Canadians are no strangers when it comes to shopping for bargains in the United States. But what used to be trips south of the border for cheaper clothes and electronics are now becoming drives to the U.S. in order to catch a flight.
According to the Frontier Centre For Public Policy (FCPP), a Canadian think tank, about five million Canadians fly out of U.S. airports due to cheaper airfares every year, with another million Canadians saying they consider the option before flying. The think tank's report notes an average saving of about $428 per person, working out to over $1,700 in savings for a family of four. The potential savings have people talking after the report made its way onto Reddit yesterday, prompting a list of recommendations on Canadian airports and reportedly cheaper U.S. alternatives to try out.
The reason for the price differences — which can range from 30 per cent to 40 per cent depending on the airport — is one part politics and another part business. As the FCPP puts it, Ottawa's taxing policy is a move that affects the passenger. The Air Transport Security Tax, for example, adds up to $14.25 when flying domestic and up to $24.21 for flights that cross the border in order to fund security measures. In the U.S., airport security costs are covered mostly by the government.
Airfare Fees And Charges You May Not Know About. Story Continues Below
Many airports in Canada collect an airport improvement fee that is collected by airlines either at the time of departure or at the time of ticketing. These fees are then sent to the airport to pay off for renovations or expansions. Fees vary by airport and and be found here if flying Air Canada, Porter or WestJet.
Porter, Air Canada and WestJet all charge their passengers so that planes can navigate the skies. The fee goes to NAV Canada in order to use Canada's and other foreign countries' air navigation systems.
After the events of 9/11, Parliament created the Air Travellers Security Charge Act to pay for an increase in airport security. It's best to check with your airline with the exact costs of the AST, but most range around $7.10 for a one-way domestic flight, $12.10 for one-way international flight and $12.70 for an international flight originating from the United States.
Fuel charges are what airlines charge passengers to offset the fluxuating price of airline fuel. In Canada, WestJet and Porter Airlines do not charge passengers for fuel but Porter says on its site that it can revoke this privilege at any time without notice.
According to their site, Air Canada can charge passengers a "peak travel premium" fee to or from certain international destinations on what they call "peak travel dates" and are subject to change.
According to Air Canada's website, foreign governments can charge air carriers with a number of taxes and charges that go towards paying for their security, customs and immigration, or for airport infrastructure. For example, the US charges passengers an Agriculture Fee of $5.00 (USD) just to inspect passengers on board a plane.
Canada, Porter and WestJet all charge passengers an insurance fee as a means to offset the mandatory cost of aviation insurance.
As the Toronto Star reports, passengers are charged a facility fee, which ranges from $5 to $40, depending on the airport. At Pearson International, the fee is $25 dollars, while at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, an airport that's less than a two-hour drive away, the facility fee is $4.50 per passenger.
Canadians also lose out on cheaper airfare due to a lack of competition, according to the Globe and Mail, echoing similar sentiments in the FCPP's 2013 report. More airlines mean more options for Canadian travellers, with the companies duking it out to offer the best value to would-be flyers.
Because of Ottawa's protectionist policies, airlines in Canada must be owned and operated by Canadians, effectively shutting out any foreign-owned airlines to fly between two Canadian cities. When compared to Americans, this lack of competition costs Canadians 50 to 100 per cent more for trips between Canadians cities of similar distances.
The double whammy of fees and lack of choice has had the government's attention for months now, though there's no word on any forthcoming decisions. Last June, Canada's Senate published a report suggesting the feds kill off the ground tax airports pay, since it just gets passed onto the consumer. In October, Finance Minster Jim Flaherty told reporters that Ottawa is "concerned" about the issue and that Transport Minister Denis Labell has been working with airlines and Canadian airport authorities to make headway.
But for the time being, it looks like Canadians aren't waiting around — and American airports, like Plattsburg International Airport in New York, are reaping the benefits, with reports that 75 per cent of its passengers are Canadian.
With files from the Canadian Press