Dr. Lorn Sheehan is one of many Canadians who pulled the brakes on his travel plans during the March, 2020, pandemic lockdown. He was on a sabbatical from Dalhousie University where he is a business professor at the Rowe School of Business. He planned to visit Bavaria in Germany, South Carolina in the U.S., and Wuhan, China, where he has taught an international MBA program for the past four years.
Now that travel for Canadians is possible again, he’s drawing up his 2022 itinerary and the only factor holding him back from flying sooner is his busy work schedule and his cottage in Nova Scotia, which is always his summer destination.
“I hope to be booking several trips including trips to Western Canada and the U.S.,” he says. He is also planning to visit Europe to work with research collaborators, and a return to Wuhan and Hong Kong to reconnect with friends, colleagues and family.
Dr. Sheehan studies tourism destination management, so he’s tuned in to travel trends and consumer confidence as COVID-19 cases dwindle in Canada but persist in other parts of the world.
“Canadians are desperate to travel to see family and friends and escape for vacations. In many cases, the amount of money that Canadians have to travel will be greater than in the pre-pandemic period,” he explains, “as the pandemic drove vacation spending to near zero resulting in greater savings and strong stock market performance.”
He projects Canada’s airline industry will catch up to pre-pandemic levels as more Canadians are vaccinated, travel restrictions and safety protocols are standardized, and more flights and destinations are opened up based on demand.
For Veronica Di Santo-Abramowicz, flying was a fact of life before the pandemic grounded her. The managing partner of luxury bridal company, Ines Di Santo, she appreciated the extended break from air travel, but now she’s ready to take a vacation after a long year navigating the COVID-19 economy for the global brand.
“Travel is one of the best ways to learn. Seeing people and learning about how they live and behave in their environment is one of the best classrooms,” says Ms. Di Santo-Abramowicz.
She’s not alone in her desire to liftoff again. Adit Damodaran, an economist for airline price-tracking and booking app Hopper, says domestic flights witnessed a surge in May, increasing by 108 per cent between May and June.
“International bookings are up 141 per cent [between the same months], having risen the most after the first week of June, indicating it may have been driven by the Trudeau government announcing the potential easing of quarantine restrictions for vaccinated travellers,” he says.
Right on trend, Ms. Di Santo-Abramowicz and her husband Jake have two trips planned already. The first one is to Tofino, B.C., in August to celebrate the couple’s wedding anniversary.
“I just want to stare at the ocean for five days to recharge after a brutally busy year,” says Mr. Abramowicz, a Toronto-based mortgage broker who, like so many parents, juggled home-schooling with a demanding work schedule.
“Being vaccinated completely influenced our decision to book these flights, especially internationally. It makes us feel more confident in travelling and less worried about being away and having a health concern,” he explains.
When it comes flight prices, Mr. Damodaran says domestic airfares are 22 per cent lower this summer compared to last summer. He predicts these lower rates will only last for a month or two, and international flights are comparable to the same time period.
For the Abramowiczs’ trip to B.C., they secured flights for their family of three for less than $1,000 with new Canadian airline Flair, an ultra-low-cost domestic carrier with accessible pricing.
The second trip is to the Caribbean island of St. Martin with WestJet, and a flexible fare that allows a one-time fee waiver for changes and cancellations up to 24 hours before departure. (This flexibility is trending industry wide, so be sure to ask both airlines and hotels when you book.)
Before you start to comparison shop, though, it’s prudent to manage your expectations when it comes to pricing due to third-party increases. Madison Kruger, media relations adviser for WestJet, says Airport Improvement Fees are up to 52 per cent higher and NAV Canada fees are up to 30 per cent more, and adds these hikes will “negatively affect ticket prices in the long-term for Canadian travellers.” However, she notes WestJet is confident that they will remain comparatively affordable, domestically.
While there are still various barriers to travel, all the experts advise to book early to take advantage of flexible policies offered during the pandemic along with today’s lower prices.
“As soon as [travellers] start to feel confident booking, for example once restrictions are lifted and eased, you’ll see prices rise due to increased demand,” says Allison Wallace, a spokesperson for The Flight Centre Travel Group.
It’s also good news that hotels, along with airlines, are making travel attractive for consumers, too.
“Now is a great time to be visiting cities like San Francisco, New York and Chicago as business travel hasn’t rebounded as quickly and isn’t expected to until the fall, so hotel prices at four- and five-star properties are the lowest we’ve seen in a while,” Ms. Wallace says.
More ways to save
- Avoid peak travel times such as Christmas, New Year’s and spring break. Even just a couple of days can make a difference on pricing.
- Book at least three weeks in advance of your flight. According to Hopper, prices spike in the two weeks leading up to a flight’s departure, rising 25 per cent two weeks out and another 30 per cent in the final week.
- When booking internationally, try to depart early in the week (Monday or Tuesday) and return mid-week (Wednesday or Thursday). Historically, Saturdays and Sundays are the most expensive days to return.