Virgin-Air Canada ad wars - I love it...Falling Euro could mean more bargains
They like us. They really like us.
I woke up this morning (it's a habit of mine) and spotted a full-page Virgin America ad at the back of the front section of the Star. In addition to helping my pension, I liked the ad's cheekiness. The Virgin people, to me, are cut from the same marketing cloth as Porter. Which isn't surprising, I suppose, given that Donald Carty is chairman of Virgin America and also of Porter. I don't know what companies they use for their advertising/marketing work, but the company's respective ads strike a similar tone in my mind.
The Virgin America ad today has a big headline at the top that reads,"YOU DESERVE IT, TORONTO."
Under that: "We've had our eye on you. We've watched you do your thing for a while and we thought, 'These people are sexy. They're savvy. They deserve a better flying experience and better fares."
The ad goes on to talk about the WiFi on board and flights starting at $195, plus Live Television, leather seats, snacks on demand, cool moodlighting, video games and 3,000 MP3's to listen to.
Not bad. Taxes and fees apply, of course. Tickets are one-way originating in Toronto, with basic prices at $195 to L.A. and $205 to San Francisco (even though it's closer). Tickets have to be purchased by July 19 and travel has to take place between July 13 and Nov. 17, and you have to travel on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. That's not so great. If you want to fly on another day of the week, it goes up to $219 for L.A. and $229 for San Francisco.
I went on the Virgin America website and found a ticket departing Toronto for LAX on Thursday, July 15 but it was at 5 p.m.; not a nice time of day to travel if you want to enjoy a full day in L.A. I looked at a return on Wednesday, July 21 but the only flights available were the red-eye, departing at 11:15 p.m., or a flight through San Francisco that departs L.A. at an ungodly 6:30 a.m. (imagine what time you'd have to wake up) and doesn't arrive in Toronto until 4 p.m. Each flight was a basic $193, plus taxes and fees, for a round-trip total of $472.60 U.S. (the ad in today's paper says prices are in Canadian dollars, but the website appears to only use U.S. dollars, which you can convert to Canadian with the touch of a button). That works out to $489.47 Canadian.
There's an ad in today's front section of the Star, as luck would have it, from Air Canada. It shows a guy with perfect stubble and sunglasses in front of a palm tree and talks about how AC rolls out the red carpet over (guys, it should be "more than") 75 times a week, in "movie star comfort."
"Celebrities travel when they want," the ad says. "Now you can too. North America's Best Airline now offers even more weekly nonstops from Toronto to California, including the only daily service to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Ana and San Diego. And every one of these flights provides creature comforts like complimentary on-demand movies at every seat and power outlets within easy reach."
The ad is slightly misleading in that it seems to suggest they have the only daily service to San Francisco and Los Angeles. What they did is lump those two cities in with Santa Ana (Orange County) and San Diego, where they DO have the only daily service. A minor point, perhaps, but worth mentioning.
Anyway, just for fun (hey, this is what I do in the morning), I went to the Air Canada website and checked on flights from Toronto to Los Angeles around the same time as I had for Virgin America. There weren't any flights out to California on the cheaper Tango fares for any of the four departures, so I clicked on Tango Plus for a one-way fare of, gulp, $409 for a flight departing Toronto around 9 a.m. I found a flight back on a Tango fare of $269, departing L.A. at 3:25 p.m. local time and flying directly to Toronto. Better flight times, but a whopping $811 price tag in Canadian dollars; $320 higher than Virgin.
To be fair, I found a flight on Air Canada from Toronto to LA on Wednesday, July 14 for $269 - a day earlier than the Thursday flight I first searched for. Still, when I added up the two flights - both of them in the Tango Plus category - it came to $676.11 Cdn. That's about $190 more than the Virgin America flight, and I was leaving a day earlier. It would mean another day in L.A., which might be good for your vacation but bad for your wallet. But the flight out was at a better time and the return flight times were more attractive. Whether that's worth $190 is a judgment call, but there's no doubt the options I looked at suggested I'd pay more for Air Canada.
Also just for fun, I checked out a flight to San Diego instead of L.A. for the July 15-21 dates and came up with a staggering bill of $940.71 for non-stop flights. I could've booked a flight out to San Diego going through San Francisco and coming back through Denver and saved some money, but the bill still came to $772.78 and there was a note about maybe having to pay baggage fees as one of the flights was a United codeshare.
Then, just to really crank up my morning, I went to check out options on Expedia.ca. They had a 6:30 p.m. flight out of Toronto on American Airlines on July 15, stopping in Dallas and arriving in Los Angeles at 11 p.m. On the way back, there was a Continental flight leaving LA on July 21 at 9:20 a.m. and flying through Houston, arriving in Toronto at 8:34 p.m. The cost of that flight? $473.45. That's only slightly cheaper than Virgin. Flying times might be better, but you have to stop twice, and the airlines you'd take don't have the Virgin reputation for great planes and good service.
One thing I can say for certain: the real air fare wars appear to have died off. We might get better flights, but I don't think we'll see too many cheap fares out of Canada. If you really want to save, you still might want to drop down into the U.S. and look for flights out of Buffalo/Niagara or Detroit.
ON ANOTHER NOTE...CURRENT CURRENCY THOUGHTS
Interesting item in the Star business section today on how a guy considered one of the best foreign-exchange forecasters in the world (Shaun Osborne at TD Securities Inc.) is predicting the euro will fall to $1.13 by the third quarter of this year (against the U.S. dollar) and perhaps will be even with the greenback by 2011. That would have incredible implications for American tourism in Europe. If the Canadian dollar also increased in value that much against the Euro, Canadians, too, would find Europe highly attractive.
It would likely mean fewer European visitors to Canada, however, so it might not be what Tourism folks here in the true north would want to see. Still, it's fascinating to watch.
Star columnist Arthur Frommer was warning the other day about the Chinese yuan appreciating in value and he suggested now is a good time for visiting China as prices might rise. His story can be found here on the Star.com/travel site, but I also provided the link, above.
Prices are quite good in Europe now, but Osborne's theories suggest it might be good to wait.
I think that the Chinese economic slowdown might mean a drop in the Canadian dollar against the U.S. dollar, so I'm not quite sure how the Euro will do against the loonie. I'll leave that to people far smarter than me, but my advice would be to look for a European trip in the fall, when prices and crowds are down and the weather is still good.