With the end of the fall semester rapidly approaching, many students are eagerly anticipating flights home to family and friends.
Stephanie Mercredi, a travel and tourism instructor at SAIT, said that the student-operated travel centre, Destinations, began booking flights for the winter break as early as the first day of the fall semester, and will continue to do so right up until exam week.
“December 12th . . . we still get them coming in, shocked that it’s so expensive or sold out,” Mercredi said in a recent interview.
According to WestJet public relations manager Robert Palmer, waiting until the fall to book Christmas travel is still “almost always too late if it’s a lower fare you’re after.”
“Fares go up, but not because prices were raised,” Palmer said.
“People buy seats over time and, in accordance with supply and demand, the last seats available on a flight are always more expensive.”
Angela Mah, Air Canada’s media relations representative for Western Canada, echoes Palmer’s lesson about the laws of supply and demand, and air fares.
“The Christmas travel period is the busiest time of year for all airlines with very high demand for seats, and the least expensive seats are usually purchased in advance during seat sales,” said Mah.
Mercredi breaks it down this way:
“Let’s say that one group of seven seats costs $100, another group of seven costs $200, etc.
“The $100 seats sell first, and then the $200 seats and so on.
“Sometimes there will be seat sales, but those are often blacked out from Dec. 15-Jan. 15.”
The accompanying chart indicates the cost of travel from Calgary to four major Canadian cities at three different periods as of Nov. 6. The ranges start from the least expensive seat sales to the most expensive economy options, even before first or business classes are considered.
Just in the initial steps of booking flights online, it’s clear that the few remaining “least expensive seats” are more expensive after Dec. 17, as opposed to the weeks preceding.
This is because of variable surcharges that depend on factors such as the particular airport a passenger is flying from, the day of the week they are flying, whether there is a need for seasonal maintenance such as de-icing or runway clearance, the cost of fuel and the overall market conditions.
“I’m sure they would have included ice and snow clearance in October,” says Mercredi, referring to Calgary’s unexpected bout of snow in September.
“They didn’t need to, but see? They just made some money.”
To avoid factors that are out of a passenger’s control, the only way to ensure a lower fair is to book early.
“Seats are made available on flights up to 330 days from the date of departure,” said Palmer.
“If you want the lowest fare, acting quickly is always the best approach.”