Category: Travel

Why are domestic flights so expensive in Canada?

Reader @WorthTheJetLag asks on Twitter: “Why are domestic flights so expensive?” The Globe’s Airline Industry reporter Greg Keenan has your answer:

Airline fares in Canada have generally been falling in recent years, but look high when compared with what Americans pay. Fares vary by route, but examples from two Canadian and two U.S. airline websites show the effect of competition and demand, two of the key reasons why Canadian fares are higher.

On one of the highest-demand routes in Canada, Toronto-Ottawa, Air Canada runs 16 flights a day. A return flight at Air Canada’s cheapest rate, booked for May 4, costs $220.

On New York to Washington flights, which are a roughly equivalent U.S. route, the return fare on American Airlines, also on May 4, is $183 (U.S.). American runs 19 non-stop flights a day to Washington out of the two main New York airports.

That’s not a huge difference from the Toronto-Ottawa Air Canada fare, given that there is much higher demand for the New York-Washington flight and American faces more competition on that route than Air Canada does on the Toronto-Ottawa run.

There’s a sharper contrast on longer-haul flights. A WestJet flight from Vancouver to Montreal booked for May 4 with a return date of May 8 would cost $614.90 (Canadian).

A Delta return flight between Los Angeles and Boston on the same days carries a fare of $326 (U.S.).

That underlines another factor that keeps Canadian fares higher – geography. Airlines in Canada are serving a small population spread out in a relatively thin line in a giant country. The U.S. market is roughly 10 times the size of Canada’s with high demand on many routes. Consumers benefit from fierce competition between four major domestic airlines and several low-cost carriers.

Taxes and fees are also higher in Canada.

There are at least two groups trying to start up low-cost airlines in Canada. If they are successful that should help bring down Canadian fares.

Follow Keenan on Twitter, and watch Why airline passengers won’t benefit from lower fuel prices.

Where are the best lesser-known romantic getaways in Canada?

Neil Pasricha in Toronto asks: “Where are the best lesser-known romantic getaways in Canada?”  Globe Travel  editor Domini Clark says, “Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, let’s get the obvious choices out of the way,” she says. “I assume that Quebec City, Montreal, Tofino and Niagara Falls – which is romantic when you look beyond the Clifton Hill tackiness – are all well known Canadian places.”

After those four major options, two very romantic, lesser known destinations spring to Clark’s mind:

Gros Morne, Nfld.

I am absolutely in love with Newfoundland, so I must include Gros Morne National Park. It is an awe-inspiring, stunning, magical place. From the magnificent fjords to the picturesque seaside town of Woody Point – it just filled me with wonder. The beauty of it all leaves you breathless, and to be able to share that experience with your other half is a dream come true. I’m not a big camper, but cozying up by a fire eating fresh-caught scallops cooked over a Coleman stove is one of my favourite memories. I’m gushing, I know. But if you haven’t gone, go as soon as you can.

Here’s a Globe Travel story about the wonders of Gros Morne.

Dawson City, Yukon

Yes, it’s a trek for most Canadians, but that’s part of what makes it special. Make the journey and you’ll be rewarded with plenty of opportunities for secluded walks and hikes and a chance to view the striking midnight sun; best viewed from a mountaintop known as the Midnight Dome, it puts all those tropical sunsets/sunrises to shame.

Brave the winter’s frigid temperatures and you can take in the spectacular northern lights dance across the sky while you cuddle in the bed (or bath) at an inn such as Takhini River Lodge, which features strategically placed skylights in its Aurora room. And any time of year, you can get into the frontier spirit at Bombay Peggy’s, the Yukon’s only restored brothel – now a grand 10-room inn.

For some incredible hotels perfect for a romantic rendezvous, Clark recommends:

Trout Point Lodge: Head to this Nova Scotia property for wilderness adventures, including kayaking, hiking and stargazing. It’s that last one that sets the lodge, one of only three Small Luxury Hotels of the World in Canada, apart: Close to Kejimkujik National Park, a designated dark sky preserve, the property is the world’s first certified Starlight Hotel. And if you need another reason, the London Sunday Times wrote: “This place might have been built for smoochy trysts.”

Dream Domes: These kooky but cozy New Brunswick structures feature private wood-fired Japanese hot tubs, king-size beds and soothing forest views. They were named by CNN as one of the “world’s most unusual camping experiences.”

Assistant travel editor Cathy Dawson March writes:

In New Brunswick, lovers of grand old hotels should book a night or two at The Algonquin Resort at St. Andrews by-the-Sea. The legendary 126-year-old hotel reopened last year after a complete overhaul, with luxe, modern furnishings inside and the familiar red-roofed Tudor exterior, which still takes your breath away as you drive up. Open year round, book a room in the original building for its character – go for the patio room which overlook Passamaquoddy Bay.

Dinner reservations at the elegant, intimate Braxton’s downstairs. In the summer, share a bottle of something celebratory on the second-floor garden patio at sunset – it’s one of the best spots in town.

Read more from Globe Travel and follow Domini Clark on Twitter

Why does Toronto have the nickname ‘The Big Smoke’?

“Toronto has many nicknames – the big two I hear is Hogtown and The Big Smoke,” writes Ken O’Brien in Kingston, Ont.”I understand Hogtown because of the slaughter houses, but the other?” Toronto City Hall reporter Ann Hui explains:

The Big Smoke. Hogtown.  Toronto the Good. The Centre of the Universe.

Few cities have as many monikers as Toronto. But the origin of some of those nicknames and how they came to be applied to Toronto – especially The Big Smoke, a handle also used for at least a dozen other cities, most notably London – is somewhat unclear.

Former Canadian Geographic writer Alan Rayburn, who specialized in researching the origin of place names, posits that the phrase “big smoke” first came from Australian Aboriginals in their comments about big cities in general.

