How to find the lowest possible ticket price on Air Canada’s website

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Since Canadian Airlines folded way back in 2001, the bulk of my domestic travel has been with Air Canada.

This is convenience more than love — I’d like to try Westjet or Porter Airlines and see whether their customer experience is as good as others claim, but each time I go to book a flight, Air Canada inevitably has a better fare price, departure time and/or route. When all things have been equal, my Aeroplan membership has kept me in Air Canada’s camp (even though the program is miserly now compared to what it was when I joined — but that’s fodder for another post).

I would say I’ve become fairly familiar with Air Canada’s website over the years, but last week I learned a (fairly obvious) trick that ended up saving me over $250.

Learning it did cost me two calls to customer service — one of 17 minutes that inexplicably ended in a dropped line and one of 23 minutes waiting for a live human — so I’m passing on what I’d learned.

Here’s what happened:

  1. I opened my email inbox and saw the most recent Websaver, Air Canada’s email newsletter that advertises seat sales and other promotions:Header image for Websaver emails
  2. One of the deals included 30 per cent off flights to Canadian and US cities for travel between August and December, including the city I’ve been e-stalking for a good seat sale for some time:Current deals for travel including 30 per cent off destinations in Canada and the U.S.
  3. Below is the selection screen you would see if you clicked through to the Air Canada website directly from the email. Rather than bore you with my personal details, I’ve used Toronto-Halifax as an example. The ticking clock feature in the upper right helps to make sure you don’t miss the deal, reiterates the terms and allows Air Canada to introduce a sense of urgency to your transaction, making you a little more panicked and a little less rational. I like the green box feature that shows me at a glance which days are eligible. Notice, however, that the promotional code window down at the bottom is blank. If you click through to the site from this point, your navigation path from the promotional email is stored and the server therefore already has the code without you having to enter it, which may explain why I never paid the codes much mind before:Flight options when accessing AirCanada.com from the Websaver email
  4. Here’s the usual ticket pricing screen where you can see your options, featuring Halifax for $109 in this example. On a side note, while I find this interface easy to use, I don’t understand why Air Canada forces you to purchase tickets before selecting a seat. It must make some operational sense to them, but as a consumer it is irritating to pay for a flight and then pay again for the privilege of guaranteeing that you are seated with your travel companions. But I digress:AirCanada.com fare options from the Websaver email
  5. The flight options looked good with a departure time I could live with and the price ($867 after taxes, fees and all the other incidentals; $708 in the Halifax example I’ve used here) was friendly to my wallet. But I had some family details to sort out before I could book.
  6. Even in the age of cell phones and social media, some conversations take time. Talking to my family took most of the day. When everything was resolved and I went back to book my tickets, I opened a new tab in my browser window and went straight to the Air Canada website. Sadly, I was thinking of logistics and not the blog, so I didn’t take screen grabs from this point forward. Boo on me. By the time I decided to blog about this topic, the sale had ended; I haven’t been able to reproduce comparable shots.
  7. I dumped in the destination, date and passenger information — but when I went to the fare listings, the flight I had seen that morning for $139 was now listed at $259. Factor in the taxes and fees and it netted out to over $250 more than I had wanted to spend.
  8. I called Air Canada to see if they would honour the price I had seen earlier in the day (coincidentally, that lower price was available again the following morning by which point it was moot for me).
  9. I was told that some faceless Air Canada controller sets the prices based on how well the aircraft has sold. It’s apparently impossible to speak to, let alone reason with, this person. The sales rep made this individual sound like an inaccessible god whose whimseys are not for mere mortals to comprehend. But after hearing my tale of family commitments and tight budgets, the sales rep took the time to make sure I was seeing the lowest fare — which I wasn’t — by walking me through the site.

How to Make Sure You’re Seeing the Lowest Possible Price

  1. Go to aircanada.com.
  2. Instead of dumping in your city of choice and travel dates, check the right-hand column for deals. Click through these links first if they apply to your travel plans. Other options include a) clicking through from promotional emails from your inbox or b) entering a promotional code to the field available on the landing page:Landing page for Aircanada.com website
  3. If there’s a sale running that involves taking a percentage off the ticket price, you’ll see the discount price applied to the ticket price after clicking through this route. If you just search for ticket prices without redirecting your browser through the discount section or entering a promotional code, the prices stay the same.
  4. The FAQ section (which I had never bothered to read) suggests that you use this method when searching for cheaper flights, but doesn’t explain the mechanics. The onus is on you and me — the consumer — to figure it out:

Obvious? Yes — And That’s The Point

I suspect I am not alone in rushing through a transaction without paying attention to the details and thereby missing out on additional savings.

I am really grateful the sales rep took the time to explain instead of blowing me off. It was kind of her and if I had caught her name I would give her a shoutout for great customer service. But I do shudder to think how many other deals I thought I was getting in the past and actually missed because I didn’t understand this nuance about how Air Canada’s website works. Blarg.

I’ve played around with the site over the past week as various sales came and went. As far as I can tell, sales that don’t involve taking percentages off and include more generic wording — such as “U.S. Destinations on sale” — seem to give you the same prices no matter which route you take to the ticket listings, although individual flight options do fluctuate as seats are sold. If I’m wrong about that, please let me know.

