Q TRAVEL – One of the best ways and at times more economical to go east to Europe or west to Asia now is to go north. Air Canada, the Canadian airline, revived after years of turbulence and bankruptcy, has turned its hubs in Montreal (YUL), Toronto (YYZ) and Vancouver (YVR) into easy, fast connecting points for travelers.

Waits at the three Canadian airports are minimal. Fares are often cheaper. The airplanes are new and fitted with premium economy cabins.

It’s now the “in-the-know alternative” as described by the Wall Street Journal, for travelers headed to Europe or Asia who want to avoid the connecting in Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Atlanta.

The Canadian airline has worked at attracting U.S. customers and travelers using U.S. airlines. The carrier, a Star Alliance partner with United, is building its schedule, offering cities that U.S. airlines don’t, like Casablanca and Dubai, along with high-demand destinations like Shanghai, London, Seoul and Tel Aviv.In

Although Costa Rica now has, more than ever before, flights to Europe without a stop in the U.S., Air Canada beats the European airlines with low fares. For example, from San Jose (SJO) to Madrid, Spain (MAD) and back on Air Canada, the fare is US$730, for travel on September 14 and returning September 27. On the Spanish airline, Iberia, the San Jose – Madrid – San Jose fare, for the same dates, is $1,164 .

Air Canada is also an alternative to not having to deal with U.S. customs and immigration officials and bans and restrictions such as on laptops in cabins on inbound flights from 10 airports, mostly the Middle East, that was in effect from March to July.

Another reason is the strength of the U.S. dollar, worth about 25% more than a Canadian dollar. Benjamin Smith, president of Air Canada’s passenger airline division, says that has enabled the airline to price aggressively in the U.S. (and other markets like Costa Rica). The airline’s focus has been primarily on luring business class and premium economy passengers with good deals.

Last November, Air Canada was offering flights to Europe, return from San Jose, for under US$500 dollars. During that promotion, it was cheaper to buy a ticket to Rome than a ticket to Toronto. See the Q report here.

Benjamin Smith, president of Air Canada’s passenger airline division, says that has enabled the airline to price aggressively in the U.S. (and other markets like Costa Rica). The airline’s focus has been primarily on luring business class and premium economy passengers with good deals.

Geography helps with keeping flight times competitive, since trips between the U.S. and both Europe and Asia pass over Canada. Air Canada can get you from Hartford, Conn., to Paris in nine hours, 25 minutes. That’s 50 minutes faster from Hartford to Paris than United, 65 minutes faster than American and more than 2½ hours faster than Delta.

But what about that Canadian winter? Definitely a drawback for some.

Air Canada’s Mr. Smith contends the airline handles winter storms more expeditiously than congested U.S. airports. Recovery is easier, since Toronto and Montreal are smaller than New York and Boston.

Sources: Air Canada; Msn.com; Wsj.com; and agencies