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WestJet makes major Maritime moves, plus Sunwing news and good January travel deals

Halifax Citadel Clock Tower
WestJet Encore began two years ago as a regional division of WestJet with two aircraft serving five cities. With today’s announcement that they’re adding a whack of new flights in the Maritimes and Newfoundland (as well as new options in Toronto, Calgary and Ottawa), WestJet’s Encore division is up to 16 planes serving more than 20 destinations, officials said.

WestJet executives took to the tarmac at Stansfield International in Halifax today to unveil several new flights, including Halifax-Glasgow (May 29 on regular WestJet, not Encore), Halifax-Gander (July 15 on Encore), Halifax-Deer Lake/Corner Brook (July 15, Encore) and Halifax-Sydney (July 15, Encore).

Two-day introductory fares start at $260.16, including taxes and fees, for one-way trips from Halifax to Glasgow, which is a heckuva deal. Those are regular WestJet flights, by the way, not WestJet Encore.

EastJet, I mean WestJet, also is bringing in Toronto-Gander (Newfoundland) flights on regular WestJet planes starting May 3 and flights between Ottawa and Moncton starting July 15 (Encore).

Of course, they’re also adding some flights in western Canada, including their first (I’m surprised they hadn’t been doing this already) flights between Calgary and Houston, two oil capitals no doubt wringing their hands a bit over the price of gas these days. Those flights start on regular WestJet on Sept. 8.

They’re also adding flights between Calgary and Yellowknife (regular WestJet) and between Calgary and Terrace B.C. starting May 3 (WestJet Encore).

WestJet Encore usually flies Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft, as opposed to larger jets normally used by WestJet. WestJet Encore officials have previously stated their goal is to gain 40 per cent of the Canadian regional market.

Meanwhile, Air Canada rouge, the leisure carrier division of Air Canada, recently announced its first expansion into domestic service, with flights on the way between Toronto and Kelowna and also to Sydney, Nova Scotia, plus flights between Halifax and Calgary.

The domestic airlines race is definitely heating up, which is good news for consumers looking for better deals and more flights.

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SUNWING SOARS DOWN SOUTH

Things are getting more interesting across the border, too. Sunwing has just started flying out of Buffalo-Niagara airport in upstate New York, just across the border. A flight left the other day for Cancun (see photo above of the nearby Riviera Maya), and they’re adding the Dominican Republic on Valentine’s Day.

These are not only the first direct flights to such sun destinations from Buffalo-Niagara (most go through Miami or Atlanta or Dallas or other hubs), but they promise to be about $100 to even $150 cheaper PER PERSON, Sunwing officials said at a press event in Toronto last week.

Not only is the airport been revamped, but it’s only a few minutes across the border and offers parking for as little as $45 per week. Some hotels give you free parking with your room, which is an attractive option for some folks. You’ll have to get there, of course, but with gas as cheap as it is that’s much less of a factor than it has been in the past.

By this coming summer, Sunwing will be out of 14 cities in the U.S. That’s in addition to the 35 cities in Canada.

Sunwing offers a free glass of sparkling wine or champagne on board flights to Sun destinations, plus a free glass of wine and hot meals as well as 20-plus kg of free baggage per customer, free meals and a goody bag for kids.

BEST ON-TIME AIRLINES

In a hurry? Try scheduling your business meeting in Helsinki or Honolulu. A study by OAG consultants says the most on-time major airlines in the world are Air Baltic and Hawaiian Airlines, with on-time performance rates (within 15 minutes of scheduled arrival or departure) of 94.9 per cent for Air Baltic and 92.3 for Hawaiian. The only Canadian carrier I could find numbers for was Air Canada, with an 80.3 per cent on-time rating; good for eighth best in the Americas category. The top-rated airports for average on-time performance were Munich (89 per cent), Tokyo Haneda (87.9) and Seattle (86.2), which is yet another reason for cross-border airline shopping by British Columbians.

BEST LONG-HAUL ECONOMY AIRLINES

The folks at skift.com, who do a marvellous job, recently compiled a list of the world’s best airlines for economy long-haul flights. It’s a great list, as most of us are stuck in coach the majority of the time and don’t get to try those fancy Asian/Middle Eastern airlines with the showers and massage therapists and champagne waterfalls and Gordon Ramsay restaurants. Okay, I’m lying about Gordon Ramsay, but you get the picture.

I’ve always found Air Canada a superior airline to United and most North American airlines, but they got a combined score of just 39 from Skift, which tied them with United as the worst of any of 25 airlines surveyed around the world. WestJet wasn’t included in the survey, but Air Canada was, as were such airlines as Lufthansa, Qantas, Air China, Delta, Emirates and EgyptAir.

Scores were based on everything from food to seat width, baggage rules and wifi. Topping the survey was were Etihad and Qatar Airways, with scores of 61. The silver medal spot was a three-way tie between Emirates, Turkish Airlines and All Nippon Airways (ANA), with 60 points each.

In North America, the best score was handed to American Airlines, with a tally of 50. Delta came in at 47, with United and Air Canada getting the booby prize with matching marks of 39; worst in the entire survey.

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JANUARY A MONTH TO BUY

This is usually a good month for travel bargains, as we’re past the New Year’s holiday and haven’t yet hit Spring Break. I saw a study recently that said the cheapest days to fly are Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. Travel expert Pauline Frommer told me that research by the Airline Reporting Corporation shows that booking or buying your ticket (as opposed to flying) on a Sunday saves as much as 19 per cent versus booking mid-week.

I spotted an item from Trivago today that said prices for hotels in Europe this month are lower than at any time since they started tracking such things in 2011. The news bit said prices were lower than ever in such cities as Barcelona, Berlin, Rome, Copenhagen, Oslo, Edinburgh and Stockholme. Of course, the rise of the U.S. dollar has certainly helped Americans, who now are paying only about a 15 per cent premium to buy Euros….

GOT A NOTE TO SEND IN OR A TOPIC TO DISCUSS? DROP ME A LINE AT jim@jimbyerstravel.com. You also can follow me on Twitter @jimbyerstravel and on Instagram @jimbyerstravel1.

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