Air lines are already experiencing the Christmas crunch. December is the busiest time of year for air travel, and nearly 300,000 people are expected to pass through Winnipeg’s airport.

Not only is the holiday season the busiest time for travel, but it’s also one of the most expensive.

A return ticket from Winnipeg to Toronto for Dec. 22 through Dec. 30 will cost travelers $908 if they book on WestJet. If booking with Air Canada, the cost is nearly $1000.

For the same flights during the same period in January, those prices are reduced by almost half.

Traveler Malissa Gautier said she has been bit by high fares at Christmas. In 2011, her family paid $10,000 for a trip to Mexico.

“It’s ridiculous, but my husband is a teacher so we always end up traveling in the high season,” said Gautier.

But WestJet spokesperson, Robert Palmer, said airlines don’t jack up prices around the holidays. Instead, he said, “The airfares haven’t changed from one year to the next. The problem is people have already purchased the cheaper seats and what people are seeing is what’s left.”

The Consumer Association of Canada said that doesn’t exactly add up. An association representative said the association doesn’t agree with airlines limiting the number of cheaper seats on selected flights.

The representative said the only way Canadians will see discounted fairs during the holidays is if the airways are open to more competition.

Currently, the federal government restricts foreign airlines from flying from one Canadian destination to another. Transport Canada said it has no plans to change that.

Irene Neustaedter owns travel company Around the World in 80 Ways and said the only way to save is to book early.

“It’s not a bad idea to start looking for those prices in June or July or call a travel agent and have them monitor it for you,” said Neustaedter.

For some though, like Guatier and her husband, booking early doesn’t offer much of a payoff.

“A lot of our bookings haven’t been done at the last minute because we know we can only travel on particular times of the year, and I haven’t see a significant savings,” said Guatier’s husband, Colin Holowachuk.

The pair said they believe the only cheaper option is to book flights at less popular times, which isn’t an option for them.