I just got back from Brother-In-Law’s wedding in Denver, Colorado and I have to say I am thankful for the little personal finance tip I learned while I was young and growing up in a border town. The basic idea is that domestic flights anywhere in the USA are much cheaper than international ones, especially ones out of Canada. In fact, they are so much cheaper that it is often worth driving down to visit our southern neighbours before flying anywhere. While Kayak and Travelocity are great little travel tools that I highly recommend, they will often only give you options flying out of cities/towns in your country, and ignore drive-and-fly combinations that could take a much smaller bite out of your vacation budget.
Savings Has No Patriotic Allegiance
In my case, I live slightly closer to Minot, North Dakota than I do to Winnipeg, Manitoba, but the distances are close enough to almost be irrelevant. When I looked at flying to Denver flights out of my province’s capital were $250 to $300 more expensive than flying out of Minot. Plus, Minot was a direct flight whereas almost all of the best deals flying out of the ‘Peg included a layover (if not a couple of them). To someone that truly values simple vacation planning this is a huge benefit. When I talked to several people at the wedding from around Canada (he’s a Canuck and she’s a southern gal), I learned that I had paid substantially less than all of them and with much less hassle.
Vegas Baby Vegas
A couple of years ago when I was booking flights and hotels for a group of guys to go to Vegas (yes, we were that clichéd Hangover-wannabe group that seems all too common on The Strip these days) I couldn’t believe the price difference between Canadian airports and the small airstrip just to the South of us in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The absolute cheapest Canadian flights we could find out of Winnipeg were roughly equivalent to what we could buy in a package from Allegiant Air that covered both our direct round-trip flights, and a middle-of-the-road hotel on The Vegas Strip (Planet Hollywood). It’s tough for me to get overly patriotic about supporting the Canadian economy at those rates!
CAD vs USD = Me Winning
With the Canadian Dollar being at par with the USD over the past several years (and no immediate signs of collapse) it makes the lower USA prices all the more appealing (I’m told this is how free markets are supposed to work). Back in the good ol’ days (at least good if you were a Canadian aviation company) the fact that you had to pay a 25-40% premium on USA prices due to our devalued dollar meant that most people didn’t even consider driving down to American airports. Since the new norm appears to be sticking around for a while, more and more people are starting to realize that with so much of the Canadian population living within 100km of the USA border, there are deals to be had. This is great if you’re like me and like frivolous holidays, but hate paying for them.
It Isn’t Just The Money Thing
Besides the substantially lower ticket prices that US airports have to offer, there are a few other fringe benefits that I really like. The first one is the simple convenience of flying out of a small airport. I intensely dislike dealing with large crowds of people who are either anxious to get to a destination or completely emotionally spent from a vacation and are dreading returning to the real world and/or are willing to do absolutely anything to simply get back to their own beds. Small airports are a like a balm on my travel-weary soul. If you have never been to an airport like the ones in Grand Forks and Minot I highly recommend the experience. Parking is ridiculously cheap (or even free), you can’t possibly get lost or mixed up, and everyone is much more relaxed including company employees and security due to the relatively small volume of traffic. This is in addition to not having to fight with hordes of people who may or may not be cool at any given time. Anything that reduces the odds of dealing with crazy people is a win in my book.
Ultimately, the competition in the USA guarantees that their prices will be lower relative to their Canadian counterparts. As long as the dollar stays strong I can’t see this changing any time soon. Has anyone else out there had a similar experience when it came to planning a vacation? Am I a terrible Canadian for not supporting the maple leaf-covered airlines?