Here are some pointers to finding the best airfare deal for you.

Seat Sales

Most airlines run sales throughout the year, but many of these offerings are designed as promotional tools and don't represent substantial savings over regular fares.

TIP: Traditionally in the Canadian market, there are two major seat sales each year that are worth watching for: one around Labour Day (usually released just before the beginning of the school year) and the other at the end of the year (usually announced sometime between Christmas and the first week of January). These two sales typically last a couple of weeks, include most destinations and feature some of the best prices of the year. The fall sale usually includes deals to sun and other international destinations while the winter sale is the best time to score great deals for flights within Canada and to Europe.

All airlines restrict the number of sale fare seats on each flight. This availability is determined by "class of service" of the fare. Consumer websites don't show class of service, so finding flights at the sale fare can difficult, particularly for international flights.

TIP: Travel agents use reservation systems that show class of service and they can easily find flights with space at those low sale fares. Most agents (and airlines) add a service fee to bookings not done online; however, the fee is a small price to pay for the convenience and time saved getting the flights and fare you want.

One-Way Fares

Most airlines now only offer one-way fares for travel within North America. So rather than having to use the same airline for both portions of your trip, you can fly one airline to your destination and fly back home on another.

Online travel sites haven't yet adapted to take advantage of one-way tickets - if the outbound flight is on Westjet, these sites will almost always offer return flights on Westjet - even though a return flight on another airline would give you a lower overall price.

TIP: Try breaking your trip into pieces (i.e., one flight at a time) to see if it's less expensive than doing the whole trip with the same airline.

A large Canadian airline (which will remain nameless) likes to advertise unbelievably low international one-way seat sale fares to lure unsuspecting consumers. But when you check out the fine print, you can only buy the one-way fare only if you also buy a return one-way fare at the same time. While this is perfectly legal (for now) don't get misled by this questionable kind of advertising. Use some of the tips below to make sure you're comparing apples to apples before jumping on these "sale" fares.

International return flights continue to be less expensive than two one-way tickets. However, one-way fares are becoming more common in Europe and the South Pacific.

Taxes and Fees

All airfares are subject to taxes and fees. These additional charges are typically the same regardless whether the ticket base fare is $10 or $1,000. The major exception is "percentage" taxes (like the GST/HST) which vary with the base fare. (GST/HST must be paid on flights within Canada or flights to the United States originating in Canada.)

TIP: GST is not payable on flights to Canada which originate in the United States. You can save GST if you buy two one-way tickets when doing a return trip to the US. GST is payable on the Canada to US flight, but you do not pay GST the return US to Canada flight. However, if you put the both flights on a single ticket, GST is payable on the full trip.

Most airlines have introduced fuel surcharges to account for the volatile price of oil. In most cases this surcharge is not included in the base fare and can add up to $300 to the cost of your ticket

Some of the taxes and fees are specific to the airports through which you travel.. Many airports now have some sort of "improvement fee" to pay for the maintenance and upgrade of facilities. Even if you are using an airport as a connecting point your ticket price may include the airport's improvement fee.

TIP: London Heathrow (LHR) has some of the highest airport fees in the world. Even though LHR has some of the best connections to points around the globe, consider routing through Amsterdam or Frankfurt which both have lower fees and excellent onward connections. British Airways, which uses LHR as its home base, often advertises lower base fares than other European airlines; however, once you add in the higher LHR fees the total cost of the ticket will probably be higher than other airlines.

Consolidator Fares

Consolidators are specialized travel agents who sell airfares at wholesale (i.e., discounted) prices. These fares are considerably less expensive than regular fares and can even be lower than seat sale fares. Consolidator fares are only available for travel to a destination in another country (e.g. consolidator fares are not available for travel between Vancouver and Montreal). Consolidators are not permitted to sell directly to the public; consumers can only get consolidator fares through a retail travel agency. Most online travel websites (including some of the biggest and best known) do not sell consolidator fares. Many consolidators specialize in particular regions of the world. If you are traveling to points outside Europe you probably won't find the best fares online - here at or on any other website. That's when it's definitely worth while picking up the phone and speaking with one of our expert travel counselors. They will check these specialized consolidators and will probably find fares lower than anything you can get online.

Charter Flights

Charter flights don't operate to all destinations; however, they are probably the most economical option available - particularly for travel to sun destinations or points in Europe. Charters usually have plenty of restrictions (e.g., limited flights and set duration dates) but they often have easier payment terms and inexpensive one-way international fares. Charters are also subject to "last minute" price reductions - if there are empty seats on a flight fares can be substantially reduced.