The name was later picked up and applied to Toronto by Macleans and former Globe and Mail writer Allan Fotheringham, according to Mr. Rayburn in his 1994 book Naming Canada: stories about Canadian place names.

It was not meant as a term of endearment. Mr. Fotheringham “may have thought the phrase appropriate for a place with ‘big reputation, little to show for it,’” Mr. Rayburn writes.

Meanwhile, although “Hogtown” is generally believed to have come from Toronto’s history as a meat-packing centre, Mr. Rayburn also floats a separate theory. The nickname, he writes, is also believed to have been “applied in contempt as to a rich, selfish community which ‘hogged’ things and the name stuck.”

Follow Globe Toronto and Ann Hui on Twitter


The price of oil is down, so why have airline ticket prices not dropped?

“It is no secret that airlines have profited immensely from the dramatic drop in oil prices, as fuel is their number one operating cost,” writes Danielle Neziol in Toronto. “So why have airline ticket prices not dropped yet?

Greg Keenan, The Globe’s airline industry reporter for the Report on Business,  says “demand remains high for Air Canada and WestJet as measured by their November load factors, and unless and until demand falls, they are likely not to reduce fares much.”  Keenan explains:

In November, WestJet filled 80.5 per cent of available seats, versus 79.7 a year earlier. It carried 8 per cent more passengers while increasing capacity–basically number of seats available by 6.9 per cent. That’s the kind of number they want, passenger growth outpacing capacity growth.  Air Canada filled 77.7 per cent of its available seats, compared with 76.5 per cent. Traffic was up 8.7 per cent, while capacity rose 6.9 per cent.

These are all signs that demand is still strong.

In today’s Globe, business correspondent Nicolas Van Praet explores this topic, as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said this week that falling prices of oil won’t affect ticket prices right away. Member airlines are expecting to post collective profits of $19.9 billion (U.S.), roughly doubling that of 2013:

IATA chief economist Brian Pearce told reporters that the falling price of oil is “unambiguously good for consumers,” adding that travellers will benefit either by lower fuel surcharges or other pricing changes. He said oil’s lower price in daily trading won’t trickle down to air fares immediately. In part, that’s because airlines typically buy jet fuel at set prices months in advance.

“It takes time for these things to work through the system,” said Chris Murray, an analyst who tracks airlines for AltaCorp Capital in Toronto. “Frankly, I figure that fares will only really start getting in line to where fuel prices are probably in the second half of 2015.”

Industry consultant Robert Kokonis of Toronto-based AirTrav Inc. says he believes some relief for consumers should start coming by mid-January. He cautioned, however, that Canadian-based carriers face additional cost pressures that may limit their ability to lower prices.

For example, Air Canada buys its fuel in U.S. dollars, which gives it less purchasing power as the Canadian dollar falls. The loonie has dropped 4 per cent against the greenback since the spring and is expected to erode further. Most aircraft leases are also paid in greenbacks, as are some international maintenance contracts.

“It’s created real exposure [for Canadian airlines],” Mr. Kokonis said. “Whatever gain the carriers are making on the fuel end, at least in Canada, it’s also jacking up the cost on the foreign currency line. So if there is some giveback to travellers, it won’t be quite to the same degree as what we have seen [historically].”

Read Van Praet’s full article and follow our airline industry coverage here

My son is planning a trip to South East Asia. How safe is international travel?

Reader Jo Grsic in Ladysmith, British Columbia, has concerns about her son’s upcoming travel plans. “He and his friends are planning a four month holiday to South East Asia,” she writes. ” We are concerned about terrorism against westerners. How safe is international travel?” Globe Travel Editor Domini Clark – who has been to 29 countries –  has the answer:

It’s natural to feel apprehensive when travelling these days, but for the most part, international travel is a safe and worthy pursuit. Obviously, it depends on where you go (I’m not planning a trip to Sudan anytime soon). A great place to start your research is by checking the Government of Canada’s current list of travel warnings and advisories for countries and regions around the world. These range from “Exercise normal security precautions” to “AVOID NON-ESSENTIAL TRAVEL.” (Yes, the government uses all-caps; it’s not messing around.)

But don’t be put off by a mid-level “exercise a high degree of caution” warning. Keep reading: Very often it’s for something minor, such as “petty crime targeting foreigners.”

When it comes to terrorism, no one can ever predict what will happen, or where and when. But in countries with increased security risks, it can’t hurt to avoid Western hotels. An outpost of a major international chain is (historically) more likely to be a target than an independent, locally owned operation. Research smaller guest houses instead. The other benefits to this approach: The money goes to those who need it most, and your son and his friends will learn more about different cultures — two things that can only help make the world a better place.

Deputy Travel editor and mother of two, Catherine Dawson March has a few points to add:

 If you’re worried about your child becoming stranded overseas by a tour operator that doesn’t come through, make sure to book what you can with a registered travel agent. British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec offer some consumer protection when companies go out of business or don’t provide what you’ve paid for.  Check with your travel agent first.

As a mom, I’d honestly be more worried about the trouble he could get into than a terrorism threat in South East Asia. Make sure you send him off with a calling card – that way he’s only a land-line away if he really needs something.  (Of course, if it’s only more spending money he needs, just pretend the line is breaking up.) Encourage him to read up on the country’s customs and learn a few phrases of the language before he goes – cultural sensitivity can go a long way in sticky situations.

And while it may have been a long time since you had “the talk”, it wouldn’t hurt to have a frank chat about drugs and safe sex either. You don’t want him bringing home more than great stories and an enlightened world view.

Before he takes off, suggest he read up on the best backpacking advice, money saving tips and social media advice. For great places to see in South East Asia, he’ll want to read this. And this. And this. (And – can he take us with him?)