Thursday, May 08, 2008

How to Get To Moncton NB from Toronto - Comparing Air Canada, WestJet, and VIA Rail

Update Moncton NB trip -- See Road Trip NB.
I spent an enlightening half hour last night, looking for ways for my mom to get to the Canada Senior Games in Moncton New Brunswick (well, Dieppe, actually, but the same airport).

Mom had thought she would fly, as it's a short flight (about 2 hours) from Toronto (YYZ) to Moncton (YQM). Since I have the computer and the credit card, I checked flight times, availability and rates for her.

Off the top of my head, I thought it would be about $400 to fly, and that WestJet might be cheaper. I added VIA Rail as an afterthought, since I'd heard that travel from Toronto via Montreal to New Brunswick required a stopover in Montreal.

Here's what I found out:

WestJet flights from Toronto to Moncton leave at 7:30 a.m. or 8:20 p,m. The first (early) flight means mom would have to take a cab to the airport (about $45 from her home) as Mississauga Transit would not get her there in time for check-in. The later flight would mean arranging for a late check-in at her hotel in Moncton.

WestJet returns from Moncton to Toronto at similarly unsuitable hours for her: Departing Moncton at 6:30 a..m. or 11:05 p.m. The first is just inconvenient; the second more so, as she'd have to take a cab home after midnight.

Cost: $589.55, return, taxes etc included.

Air Canada Tango has lots of flights to and from Moncton each day, so I checked details on flights leaving around noon. The cost for round trip showed as $652.55, taxes etc. included. (Don't even THINK about getting free food on board! Bring a snack, as those available for sale at inflated prices are suited only to those in advanced stages of hunger.)

I checked for other, regional carriers and found CanJet. Their website shows they do charters only for tours, etc., so that's out.

When I last flew to Moncton about 6 years ago, I paid about $400, taxes in, return. Welcome to the wonderful world of fuel surcharges!

Not liking the prices I was being quoted, I went to VIA Rail's site, and entered the dates for a round trip, ticked the box that said 'Senior' and clicked 'go'.

The train trip from Toronto Union station to Moncton via Montreal takes just under 24 hours, so it's long, but no overnight in Montreal is needed (though if you had time, this would be a nice place to spend a few days sightseeing).

Departing at 11:35 a.m. from Toronto Union Station (an easy GO train ride costing about $3 from her home), it arrives in Montreal mid-afternoon, then leaves for Moncton a few hours later, reaching Moncton just after 6 p.m. the following day.

The return trip has similarly good departure times: Depart Moncton at 6:19 p.m., arriving Toronto Union at 5:30 p.m. the following day.

Cost for the round trip on VIA: Senior - $291.90 (the only tax shown is GST, and it's included in that price). If she upgrades one class, it will cost another $15 or so, but she can make changes to her ticket for a minimal fee.

This is the economy fare, with no sleeper or berth, just the coach seat reclined. Not conducive to the best night's sleep, but Mom, my daughter and I have slept on trains like this before and survived!

And, on a train, it's a ground level tour of the country, and easy to get up and walk around.

Since the train trip takes much longer, Mom would have to leave 2 days earlier than planned and therefore arrive one night earlier at her hotel in Moncton (cost for one night at hotel is about $100 CAD).

So here's her choice : Go slow, and save $300. CAD. Or go fast, and pay a lot more.

Guess which one she's booking? You got it. But Mom's not happy with saving a lot of money -- she wants MORE! She asks me to check out this thing VIA calls a 'Companion Fare', where the person travelling with you travels for free. She thinks she will get another competitor to travel with her, and so halve their costs.

I checked: VIA does have the Companion fare listed, but only for select, more tourist-destination routes, and Moncton isn't one of them.

Another option to get to the Canada Senior Games this August is to drive from Toronto, in a van with her fellow competitors. But relying on the schedule and vagaries of others is simply not reliable. Better to book VIA then cancel with a small penalty than not to have gotten a ticket at all.

Daughter Jen has driven to Saint John NB a number of times. Jen says it takes 4 tanks of gas, and about 16 hours, depending on traffic through Toronto and Montreal. The trip can be made in one long day, but it's best to stay east of Montreal for one night en route.

If you assume a tank of gas costs $100, then gas alone is $400 each way. Assume a hotel is $100 for the night, and the total return costs for driving would be $1,000-$1,200 CAD roundtrip. Divide by the four sharing costs, and it's $300 or so per person.

Makes VIA seem more than reasonable, doesn't it? Of course, gas prices could come in lower, and hotel prices could be slightly higher.

As for meals, you are on your own here. Simply too many variables to generalize. You know what you spend and what and where you like to eat, so budget for food, too.

And do post a comment if you can think of an alternative!