Introductory Fares

When an airline begins service to a new city they always offer some sort of great introductory deal to jump start sales. In most cases these fares are exceptionally cheap and are often the lowest you will ever see on that route. If another airline is already flying that route, that competitor will often match the new airline's introductory fare.

Smaller Airlines

Smaller airlines often don't have the marketing budgets or profiles to compete with the best known airlines, therefore, many of these smaller carriers carve out a niche for themselves by offering extremely competitive fares on international routes.

TIP: Check fares with smaller airlines which are based in a midpoint country between your departure city and ultimate destination. Although you'll have to make a connection at that midpoint, the fares are often hundreds of dollars lower than non-stop flights available from better known airlines. Also, these airlines will often include a free stopover at the midponit. For example, consider Air Pacific (based in Fiji) when flying to the South Pacific or Icelandair when flying to Europe.

Low-Cost Carriers

"Low cost carriers" (LCCs) have popped up everywhere and can be a very economical way to travel. Jet Blue (in the United States), Ryanair (in Europe) and Virgin Blue (in Australia) are all examples of LCCs. (Westjet, which started as an LCC, has morphed into a more traditional airline with higher fares but still retains some low cost characteristics.) But keep in mind that you get what you pay for. Service is minimal or non-existent, seats are typically narrow and cramped, baggage allowances are extremely limited and you pay dearly for additional services.

TIP: Some LCCs (particular Ryanair) use secondary airports which may be quite a distance from the actual destination. For example, Ryanair's service to "Barcelona" is really to either Reus (which is 80km south of Barcelona) or Girona (which is 100km northwest of Barcelona). Unfortunately, LCCs aren't the most stable airlines and some suddenly go out of business, leaving passengers stranded with absolutely no recourse. If you're buying your tickets many months in advance, it is suggested to stick to the best known LCCs (such as the ones mentioned above). However, if you're purchasing a ticket for travel next week, you'll probably be fine with any of the LCCs.

TIP: Traditional airlines which fly the same routes as a LCC often offer similar cheap fares to be competitive. You get the service and amenities of a traditional carrier at a LCC price.


Fares are highest at peak periods and are lowest during off-peak periods. Many airlines flying "international" routes (i.e., between North American and points around the world) use "seasons" to define these peak periods, so shifting your travel dates by a few days may push you in or out of peak season. For example, mid-December to mid-February is peak season for South Pacific fares (with the weeks around Christmas and New Years being "super peak"). By changing your departure date to New Zealand from February 15 (peak season) to February 18 (shoulder season) may potentially save hundreds of dollars. Unfortunately, most airlines and online booking sites do not provide consumers with information about seasons. This is another example where it can pay to speak with a travel professional like those at Conxity to help you choose flight dates that take advantage of these seasonal fluctuations.

Tips for Booking Air Fares

Remember these points when booking your next flight

Know the difference between "direct" and "non-stop".

If the price is the same or similar, be sure to select non-stop. Unlike non-stops, direct flights can stop at other airports on their way to their ultimate destination.

Make sure you purchase your ticket under the exact name that appears on your passport.

All airlines ask for photo identification at check in and when boarding the aircraft. If your ticket does not match the name on your passport or photo ID, you not be able to board. Shortened given names are the most common problem. For example, you will not be permitted to board a flight if your ticket shows "John Smith" and your passport show "Jonathan Smith". Similarly, it's important that trans-gender passengers make their travel reservations in the name that appears on their current identification. This is particularly crucial if you are traveling to another country and will need to go through arrival documentation formalities.

Select your seats before arriving at the airport for check in.

Passengers who do not have pre-assigned seats are the first to be bumped from over-booked flights. Either purchase your seat assignment at the time of booking (as on Air Canada) or use online check the night before when you can select your seat at no additional charge (as on Air Canada and Westjet). For international flights, it's helpful to book through travel agents (like Rainbow High Vacations) as they often have access to seat assignments when online booking tools do not. Also keep in mind that some airlines do not permit advance seat assignments (even the night before) if you purchase some of their least expensive fares.

Double check foreign documentation requirements.

Some countries require visas for entry while others may require that your passport is valid at least six months after you land, and some countries like South Africa require at least 2 blank pages in your passport. If you are booking at the last minute, it's best to check the documentation requirements before you purchase your ticket as there may not be sufficient time to obtain the necessary documentation before your departure date. Even though you may be a permanent resident of another country like Canada, the entry requirements will depend on the passport you use on your trip. So even though you live in Canada, you may still require a visa to enter a country like the United States if you don't hold a Canadian passport.


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