The Snow Gauge

Running the rule over the ski & snowboard industry since 1995

Flight hack: how to get cheap snow airfares

Posted by on Sep 27, 2016 in Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan, United States, World | 2 comments


I spent some long hours toiling away on flight comparison site Skyscanner and came up with some very interesting information for those thinking about a northern hemisphere ski or snowboard trip this winter.

I’ll leave it for some other time to extol the virtues of various ski resorts across the globe or compare the prices of various accommodation or lift pass prices. Here, purely and simply, is the dirt on flying from Australia to the US, Canada, Japan or Europe – when to go, when to avoid and where to save a buck or two. Other points include:

– The sneaky time to get to the States (in school holidays)
– Why Europe actually represents awesome flight value
– How to save real money if you are prepared to stop off
– Some Japan hacks too.

United States

Richard Jameson

Aussie Richard Jameson bases himself in Tahoe, California for a reason – cheap airfares!

Time to go: Mid-January to mid-February. Bonus here is the powder – it is generally speaking peak winter so the chances of getting that combination of a good base and fresh winter snow are likely best at this time. You’ll also avoid American school holidays.


Time to avoid: Leave your trip for after Martin Luther King Day which falls on January 16 (as well as the two days before). Schedule a return before February 18th because that is the weekend before the Presidents Day on the 20th.


Sample airfares: Prices drop right off from mid-January so if you want to take the family and still get everyone back just about in time for the new school year in Australia you can sneak in a nice 12-day trip somewhere say from around January 18-30th. Virgin had this particular flight at $A1204 (return to LA). From Melbourne it was around $1550 direct on these dates but you’d save several hundred by going at least one way via Sydney. Add approximately $250 return for Denver, Salt Lake City or Reno. Similar prices looked to be available in February. The same flights with Qantas from Jan 8-20? Try $2118 – ouch.


Prepared to detour?: Fiji Airways will get you there (via Nadi) on some of these dates for $938 return. It seems to add 4-5 hours to the trip.



Umm … where am I? Whitewater BC ya, fool!


Time to go: February/March. See the sample airfares I have listed below but the bottom line is you don’t look to be getting much love for direct flights from the Australian to Vancouver even later in January. If you’re thinking Alberta (ie Lake Louise) you’re probably also less likely to get one of those bitter cold snaps that can send the mercury dropping to -30 than you’ll see in January.


Time to avoid: Not quite as much an issue as in the USA but Family Day in BC is Feb 13 while in Alberta it is Feb 20. The two days before those Monday holidays will invariably be busier than regular weekends at resorts.


Sample airfares: February seems to be better than January (ie a Feb 2-20 trip from Sydney direct to Vancouver with Air Canada drops to $1419. You can do $1525 from Brisbane on the same days and $1559 from Melbourne via Brisbane or Sydney). Similar deals look to be available in March. January is tough. Leave in the early part of the month from the Australian east coast and expect to cough up $3k+ for direct flights and $2k+ via San Francisco.


Prepared to detour?: Go from Sydney to Vancouver via Seoul in March and you can do it for around $1050. It seems to add around 3 hours from a trip that goes via Los Angeles, though somewhat more from Melbourne.


Niseko at night

Niseko at night


Time to go: Second week of February to early March at least with the powder, potentially scoring a bit better the further north you are.


Time to avoid: There’s a raft of national/bank holidays in the first week and a half of January so it’s best avoided. The next holiday is not until February 11. Chinese New Year period in 2017 is January 27-Feb 2 – avoid that period in Niseko.


Sample airfares: The best direct to Tokyo from Sydney on my 18-30 January example is $1187 through ANA but you’ll save around $200 if you’re prepared to take a pitstop somewhere like Brisbane. I saw a great Jetstar deal on these dates at $901 if you’re going from Melbourne. Oddly enough Brisbane was more expensive at $948. There’s plenty of good deals from Vanilla Air if you want to get to Sapporo, over those dates from as little as $A140 return. Feb 21 – March 6 example you seem to be saving a few hundred dollars from a Jan trip so it stacks up.


Prepared to detour?: If you want to go via Kuala Lumpur I saw return flights to Tokyo for as little as $584. It can add a fair whack of time however.


The Snow Gauge

Oh look mum, it’s The Snow Gauge hiking for fresh tracks in Austria!


Time to go: Europe surprised me. In terms of bang for your travel buck – that is distance for dollars – you’ll actually get the best value of anywhere on this list. Any time from mid-ish January looks a pretty good bet.


Time to avoid: There’s no major holidays in France to avoid, while in Austria, Italy and Germany January 6th is observed for the Epiphany (so 4th, 5th, 6th will be busy).


Sample airfares: Using the 18-30 example you can travel on Etihad from Melbourne to Munich for $1252 return. Add another $120 from Sydney. Brisbane to Munich via Bankok on Thai will cost you $1288 (A few hours on a train from Munich will get you to the Austrian alps). Prices to Geneva for ready access to Switzerland appear much the same. There doesn’t look to be massive variations for these flight prices into February.


Prepared to detour? As direct is not an option like the US, Canada and Japan you should be getting the best airfares with one stop. It’s just a question of where is cheapest on any given day (ie Dubai, Bangkok etc).



  1. because of annual changes to school holidays, many schools start back in January 2017 as early as 25 January, yes even the private ones, which means you need to depart the U.S./Canada no later than 22 January, to arrive here 24 January, so working backwards, you need to depart late December or early January, or it’s probably not worth going. (don’t even think of going to USA/Canada for under 2 weeks).

    Luckily, there are still some cheap seats around (the Federal election has stuffed up booking patterns apparently)

    As recently as yesterday, was able to find some $1399 fares & more at $1499, Sydney to San Francisco departing 29 December or 5 January, coming home 21 or 22 January LA/Sydney & you can get around 15,000 Qantas frequent flyer points, with no other purchase necessary.

    These fares are available from Australian wholesalers, who almost always have better deals than anything online.

    Why would you waste your time looking on skyscanner ? It’s only a comparison site of expensive fares.

    It’s very easy & therefore cheap to get from the west coast to Colorado, using either 12,000 Qantas frequent flyer points or fly on probably the U.S.’s best airline Southwest. They were doing LA/Denver a few weeks ago for US$49(around AUD$64) including 2 checked bags & they will have another big sale next week & the week after & the week after that.

    It’s then very easy to get to a resort from any Colorado airport(there are a lot of them, 7 or 8 major ones). A Hertz 4wd Jeep for 24 hours one way is only about AUD$96 fully inclusive, except for cheap fuel.

  2. It is also worth considering flying Jetstar to Honolulu, having a little break, and then flying WestJet direct to Kelowna. Worked for me.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Subscribe To The Snowgauge...We're back on snow in Oz and NZ in 2018. Keep up to date with real snow news - no bull!

You have Successfully Subscribed!