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A Travel Expert Says Booking Early May Not Get You A Cheaper Flight Right Now — Here's Why

Are you willing to play travel roulette to snag a deal? ✈️

MTL Blog, Associate Editor
Montreal-Trudeau Airport. Right, An Air Canada plane in flight.

Montreal-Trudeau Airport. Right, An Air Canada plane in flight.

If you're dreaming of escaping Montreal during the upcoming holiday season, take note that airfares across Canada are starting to soar. That means you may need to adjust your travel habits — some industry experts advise specific days to book flights, while others suggest booking closer to the date you want to leave.

The average cost of all Canadian flights is $345 round-trip, up 3% from 2021 and up 7% from 2019 prices, travel booking site Hopper told MTL Blog. By December, the site says Canadian airfares will likely average around $429 round-trip, 10% higher than in 2021 and 6% from the year before.

"Thousands of flights have been cut across the world, reducing supply, while post-COVID revenge travel is still driving demand," McGill's Faculty Lecturer and Coordinator of the Aviation Management Program, John Gradek, told MTL Blog. "Toss in a global energy crisis, and your Christmas holiday just doubled in price. Looks like it’s gonna be a big year for socks."

The ongoing demand for air travel is driving prices with airlines "maximizing the opportunities to generate revenues, and of course profits," he said. Montreal saw an especially heavy surge during the summer, causing world-infamous flight delays and cancellations (even CNN had something to say about it).

"I would normally tell people to buy now given the limited inventory of seats at any lower-priced opportunities. However, the dynamics of the post-COVID marketplace are such that travelers have changed their purchasing habits and are most likely to book closer in," said Gradek.

"In these times of inflation and possibly recession, airlines are wary of a softening of demand, and as such, there might be opportunities for travelers to get a better deal closer to travel dates if the airlines judge that demand is soft and they need to clear out unsold inventory."

If you're willing to "play a little roulette" then "you might be able to snag a better fare deal closer to travel dates," said Gradek.

Montrealers who do hedge their bets and book close to their departure date might find that airports are operating more smoothly than over the summer, too.

"Since Labour Day, we’ve seen a gradual improvement in airport and airline operating performance, though still a far cry from pre-COVID performance levels," said Gradek.

The on-time arrival performance at Pearson in Toronto is in the mid-50%s (up from the mid-30%s in the summer), according to Gradek — which is still below the over 80% needed to ensure prompt connections, he says. Still, the reality is that flight volumes are way down from the peaks seen just a few months ago.

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