Seattle Airport Overview – Save $300 / person over Vancouver / YVR

Tuesday 19th, February 2013 / 22:07 Written by
Seattle Airport Overview – Save $300 / person over Vancouver / YVR

In this series, I will talk about how to use Seattle as an alternate airport for those in the Vancouver area and Vancouver Island.

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Both Victoria and Vancouver are beautiful cities on Canada’s west coast. Victoria’s airport (YYJ) has very limited service and often requires a stop in Vancouver (YVR) for most flights out of Western Canada. Vancouver’s airport serves certain markets very well but some markets are not served very well. For the times when flights are expensive or inconvenient out of YVR or YYJ, it is good to know that Seattle – Tacoma Airport (SEA) makes a good alternative.

The Skinny

SEA Address 17801 International Blvd.
Seattle, WA 98158
Tel: (800) 544-1965​
Savings Required $75 / way over YVR or YYJ
Distance from Vancouver 250km or 3 hours
Distance from Victoria 300km or 3.5 hours
Parking costs $6 – $10 / day
Bus (from Vancouver) US$50 / person & 3 hours

Why SEA?

As is the case for Buffalo airport, as an alternative to Toronto, SEA can be a good option for if you are flying from Vancouver. Most of your savings are going to be for flights going to the US. Another advantage is that there are some very good long haul domestic routes and international routes that are direct from SEA, but do not fly direct to YVR or YYJ.

SEA acts as a hub for Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air. United Airlines and Delta airlines also use offer some long haul routes to Asia and Europe from Seattle. As a result, you are going to find direct flights to most major US cities. It is also a desired stop for international carriers. For example, KLM flies a direct flight to Amsterdam, and Emirates flies a direct flight from Seattle to Dubai. For Vancouverites interested in flying internationally on Emirates, flying out of Seattle, instead of YVR, can have significant dollar and time savings.

I like to see the route maps of all the cities that there is direct service for from Seattle Airport. If you are doing a 1-1 comparison to destinations served by YVR compared to SEA, there is a distinct increase in the destinations that can be accessed by direct flights.

Something to bear in mind would be that many flights departing from YVR actually route through SEA. When this is the case, it is important to consider whether it makes sense to do that first leg of the journey to Seattle on the ground yourself or if it makes sense to let the airline do that for you.

Here is an article on why Canadians are using US airports to fly out of.


Unlike Toronto’s alternative airport of Buffalo, Seattle doesn’t tend to have the ridiculous dollar savings over YVR across the board. The best savings tend to come on the US – bound portion of a flight. The taxes for traveling to the US tend to be very high out of YVR and if you have the freedom to fly out of SEA, but into YVR, you will probably have the best dollar return for your time. In general, you will have relatively small dollar savings but more significant time savings with more direct flights out of SEA.

Here are some examples of roundtrip savings (all USD):

Destination Dates Departure Arrival Number of Stops Roundtrip Price Winner
New York 3/9-3/16 SEA JFK Direct $316 SEA
YVR JFK Direct $664
Boston 5/9-5/14 SEA BOS Direct $336 SEA
(time and money)
YVR BOS 1-stop $563
Toronto 4/11-4/15 YVR YYZ Direct $625 Time vs Money tradeoff
SEA YYZ Direct $604
SEA YYZ 1-stop $516
Hong Kong Apr 2013 YVR HKG Direct $999 YVR
SEA HKG 1-stop $875
Dubai Sep 2013 SEA DXB Direct $1323 Time vs Money tradeoff
YVR DXB 1-stop $1439
YVR DXB 2-stop $1318

Prices shown were available as of  February 13, 2013.

Something of note for people who are thinking about flying into one airport and out of another. Similar to Toronto, flights departing  to the US from YVR have higher taxes and fees than those arriving into Canada from the US. If you are considering using a US airport for only 1 of your legs, then I suggest flying OUT of Seattle and INTO YVR to save on the taxes.

Does flying out of SEA make sense for you?

I would imagine that making the decision to fly out of SEA vs YVR would depend strongly on where you live in the Vancouver area. Since Vancouver has grown pretty much to the Canada-US border, many suburban Vancouverites can spend a similar amount of time getting to YVR as they do to SEA.

When doing your own considerations, make sure to budget the time it takes to get to SEA from wherever you are in the city as well as costs, including gas, parking, tolls (if driving) and bus fare (if taking the bus).

If you are flying out of SEA, your border crossing is going to be on the ground instead of in the air. Remember to budget the lineup for border crossing into the US at YVR as that may be time consuming. Also, if you have a Nexus or Global Entry then you need to take that into account.

When doing an analysis for whether flying out of SEA makes sense, I feel it is important to look at all the dollar and time costs. Here is an analysis for the first example where 4 people are traveling to New York.

1. Ground Transportation

Assume we start at Metrotown Centre (V5H4M1)

YVR SEA Savings (costs)
Gas $3.37 $47.20 -$32.80 $3.99/gallon & 25 MPG
Tolls $0.00 $0.00 $0.00 No tolls
Parking $0.00* $126.00 -$126.0 YVR: no cost if you can get a ride
SEA: parking for 2 weeks at Ajax
$3.37 $173.20 -$169.83

2. Flights

Assume 4 travelers, checking 1 bag each way.

(per person)
(4 persons)
(per person)
(4 persons)
Savings (costs)
Roundtrip Flight $664 $2656 $316 $1264 $1392
Baggage Fees $0 $0 $0 $0 $0 Bag fees can be avoided by flying Southwest or Jetblue (from SEA) or on Westjet or Cathay (from YVR)
Total Flight $664 $2656 $316 $1264 $1392

The best flights on both of these routes are run by carriers who include one piece of checked baggage with the flight. Cathay Pacific runs YVR-JFK and Jetblue runs SEA-JFK. For analytical honesty, I will assume that the bag charges will be the same on both routes.

3. Time Costs

Outbound (to New York):

YVR SEA Assumptions
Travel to the airport 25 min 150 min
US Border Crossing 45 min 20 min US bound passengers must allow an extra 45 mins for US customs at YVR
Traffic Buffer 15 min 30 min
Total Outbound Travel Time 85 min 200 min

Inbound (to Vancouver):

YVR SEA Assumptions
Canada Border Crossing  20 min 20 min
Travel to Toronto from Airport 25 min 150 min
Total Inbound Travel Time 45 min 170 min

Roundtrip Travel Time:

YYZ BUF Difference
Outbound Time 85 min 200 min 115 min
Inbound Time 45 min 170 min 125 min
Total Travel Time 130 min 370 min 240 min

4. Analysis

Ground Transport costs: -$169.83
Flight Savings: $1392
Total Dollar Savings: $1222

Time Cost: 240 min

So, in this case it looks like you are saving $1222 for 4 people and it only cost you an extra 240 min. This is a savings of $305 / person, or about $75 / hour.


Flying out of alternate airports can be a big money saver for Canadians. Canadian airports tend to be very expensive, and Vancouver (YVR) and Victoria (YYJ) are no different. Vancouverites can use Seattle-Tacoma Airport (SEA) as an alternative. For many living in Vancouver’s southern suburbs such as Surrey or White Rock, it will be more advantageous to fly out of SEA.

In this article, I showed you how to save $300 / person by going this route. If you are considering flying out of SEA instead of YVR, make sure to include your flight cost savings, ground transportation costs and time costs associated with using SEA over YVR or YYJ.

Next time you are looking at flying out of one of Vancouver’s airports, consider investigating whether flying out of SEA makes sense for you.

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