Dis­count N.Y. flights just the ticket for snow­birds

Og­dens­burg air­port slashes prices for travel to Florida in bid to cap­ture greater share of neigh­bour­ing Ot­tawa mar­ket

Ottawa Business Journal - - COMMENTARY - Michael Pren­tice is OBJ’s colum­nist on re­tail and con­sumer is­sues. He can be con­tacted at news@obj.ca.

High taxes and lack of com­pe­ti­tion make air travel for Cana­di­ans far more ex­pen­sive than it should be. Now, at last, peo­ple in the Ot­tawa area are about to get a huge break. Start­ing in early Oc­to­ber, the cost of air travel to Florida will be slashed by more than half in some cases.

That is, for peo­ple in the Ot­tawa re­gion who hop across the bor­der to catch a flight from Og­dens­burg in New York state. Og­dens­burg is about a one­hour drive from Ot­tawa, just across the bridge over the St. Lawrence River at Prescott.

With the Cana­dian dol­lar lan­guish­ing way below the value of the Amer­i­can green­back, I would not have be­lieved it pos­si­ble for Cana­di­ans to en­joy such sav­ings.

Al­le­giant Air, a lead­ing U.S. dis­count air­line, will ini­tially of­fer four non-stop flights a week from Og­dens­burg to Florida. There will be two weekly flights each to Fort Laud­erdale and Or­lando, us­ing a 177-seat Air­bus A320 jet­liner.

The cost of these flights is eye­pop­ping. To start with, at least, an adult round-trip fare from Og­dens­burg to Fort Laud­erdale or Or­lando will be the equiv­a­lent of about $153 in Cana­dian funds, all taxes and fees in­cluded.

You have to be ex­tremely care­ful when com­par­ing air­fares. It’s not just the ex­change rate on the Cana­dian dol­lar that must be fac­tored in. There are all the taxes and sur­charges levied by fed­eral and lower gov­ern­ments, plus any hid­den fees im­posed by the air­lines them­selves.

I com­pared bot­tom-line fares for travel to Fort Laud­erdale in mid-Novem­ber, look­ing at what Air Canada would charge from Ot­tawa and what Al­le­giant Air would charge from Og­dens­burg.

To get the low­est pos­si­ble fare on Air Canada re­quired a con­nec­tion in Toronto. To get a quote from Al­le­giant Air, I had to ex­tend my pro­posed one­week trip by a day, since the U.S. car­rier op­er­ates only twice a week be­tween

I see two pos­si­ble fu­ture sce­nar­ios: ei­ther the Cana­dian air­line in­dus­try be­comes a lot more com­pet­i­tive in the Ot­tawa mar­ket. Or Ot­tawans flock to Og­dens­burg for flights to Florida, prompt­ing more U.S. car­ri­ers to ser­vice this re­mote cor­ner of New York state

Og­dens­burg and Fort Laud­erdale.

First, the bot­tom lines. Al­le­giant Air’s to­tal fare was $114 in U.S. funds. Air Canada’s to­tal fare was $387.49 in Cana­dian funds.

When I did my com­par­i­son, it re­quired about $1.34 in Cana­dian funds to buy an Amer­i­can dol­lar. If you think that’s high, re­mem­ber the money-changer al­ways charges a fee in ad­di­tion to the ac­tual ex­change rate. By mul­ti­ply­ing Al­le­giant’s posted fare of $114 U.S by 1.34, I ar­rive at a cost in Cana­dian dol­lars of about $153.

On the face of it, I could save more than $200 in Cana­dian funds by mak­ing the trip to Og­dens­burg to catch a flight to Fort Laud­erdale or Or­lando. But there you have to fac­tor in the ex­tra time it takes to get there and the fuel costs of that one-hour drive. There are two-way bridge tolls to­talling about $7. And there is park­ing at Og­dens­burg air­port, which used to be free but which now costs $8 a day in U.S. funds.

Park­ing fees at the Ot­tawa air­port are sim­i­lar to those in Og­dens­burg, but maybe you can get a rel­a­tive or friend to drive you to and from the air­port.

Why is air travel in the U.S. so much cheaper than in Canada? It’s not as if Amer­i­cans don’t pay fees and taxes for air travel. More than half of Al­le­giant Air’s fare of $114 U.S. is “taxes, car­rier charges and gov­ern­ment fees.” That leaves $55.62 for the air­line. But pre­sum­ably some or all of those “car­rier charges” also go to the air­line’s bot­tom line.

It’s also un­clear just how much of Air Canada’s fare goes to the air­line and how much goes to taxes, air­port fees, et cetera. The air­line breaks down the Ot­tawa-Fort Laud­erdale ticket price like this: air trans­porta­tion charges are $246; taxes, fees and other charges are $141.49.

Tellingly, Al­le­giant Air now refers to the Og­dens­burg air­port as the Og­dens­burg and Ot­tawa air­port. The mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Og­dens­burg is ag­gres­sively pro­mot­ing its new Florida jet ser­vice to Ot­tawans.

I see two pos­si­ble fu­ture sce­nar­ios: ei­ther the Cana­dian air­line in­dus­try be­comes a lot more com­pet­i­tive in the Ot­tawa mar­ket. Or Ot­tawans flock to Og­dens­burg for flights to Florida, prompt­ing more U.S. car­ri­ers to ser­vice this re­mote cor­ner of New York state.

Re­mote, that is, un­less you live in or near Ot­tawa.

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