Is another airport poaching your passengers? Don’t get mad — get even!

“Prairie people love to escape the winter for a while, but despite having some of the finest airport facilities in the world, thousands of folks who live in Manitoba and Saskatchewan would rather drive 3 or 4 hours to Grand Forks or Minot to make their escape,” veteran Winnipeg broadcaster Roger Currie wrote on the ChrisD.ca current affairs site on May 4.

“Airport managers in Winnipeg and Regina call it leakage, but it seems it’s becoming more of a flood is it not? In the past 12 months, close to a quarter of a million Manitobans, and a similar number from Saskatchewan, have made that long drive rather than catching a flight at home,” Currie continued, lamenting the relatively high taxes and fees levied on passengers boarding in Canada (where the air transport system largely operates on a user-pay basis, and most major airports have been long since privatized) compared to those levied on U.S. airport users (where the system is still largely government-owned and funded, although some surcharges have been added in recent years).

It’s a concern shared by the Winnipeg Airports Authority, which is lobbying the federal government for relief on rents that airports must continue to pay and on security surcharges that are paid directly by travellers. Their goal is to encourage more of those quarter-million Canadians catching their flights at nearby U.S. airports to depart from this side of the border instead.

Nevertheless, to be able to fly Allegiant Air, a U.S. low-cost low-frequency holiday airline, from Grand Forks, N.D. to Orlando, Fla. for $265.50 (U.S.) per person round-trip, or from Fargo, N.D. to Los Angeles for $322, sounds far more attractive than paying roughly $500 Cdn. to make the same round-trip from Winnipeg.

For a family of four or more, the savings to be had from driving to North Dakota to catch one of Allegiant’s flights — and of tolerating Allegiant’s tight seating and limited choice of departure and return dates — can add up to the hundreds of dollars.

But here’s where Winnipeg’s James Richardson International Airport can avenge itself: by promoting itself to North Dakotans and Minnesotans as the place to consider for a lower fare  when traveling further afield or when needing a wider choice of departure and return dates.

As the table below shows, Fargo, N.D.’s Hector Field tends to be the region’s lower-fare leader for flights to various popular U.S. destinations, thanks to five-way competition between Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier and United, based on the lowest published fares listed on Google Flights* as of Friday evening, May 9 — although once in a while you might be able to get a better deal yet from the often-overlooked Bemidji Airport, where prices otherwise reflect Delta’s monopoly.

But for North Dakotans and Minnesotans going further afield, significant savings can be had by flying to and from Winnipeg, where competition for long-haul passengers is more intense. For instance, the lowest round-trip fare to London was $229 Cdn. ($210 U.S.) per person cheaper departing from Winnipeg than departing from Fargo — and that pales in comparison to the $463 Cdn. ($425 U.S.) advantage that Winnipeg had over Fargo on flights to Honolulu,  and the $808 Cdn. ($741 U.S.) gap in Winnipeg’s favour on flights to Tokyo.

Lowest published fares, in Canadian dollars, for selected dates from Bemidji, Fargo, Grand Forks and Winnipeg airports, as listed on Google Flights on the evening of May 9, 2014. To convert to U.S. dollars, multiply by  0.917. (Click to enlarge.)

Lowest published fares, in Canadian dollars, for selected dates from Bemidji, Fargo, Grand Forks and Winnipeg airports, as listed on Google Flights on the evening of May 9, 2014. To convert to U.S. dollars, multiply by 0.917. (Click to enlarge.)

Still feeling over-charged for air travel? Consider this New York Times post published yesterday, noting that even despite a heavy increase in fees and a general rise in fares over the past few years, the cost of flying in the U.S. (in 2013 dollars) has fallen from an average of 31 cents per mile in 1979 to just 16 cents in 2013.

 

* – Tip: To search multiple airports simultaneously in Google Flights, enter the airport codes separated by commas. For example, if you’re searching for the lowest fare to Southern California in general from Winnipeg, Grand Forks or Fargo, enter YWG, GFK, FAR as your origin and LAX, SNA, ONT, LGB (and perhaps SAN, PSP, BUR or SBA) as your destination.

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

4 Responses to Is another airport poaching your passengers? Don’t get mad — get even!

  1. j5mc says:

    Of course the gorilla in the region is Minneapolis-St. Paul. Maybe Winnipeggers aren’t as willing to drive there themselves, but MSP is cheaper for all but a handful of European destinations — and that’s where the loose travellers from North Dakota and Minnesota end up.

  2. theviewfromseven says:

    MSP long-haul fares seems to be running a bit high this summer: typically about $1,900 Cdn. ($1,750 U.S.) trans-Atlantic, with some relief coming in late August.

  3. Winnipeg Girl says:

    Great post! Whenever I am looking to escape Winnipeg I generally check Grand Forks and Fargo, but have yet to check Bemidji – a teeny bit too far if it’s just me going. Absolutely the biggest savings are found when it’s bigger groups (2+) going.

    Chris Myden from ywgdeals.com did a similar piece a few years ago: http://ywgdeals.com/the-official-guide-for-canadians-flying-out-of-us-airports-from-winnipeg-area

    A few years ago I was able to fly to the UK for $300 less out of Fargo than out of Winnipeg, and I was also able to fly United, which, is not a good thing save but the fact that almost all of my existing airline points are in Aeroplan which is also part of Star Alliance. So those two factors made it more than worthwhile to do the drive.

    Again, if there are a few people going I have seen great deals out of MSP and many of the hotels will allow you to park in their lots for a week or so with no additional charge, so even when you factor in the cost of gas and at least one night hotel in MSP you can find significant savings. For those with time on their side, a drive can often be worth it.

    On the other hand, and I mention this in part just because I feel like the value is even better every time I mention it and someone gets a wee bit jealous, I did just book round trip from Winnipeg to Hong Kong for $545 and a couple years ago I went round trip to Copenhagen for ~$450. My biggest advice is be willing to book when the deals are rather than hoping that there will be deals when you want to go!

  4. theviewfromseven says:

    Thanks!

    A side note on MSP. I noticed once that you can sometimes get a good deal by doing an overnight stopover at MSP after a long-haul flight (usually arriving in the afternoon or evening), and then continuing on back to Winnipeg the next morning. Sometimes Delta discounts the morning MSP-YWG flights enough that, even taking into account the cost of a hotel, it’s less expensive to do the overnight stopover than to continue straight on to Winnipeg. (A stopover also takes care of worries about making a same-day connection, given the long U.S. Customs and Border Protection wait times being reported lately.)

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