Airlines, travel agents and vacation-booking websites say the sweet spot for booking the lowest airfare is seven to eight weeks in advance. But parents who travel during March Break know better.
The early booker gets the deal for March Break, a peak travel period when Canadian families often book the week off for travel to warmer climates.
At travel agency Flight Centre, most book flights six weeks before travel time, but for March Break jet-setting, it's more often eight to ten weeks in advance, says Allison Wallace, a spokesperson for the company. Many of the four– and five-star resorts to the top destinations – Mexico, Florida and Hawaii – were booked up months ago, she said.
Even 10 weeks ahead was cutting it too close for Terri Sobczak, a mail carrier from Mississauga. She was one of the less harried passengers at Pearson International Airport's Terminal 3 Friday morning: she and her family had arrived at the airport three hours prior to their flight to the Big Island in Hawaii. She booked her trip in November.
Ms. Sobczak had travelled with her husband Bart and their sons Benjamin, 9, and Dean, 7, to Punta Cana and Florida in years past but always in the off-season, when fares were lower, even when purchased close to the day of the departure.
"They're older so you can't pull them out of school, right? So now we can't go off-season."
Instead of hunting on travel websites as she'd done in the past, for this trip, she went old-school.
"I found Hawaii so confusing, so we did use a travel agent. Just with connecting flights and organizing everything, I said, you know what? I need someone else to help me with that," she said. Exclusive of spending money, the trip has set the family back $7,000, she said.
Fazil Rasheed, 43, didn't have as much foresight when it came to booking his family getaway to Jamaica. Irritated by this year's seemingly endless winter, he and his wife decided to ditch their regular plans for a family trip near Sudbury, Ont. and get an early taste of summer. After hunting around for deals on travel websites, they booked a six-day resort vacation two weeks ago for roughly $7,000 for their family of five, he said.
"The winter was too much," Mr. Rasheed said. "It was a premium but I guess it was worth it."
Brian Simpson, operations manager at Travelocity.ca, an online travel booking company, said, "It's really a supply and demand game. When an airplane starts to fill up, they've got less seats to fill so they're less willing to put them on deep discount."
At Pearson, one airport employee was seeing his wife off on a vacation to California. He couldn't travel with her because it was difficult, without much seniority, to book time off during March Break. "This is our busiest time, right?" he said, casting his eye to the crowd in front of WestJet's baggage drop counter.
Even before 8 a.m., passengers were queuing in long lines that snaked around separator ropes, pushing carts piled high with Dora the Explorer suitcases and bagged umbrella strollers.
Just printing and fastening baggage tags onto their luggage was a long ordeal for the family of school teacher Suzanne Daneman.
Ms. Daneman's family had splurged on a vacation to the Dominican Republic during the December break and had no plans to travel this spring, but planned a last-minute trip at the end of January.
"Oh, it was so expensive. Really expensive," Ms. Daneman said. The family used travel points to book part of the trip through a travel website affiliated with their credit card, but each round-trip ticket was still just under $1,000 – even for Ms. Daneman's 3-year-old. "Once you're past 2, you start paying regular, adult prices. So it's not easy to travel with a family of five."
According to an online poll commissioned by CIBC, Canadians reported they would spend an average of $2,300 on their March Break vacations. About half those travelling during this week said they were travelling in the U.S. or internationally.
While peak season travel prices may be higher than fares the rest of the year, they have been dropping year to year, according to Travelocity.ca.
It analyzed data on airline ticket purchases through its site and found a 29 per cent overall drop in prices for March Break travel from 2013 to 2014. This follows a drop of 14.5 per cent from 2012 to 2013, Mr. Simpson said.