19 JAN 2015: Buffalo’s infamous winters have met their match with a Canadian sun seeking air carrier that hopes to thaw the freeze. Ironically the blast of sun emanates from the Great White North as Sunwing, famous for its high frills champagne service launched its first ever weekly direct flight this past weekend from Buffalo International Airport to sunny Cancun Mexico.

Watch for another direct service from Buffalo International Airport to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic starting on February 14.

This first service is a milestone on another front too.

At downtown Toronto Mexican restaurant Milagro, Lawrence Elliott, group vice president of business and corporate affairs at Sunwing Travel Group, explained that Sunwing’s new Buffalo to Cancun route is the airport’s entree into the world of the ‘international’ gateway.

Historic moment

“These are the first international flights available from there,” he said describing past scenarios where spoke flight patterns to Atlanta, Miami and Newark meant western New Yorkers spent hours in the hubs and before reaching their sun destinations.

The flying time difference is significant with this new direct route. “It’s a big plus for the airport.” Said Elliott.

Expect to reach Cancun in 3.5 hours and Punta Cana in 4 hours.

American market

Sunwing’s move into the American market, Elliott explained, has come at a time when fuel prices are lower and the US market is ready.

“The US market has been in a huge slump since 2008 (but) is back with a vengeance,” he said. The Sunwing Travel Group operates Vacation Express which said Elliott, is the fastest growing American tour operator in the US.

Vacation Express in tandem with Sunwing will sell the packages and flights departing from Buffalo.

“Vacation Express is targeting the western New York and eastern Pennsylvania markets,” says Elliott describing a territory reaching roughly a 2.5 hour catchment around Buffalo.

“Buffalo also gives us the benefit of selling from the US market and the Canadian market.”

Easy transfers

The other benefit Elliott cites is the ease of transfers as passengers flying from the Buffalo hub are processed in a no-hassle environment.

"It’s easy,” he noted and added, “At the US border they are so accustomed to Canadians going into Buffalo and going to the airport. It’s not a hassle at all.”

Elliott observed Canadians can arrive to a new looking facility and dine at the Anchor Bar, which has an airport location and is home of the famous Buffalo chicken wings prior to take-off.


The direct service flights will operate until May. Weekend departures from Buffalo to Cancun are scheduled on Saturdays for both Cancun and Punta Cana, at 6 p.m. and 4:25 p.m. respectively.


Airport parking starts from $45 a week with three lots from which to choose including the pricier valet parking.


For Sunwing Airlines’ non-stop flights the company is using 737-800 series aircraft which seats 189 passengers.

Cost comparison

The new air service Elliott observed, will have a cost savings of about $100-$150 a ticket. For budget-conscious Canadians with a family of four this means significant dollars saved on a ticket that could technically be enjoyed while on vacation or tucked away.

Travel Industry Today conducted its own sticker price comparison for CUN between YYZ and BUF departures on January 24 via Sunwing.ca. The results at press time (because we all know how markets fluctuate) are significant.

From Pearson International Airport a 7-day all-inclusive package at the Oasis Smart Hotel which is a 3.5-star property in Cancun was listed at $595 per person before taxes while the same package from Buffalo cost $535. But add the taxes and the price difference was much more significant.

While Toronto’s published rate was $987 the same one-week all-inclusive package from Buffalo was only $675 per person. That’s a savings of $312 per person or a 32 percent cost savings.

More differences

There are other notable differences between Canadian and American sun seekers. Elliott observed that Americans traditionally are early bookers. “They book well in advance of the Canadian market.”

What does this mean to you and your clients? A room fight so to speak. “We are constantly pushing to get business early before we lose rooms because that’s the reality.”

Elliott told Travel Industry Today that while the load factor for the inaugural flight is light at an estimated 72 percent he’s counting on Canadians seeking good last minute deals to push it over 80 percent. “We’re not unhappy about the progress. Is it sold out? No, but we look at the pick-up every day and it’s moving.”

According to Elliott, Cancun and Punta Cana are the two hottest destinations for Canadians, “and they are going fast.”

Sun Properties

Cancun properties sold by Sunwing Vacations include Riu Palace Las Americas, the Riu Palace Peninsula, Barcelo Maya Beach, Gran Caribe Real Resort and Spa, Secrets The Vine Cancun, and others.

In addition Sunwing has its own hotel division, Blue Diamond Hotels and Resorts with brands Royalton, Memories and CHIC. Royalton has recently opened two new Cancun all-inclusive properties: the Royalton Riviera Cancun Resort and Spa and the adults-only Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancun.



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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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