Canada is Hard to Visit

Creative Commons License photo credit: Junnn

Twice in the past few months Scott and I have tried, unsuccessfully, to plan a long weekend in Canada. Our first idea was to visit Montreal over Thanksgiving. The second trip idea was to travel to Banff over a long weekend in January. In both cases, we were shocked at how difficult it is to visit Canada.

I’m not talking about any border requirements or TSA nonsense, I’m talking about the oddly high airfare to visit our friends to our north. In the Montreal example, I had no problem finding affordable hotel rooms, even at really nice properties. Having visited Montreal before, I also knew that eating and sightseeing in the city would be what we were used to in the Washington, DC area and not absurdly high. The proverbial wrench in the works was the airfare. The cheapest I could find from the DC area was $600 per person! This isn’t a transatlantic trip here, this is a brief, hour and a half flight north. Out of curiosity, I also checked airfares to Dublin for the same weekend and they were the same.

The second trip is still in the works, and while it may work out the high airfare has once again taken me completely by surprise. It is true that the trip to Calgary, the closest airport to Banff, is a bit far from the DC area, but once again the airfare ranges in the $600-$700 range. It would not cost that much more to fly to London and almost as much time. I’m beginning to see a trend here.

Some will read this and say that these prices simply reflect an overall trend in higher fares; but that’s not quite true. In both time frames, I also searched for flights to Mexico, Cancun to be specific, and the fares were at most $300-$400 per person. A savings of at least $200 may not seem like a lot to some, but when you’re trying to do a quick trip on the cheap, that’s a significant difference. So why is it exactly that it is comparatively so much easier to visit our friends south of the border than it is north?

I’m sure several airline experts will chime in about capacity and the number of airlines servicing Mexico versus Canada, and I have no doubt that they are correct. What bothers me is why is this the case?

No, Canada does not have palm trees or warm, sunny beaches. But Canada has a lot to offer in all seasons and while I am not ordinarily a defender of my hockey-loving friends to the north, I have to say that there appears to be a real travel bias against them.

Rather than get into ALL the great things there are to do in Canada (there are a lot) I would instead encourage you to do your own research and see all that it has to offer.

Maybe if enough of us plan a trip there, the travel powers-that-be will make it easier for us all to do so.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

19 thoughts on “Canada is Hard to Visit”

  1. Canada is not only hard to visit – it’s hard to get out of. Being from Montreal, I am aware that my airfare is always more expensive than what it would normally cost an American for the same flight. That’s why I often go through the hassle of flying out of Burlington, VT and then switch at NYC because it saves me at least $200 every time. It’s just really tiring and frustrating though!

    I never understood why Canada-related airfares are so expensive.

  2. When we visited Montreal, we flew into Burlington (via JFK) and drove across the border. It did add some time to the trip, but the airfares were excellent and it gave us a great reason to explore Vermont on the way home (check out the Equinox in Manchester Village, VT – the town is a little stepford-y, but gorgeous none-the-less).

    We feel very fortunate to have just a two hour drive to visit Vancouver, BC – one of the world’s best cities!

  3. I live in Edmonton, Alberta and definitely agree with your post. I think one of the big reasons why flying in and to Canada is so pricey is because we only have two major airlines Westjet and Air Canada. And generally there isn’t much of a price difference between the two. In the US there’s a lot more choices; United, Southwest, Delta, Jet Blue, Continental, etc. This competition helps to keep the prices a lot lower. As well the US has a lot more major cities to fly in and out of. Getting around the country can be really expensive, and it doesn’t help that we don’t have a great rail system, it’s just as expensive to go cross country via the train. I think that’s why roadtrips are so popular here.

  4. I agree it is extremely frustrating that it costs so much to fly to or within Canada. Thats why I was so upset when TBEX picked Vancouver for next year, its expensive to get there from anywhere!
    However Canada does have nice sunny warm beaches! Just not all year long ;) I live by tons of them in Halifax no more than 30mins away (the ones in the city might be polluted from the harbour so lets stick with the ones outside of the city…)
    But its ver frustrating when I can go to Australia and fly between Sydney and Melbourne for $30 but I try to get to St. John’s from Halifax and its $300+ and probably a shorter flight!

  5. A few reasons why ticket prices suck going into and out of Canada:

    1) Supply and demand: If people continue to buy tickets at these high prices, airlines see no reason to lower them.

    2) Monopoly: Like mentioned in a previous comment, Canada has only 2 airlines with Air Canada having a near monopoly over Canadian air travel.

    3) Taxes/fees: Cross-country taxes (hit by both US & Canada). Customs fees and other little goodies they have added to the final price to make your ticket go from $199 round-trip to $672.01.

    Fly to Buffalo, Seattle and Burlington, VT and either drive or take a shuttle/train the rest of the way.

