The Question: I just booked a flight out of Buffalo, N.Y., as it cost me half the price of flying out of Toronto, and I'm overwhelmed with guilt.
So, you've discovered the allure of the cross-border airport.
“Canadians are realizing more and more that border airports can save fliers a lot – sometimes hundreds of dollars – on airfare,” says Lauren Sullivan, the site editor for Cheapflights.ca. “Oftentimes, U.S. airports offer lower airfares thanks to heavy competition and lower taxes than Canadian hubs. Also, low-cost carriers like Southwest and JetBlue are really taking off – literally – in the States, offering fliers from both countries great deals.”
The travel-deal site recently compiled a Top 20 “airport affordability” list, comparing ticket prices for Canadians from popular Canadian and U.S. border airports to the most searched destinations. Washington State's Bellingham International was the top contender for less expensive flights, followed by the airports in Detroit and Burlington, Vt. Kelowna, B.C., Quebec City and Regina ranked fourth, fifth and sixth, and Buffalo, N.Y., rated as the seventh most affordable. (Toronto's Pearson ranked 18th.)
You're not alone in sneaking across the border in pursuit of a cheap date with an American high flier. In fact, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada estimates that a whopping 21 per cent of Canadian fliers departed out of U.S.-based airports last year.
Of course, border hubs aren't always the least expensive – prices rise during peak seasons and weekends just like everywhere, Sullivan says – but they're a pretty good bet, especially as our loonie remains strong.
And truth be told, Canadian airports are saddled with myriad costs – airport ground rents, security charges, traffic control services, municipal taxes and so on – that contribute to the price of flying from home.
“You have some of the most expensive airports in North America for airlines to operate at,” says Brett Snyder, who runs the popular blog The Cranky Flier (crankyflier.com). “[Pearson International]has been at the top of the charts for years when it comes to charges. Passengers don't pay this directly, but it just means the airlines need higher fares to cover their costs there.”
As for your patriotism, that's a personal matter. For me, travel planning is always about cost versus convenience. Is the hassle of driving across the border worth the savings? If so, assuage your guilt about spending your travel dollars outside Canada with a Canadiana road mix: K'naan, Arcade Fire, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Drake, Stompin' Tom, Ron Sexsmith, Michael Bublé, Blue Rodeo, Joel Plaskett, Jill Barber and – why not? – Justin Bieber!
And if you really want to feel patriotic, sing O Canada as you wait in your car at the border crossing.
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