average from the summer and 3-per-cent cheaper compared to 2019, according to data from travel booking app Hopper.

A chaotic summer marred by airport delays and flight cancellations likely means many leisure travelers aren’t eager to board a plane again this fall, which may be forcing airlines to stimulate demand with aggressive discounts, Mr. Gradek said.

In Canada, though, cheap fall airfares also reflect a growing supply of flights and routes to domestic and US destinations, he added.

“There’s a lot more seats available in the Canadian market this fall than there have been for the last few years,” he said.

The result is a “North American seat sale” that will likely last through the end of November or the beginning of December, he added.

Lynx, which made its maiden flight in April, currently flies to 10 Canadian destinations. Canada Jetlines, which announced on Aug. 18 it had received final licensing approval from Transport Canada, is expected to soon join the country’s swelling ranks of ultra-low-cost carriers servicing destinations including Toronto, Moncton, NB, and Prince Edward Island.

Swoop’s plans for the fall and winter include ramping up flight frequencies to its most popular routes beginning in November, the company said. The airline said it added 11 new destinations across Canada and the US this summer.

Porter Airlines, which has ordered 50 E195-E2 passenger jets from Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer SA, said in July it expected the first of the new planes to be delivered and start service in the second half of 2022. The new airplanes will be deployed to destinations throughout Canada, the US, Mexico and the Caribbean, the company said.

Still, with competition among Canadian carriers mostly focused on North American routes, deals may not be quite as impressive on longer international flights, Mr. Gradek said.

And consumers tempted by extra low prices will have to weigh the risk of persistent airport bottlenecks and new travel disruptions linked to a potential resurgence of the COVID-19 virus as the weather gets cold.

Between June 1 and Aug. 17, around half of flights originating from Toronto Pearson International Airport and Montreal-Trudeau International Airport arrived with a delay, according to data compiled by flight tracking site FlightAware.

With passenger traffic dropping off in the fall, airport congestion will likely let up a bit, Mr. Gradek said. It also helps that new hires at airports and airlines who started their jobs at the beginning of the summer will have three of four months of experience by autumn, he added.

“I’m crossing my fingers that with the experience level increasing and the volume of passengers shrinking, that will be a combination that will basically allow the airports to get back into a reasonable routine.”

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