  6. So maybe this is why the rail fares there are so steep then. Perhaps they figure they have little price competition and can hoik them up accordingly.
    I’m going to Montreal in Feb and was hoping to go coast to coast. The cheapest ticket (off season remember) was around $2000… way! I know it’s a very big country, but even so…
    Plus you used to be able to get a North America pass that you could use on both Amtrak and Via, not any more. Finally the Canrailpass seems reasonable giving you 7 trips anywhere for 4588 over 21 day period. But it’s useless if you wanna go long distance as you can’t seem to upgrade it to a sleeper, even if you wanted to and could afford pay extra, it’s no longer upgradeable, crazy!

  7. While I definitely agree that flying in and out of Burlington airport is a great money-saving tip, it’s also very frustrating having to drive 2+ hours after a long flight. And if you’re flying out of the US, Burlington means layover.

    Jools, for us Montrealers and probably all Canadians, it’s just as expensive to get to Europe that it is to visit BC. That says a lot on our poor transportation situation! But on the hand, the distances are far too great for low-cost companies (like Ryanair) to even exist here, sadly.

  8. Obviously flying into cities like Buffalo, Burlington and Seattle is not convenient or practical for most travelers. But it is just one way to save a little on that airline ticket. Sadly high airfares will continue with Canada and probably go up as the industry comes out of the 2008/2009 slump. Greedy bastards.

  9. Matt, have you thought of flying into a US city that borders Canada and taking Megabus to places like Toronoto or Montreal? I have friends in Toronto I want to visit and the airfare is definitely out of reach, but if I can fly into a city that Megabus goes to Toronto from, then I can plan it so I can get one of the $1 or $5 bus tickets. Add the free wi-fi and it’s a win-win situation. Of course, this does not work so well for shorter trips, but I plan to go for a week to visit and will have the time to take the bus. I would look into it.

      1. True, but for places like Toronto and Montreal, Megabus is a viable option, just requires some planning. I’m fortunate that I live in the PNW, so getting to Vancouver or Victoria or even Whistler is just a short day of driving. Calgary is a little bit more of a stretch!

        Good luck in your quest to visit our friends to the North. I love Canada!

  10. I hear ya, as a Canadian its really expensive to travel the country, which is why I haven´t. Another tip for affordable airfare, although a pain, is to fly to Toronto and take a flight with a national airline (WestJet or Porter) to Montreal which is much cheaper.

  11. I’ve had a huge hankering to go visit Canada for awhile now. This is partially due to the fact that I am a big francophile & love the idea of speaking some French in Quebec without flying overseas. It’s also due to the annoucement that TBEX will take place in Vancouver in 2011 & all of the wonderful things I’ve heard about that town. I’m also (just a tad) embarrassed to admit that I’ve been longing to go to Canada ever since I visited Epcot last year and was smitten with the Canadian portion of the World Showcase. Not sure if we’ll make it with such high airfares though. Zut alors!

  12. I’m travelling to the UK from Vancouver in August and I agree the prices of tickets just from here alone is what makes it so pricey. What I’m doing is taking the Amtrak to Seattle and getting my flight out of there, it’s extra hassle, but it does save on airfare. Maybe if enough people have to resort to these tactics, Air Canada will get the hint. They aren’t that great, need to knock them off their pedestal.

    One thing too, I have seen flights from Seattle that go through Vancouver before going on to the UK that are cheaper than if you just fly directly out of YVR. So stupid. This town I live in is too pricey for it’s own good, even housing costs here and everything here is astronomical. *Sigh* The only reason I stay is I’m sharing rent with a family member and my brother insisted we come out here to live – also no snow, it’s beautiful…but…wow, so expensive to live.


  13. Well, it’s become somewhat cheaper to fly out of Canada (at least Toronto) since the article originally appeared. Porter Airlines flies to Eastern Canada and the northeast US from the Toronto Island airport for reasonable rates. We’ve had some great promotions too, like NYC for $265 return.
    So by all means look for the deals and come visit. You’ll be glad you did. Promise.

  14. Actually, Canada does have warm sunny beaches.
    Just visit southern Ontario in summer and you’ll find dozens.
    Plus temps in the upper 90s/low 100s and tropical humidity making it feel hotter still.
    Toronto, 4th largest city in North America, is at the same latitude as the French Riviera.
    Google ‘top 5’ beaches for Toronto, it’s a port city on the shores of Lake Ontario.
    You’ll also find North America’s biggest dance club (The Guvernment) which is rated to hold a maximum of 10,000 people.

    Sauble Beach on Lake Huron and Wasaga Beach on Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay are the two longest freshwater beaches on the planet.
    Also in Georgian Bay are the Thirty Thousand Islands, the world’s largest freshwater island archipelago and a boater’s paradise.

    Why people insist on thinking Canada’s cold year round is a mystery.
    Even up in the Canadian Arctic the snow melts and wildflowers grow in summer.

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