Throughout the pandemic, Ottawa-based travel blogger Anshul Singh has been stuck at home writing about travel — but not living it.
That’s about to change in September when he’s set to fly to Vancouver for his first trip outside Ontario in more than a year. Singh said the easing of COVID-19 restrictions by provinces and cheap airfares convinced him to take the plunge.
“I was just waiting for a good deal to come around, and the pricing was definitely the reason for pulling the trigger.”
Despite pandemic and travel restrictions still in place in several provinces, Canada’s major airlines are advertising discounted domestic flights to entice Canadians to start flying again.
Air Canada and WestJet are currently offering 20 per cent off base fares for domestic flights — which appear low even without the discount — through to the end of December. The catch is that customers must book before Monday.
CBC News searched both airlines’ websites and found one-way flights this summer from Toronto to Vancouver for $117, from Montreal to Halifax for $86 and from Winnipeg to Calgary for just under $90.
“With provinces setting timelines for reopening, we are promoting our services because Canadians are now planning future travel,” Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email. “There is pent-up demand.”
Air Transat is also offering cheap fares starting in late August, such as a one-way flight from Calgary to Toronto for $107. Air Canada and WestJet are offering the same flight for as low as $105.
Meanwhile, ultra low-cost carrier Flair Airlines is expanding its routes across Canada by adding service to several more cities, including Halifax, Saint John, Charlottetown and Ottawa.
How long will it last?
Singh’s round trip from Ottawa to Vancouver totalled $171 — the outgoing flight booked with Air Canada for $112 and the return flight with Flair Airlines for $59.
He’ll have to pay Flair an added carry-on bag fee but says the estimated grand total of $238 is still a far cry from what he typically pays for a round trip from Ottawa to Vancouver — about $750.
“It’s amazing,” Singh said. “Immediately when I saw these ticket [prices], the thought was OK, let’s do it because if not now, then when?”
Air Canada and WestJet would not say what happens with its domestic deals after Sunday or if there are any new promotions in the pipeline.
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The major airlines’ cheap airfares won’t last for long, predicts Frederic Dimanche, director of the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University in Toronto.
Dimanche said he believes that airlines have dropped their prices for two reasons: to make some quick cash after travel plummeted during the pandemic and to get Canadians to warm up to the idea of returning to air travel.
“If you’re booking a flight right now … you’re going to tell people how happy you are with this and you’ve never seen such a cheap price to go from Toronto to Vancouver for example, and that will generate some discussion.”
Singh suggests that the expansion of service by Flair Airlines has also prompted the major airlines to lower prices — at least for a period of time — to help stave off competition.
“Definitely specific routes that Flair’s flying, I’ve noticed Air Canada and WestJet have lowered [prices] significantly on those routes,” he said.
What are the risks?
While cheap fares may prompt some travellers to book a trip, there are no guarantees Canadians will be able to freely travel across the country this summer.
Currently, the Atlantic provinces still bar most visitors from entering — and those who can enter typically must quarantine for 14 days. Travellers to Manitoba must also quarantine.
All provinces are hatching plans to eventually ease their COVID-19 restrictions as more Canadians get vaccinated. But Winnipeg travel agent Walter Rodrigues warns that a sudden rise in infections could reverse those plans — as was the case earlier this year when provinces started locking down again after having loosened restrictions last summer.
“All of a sudden, when the case counts [were] very high, they said, ‘Well, wait, we’ve got to close down,'” said Rodrigues of Bestway Travel Agency.
Rodrigues points to Portugal, which, because of a sudden rise in COVID-19 cases, has fallen off Britain’s list of safe countries to travel to. Consequently, U.K. residents travelling to Portugal — including those already in the country — now must quarantine for 10 days upon their return.
“These are things that you’re always afraid may pop up,” he said.
If travellers have to cancel their flights, Air Canada, WestJet and Air Transat are offering free one-time changes for flights booked before July 1. Flair customers can make changes for $25 per flight.
But even if travellers can fly to their destination this summer, will it be safe to go?
Dr. Nitin Mohan, an epidemiologist, suggests that travellers stick close to home until they’re fully vaccinated and set their sights on domestic trips to regions where COVID-19 case counts are low.
“We still have that duty to protect one another and ensure that we’re not … transferring the virus to a region that may not be well equipped to handle it,” said Mohan, an assistant professor at Western University in London, Ont.