But that percentage sale made a huge difference when I clicked through to tickets from the promotions window. I wish I’d taken screen grabs of my first experience — seeing the return leg for my flight drop from $139 a seat to $97 a seat once my browser had applied the sale price was literally the difference between taking a trip and staying home.

UPDATE: I have since found a comparable seat sale; see Air Canada’s promotional codes in action in the follow-up post.

I did notice URLs are substantially different depending on what browsing path you take. Whenever I came to ticket prices via a promotional path, the URL contained the words “Override Servlet”:Override Servlet URL that appears on discount pages

Here’s another sales-related URL that kept cropping up:Promotional code URL on Aircanada.com

And I saw this one a lot, too:Websaver URL on Aircanada.com

It makes sense that the promotion would override the usual ticket price, changing the URL and allowing Air Canada to track the efficacy of its web sales and promotion codes. I’ll definitely be looking for that phrase in the URL the next time I’m looking up sale fares on the site.

Beyond making me grateful that I called to speak to a live human, the whole experience has made me more conscious of my browsing path when shopping for deals online.

Have you had similar experiences with air travel or other kinds of online promotions? Let me know about your experience in the comments.

21 Responses to “How to find the lowest possible ticket price on Air Canada’s website”

  1. Sana

    My thoughts… it’s one thing to get a flight you want (still not the best price) and another to actually fly! I’ve never flown Air Canada at the scheduled time. Last weekend’s example probably not unusual: 15 hours from the time I left home to reach NYC which is a 45 minute flight. My recommendation is to think of “flying refined”.

    Reply
    • emw

      On time departures are a bit of a rarity, I agree. Sorry to hear about that NYC leg. That sounds like it was brutal. Customs at Pearson have been a bit of a mess lately, too.

      Reply
  2. Kate

    Thanks for taking the trouble to explain all these tips and tricks. While my preference is to fly Air Canada, I often find their tickets to be the most expensive. So I’m usually stuck with Porter which offers a great experience, provided there are no delays. Last time I flew with them I missed almost half a day of a conference.

    Happy trails!

    Reply
    • emw

      My pleasure. And yes, I know what you mean about the tickets being pricey. Hopefully this will help a little. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

      Reply
  3. Suzins

    All because Air Canada’s website refused to sell me a ticket it offered at a great price and insisted on giving me an error codes after submitting purchase info… by accident I found that if you call Air Canada’s 1-800 number to book a flight, you might get a better deal. For some reason their office gets a block of tickets that is never available online, so you might scoop up one of these better priced tickets. For the last 2 years it has proven its worth to me overall to take the time to make the phone call after finding online what I think is the best deal available.

    Reply
  4. emw

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Suzanne. Good to know people have non-web options, too.

    Reply
    • emw

      That’s the best comment I’ve ever had. Thanks for reading and glad it was helpful. :)

      Reply
  5. Yang Guang

    I fly air canada all the time . I fly local routes and most of the time I fly international , to Asia . Very save and very good service never had a problem . Coupons I never have used. I book through a good travel agent . Aero miles are given with any other air line .

    Reply
  6. Melanie

    This is a great article, thanks… just wondering if you think this method would work for multi-city or would it be better to call? We’re flying into London in June and out of Paris in Aug…with some family complications and not everyone flying at the same time… any help is appreciated, thanks.

    Reply
    • emw

      Hi Melanie, I don’t see why you couldn’t use this method for multiple cities. If it’s super complicated, you may wish to involve a travel agent.
      Best,
      emw

      Reply
  7. Cynthia

    Thanks for this post. I have been looking at AC flights all day, tried the method you suggested and it does work out to be at least $50 to $100 cheaper and the flight times are more convenient. Really appreciate the tip!

    Reply
  8. Joanna

    I came across you’re post just before paying for a flight from Ottawa to London Heathrow…thanks to your tips I managed to save 200 CAD!!! This was the difference between the “special prices” and the regular…
    Once again huge thank you!

    Reply
  9. Chris

    Great site! Been searching for a flight for my daughter’s study abroad in England this summer. Air Canada was showing ~$1,100 round trip (Orlando to Heathrow) earlier today. Now showing ~$1,600. I’ve got time to wait, but wish I had booked. Knew that was a really good deal.

    Reply
    • emw

      I’m glad to hear that, Chris. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Reply
  10. Tim

    I have two promo codes given after a flight from Tel Aviv to Toronto was cancelled in December. It actually raises the price of the Tango fare! It was not in the fine print that it wasn’t for Tango fares. When I complained I had one guy do the 15% discount manually. Another guy was very condescending, didn’t believe me until I made him put it in. Then, after he realized that he was wrong and had been treating me like a moron for 20 minutes, he tried to make pleasant small talk. But he stated that there was no way I would be able to book the second trip.

    Reply
    • emw

      That’s interesting, Tim. I haven’t run across that particular problem, but it doesn’t shock me either. I think your strategy of dealing with live people in that scenario is likely your best bet. As I mention in the article, I figured this out through a conversation just like that. Best.

      Reply

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