Budget Road Trip

Are you looking for an affordable road trip?  How about somewhere pretty-as-a-picture? I think this is a guaranteed memory-maker and yet respectful of your need to stretch your Canadian Dollar as far as possible.

Banff. Yes, Banff. Or you could make the trip to Banff AND Canmore. Or Banff, Canmore AND Calgary. You pick. Just fill up the gas tank and hit the Trans-Canada highway west from Manitoba.

If you make it just as far as Medicine Hat in the first day, you will find hotels like DH3 and Holiday Inn, at about $100 a night. That includes breakfast (DH3) or waterslides (Holiday Inn).

Next stop, (about 5 hours away) is Banff National Park.   The park pass itself will cost you about $20 per day, per vehicle with up to 5 occupants.

Since this is “shoulder season” or that magical time (April to June) between busy ski season, and busy summer season, you’ll find hotels inside the park itself for under $200.  Some really great hotels (like boutique Elk + Avenue) or Buffalo Mountain Lodge right around $130 (taxes included). Gosh, you could even splurge and get the Fairmont Banff Springs at this quiet time of year for about $300 a night. (Splurge! Do it!)

Canmore, is about 20 minutes away, and outside of the National Park. You could choose to stay at a lodge there or even the Holiday Inn for UNDER $100 a night.

What is there to do/see in “shoulder season?”  Mountains! The majestic mountains are there 24/7, all year round. If that’s not breathtaking enough, there’s wildlife!  Go hiking, biking, photo gathering or visit the famous hot springs. Just be outdoors in the fresh air and take in the view.

If you’ve got an extra day, and are looking for an indoor opportunity, do visit the Banff Centre for Arts & Creativity  . You’ll be inspired.

The bottom line is, there are great opportunities to enjoy a spring road trip, to the mountains, for much less  than that very same trip in the summer.  With gas, and 5 nights in a hotel, cost shared by 3 people,  $250-$300 per person PLUS your food/entertainment/souvenirs.

 

Feature photo courtesy of Barbara Osiowy. 

River Cruises & booking early

If you are looking to book a Christmas cruise on the Rhine or a summer 2020 cruise on the Danube, definitely look at booking it in 2019. The earlier you book the better the early booking bonus and the more opportunity you have to choose the sailing you wish for.

Some of the early booking bonuses are outstanding. For example, booking an Avalon River Cruise for Spring break 2020  can be as low as $2646 for an 8 day cruise Amsterdam to Basel.

Also take a good look for Avalon’s Active labels on select tours. These cruises will feature a selection of active excursions, like bike rides. Each Avalon active cruise has at least 16 bikes on board for guest use on excursions.

If you are booking a trip a year ahead, don’t forget to purchase cancellation insurance.  A lot can happen in a year.

 

 

Where have the bargains gone?

I was just about to start writing a column about my frustration in travel bargain hunting lately, and a Westjet Flash Sale popped up in my in box. Great news I thought!  Crisis averted. Something good to write about!

The ad was for 35% off fares of the first 2000 bookings. The sale stared at midnight. My clock read 12:35AM. Excellent! Time to nab a bargain for myself….. but no luck. That code was only good for the first 2000 people and I wasn’t one of them. So, I have to say that was disappointing. Imagine the early risers who think they have a chance at 6am and go through the same frustrating process I did.  Westjet would be more realistic saying it’s a 15 minute sale, not a “flash sale.”

But OKAY, I thought, will use the consolation code for 15% off. So I took a look, absolutely nothing caught my eye. The code is valid for US destinations. Well, frankly the Canadian dollar is worth 65 cents. So, a discount of 35% would be required for it to be a deal at par.  15% discount does NOTHING to bring a trip to the US into favour. Never mind, the political issues.

So, I’m another hour invested in bargain hunting and nothing to report.

This winter has been harsh in Manitoba and more people than ever are travelling. The increased demand for vacations has seen many flights and routes, and resorts sold out. Never mind a deal, there’s nothing “in stock” to buy. A last minute hot vacation is almost akin to a Cabbage Patch Doll at Christmas in the 80s or a Fury in the 1990s.  Elusive and if you spy one, you should grab it.

What’s left is Cuba, lots of Cuba.

Maybe time to turn our eyes to Europe and start planning Spring and Summer vacations?

Did you know?

Did you know that …..you can mix Westjet flights and all-inclusive resorts from Sunwing?

How?

  1. Purchase flights only, from Brandon or your airport of choice.
  2. Purchase hotel separately from Sunwing or another provider.  Yes, all-inclusive resorts can be purchased just as easily as booking a Holiday Inn down the street.
  3. Purchase transfers from hotel to airport, OR plan to take a cab once you arrive.This way you can fly the airline your prefer AND stay at Sunwing owned properties like the brand new, adults only Riu Baja California in Los Cabos, Mexico.

From Brandon to the Bahamas

If you pick the right day, this can be pretty easy. Here’s a fun hint, from me to you, …. the right day is Saturday.

The reason Saturday is “the one” is that there is a direct flight from Calgary to Nassau on Saturdays. The Brandon flight gets there in time to make this connection, so this is completely fabulous! Get to Brandon airport at 5am, catch the 6:15 flight and then make the switch to the Nassau flight about an hour and a half later. No rushing. No drive to Winnipeg.

Right now, if you book before Feb 7th, for April flights, you can save 15% off your fare with this code T20VL35.

This means the Brandon to Nassau flight and back, taxes incl is $514 per person. WOW!!

Next up, you’ll want to book a resort.

There are very few all-inclusive resorts in the Bahamas.  Most are European Plan – meaning you source and pay for your food and drinks as you go. The hotel room booking, is just the hotel room booking. Just like booking a hotel room at home, or in Europe.

The iconic Atlantis resort is in the Bahamas. It’s the one with the fabulous waterslides in the pyramids. You’ve probably seen it on tv or on the Amazing Race. There are water slides that go through (a protective tube inside)  the shark tank. Atlantis can be a reasonable price to book, but beware the high resort fees that they want you to pay at the front desk.

The newest resort is the Baha Mar complex. It’s set on stunningly gorgeous Cable Beach, and only about 15 minutes from the airport. This one tops my dream list of places to stay.

The all inclusive resorts are older, smaller and less than what you would get in Mexico.  The resorts are Breezes, Melia, Riu and the Warwick. There is also a high end Sandals resort for Adults in love.

I’ve stayed at the Melia (back when it was a Sheraton) and in the Coral Towers of Atlantis. The benefit of staying at Atlantis is the access to the waterpark. You can stay off-site, but I believe day passes are about $150US per person. Atlantis is pretty fantastic, but I don’t think I’d ever pay $600 per family of 4 (plus food and drink) to use a waterpark for 6-8 hours. But this certainly is a selling point for staying on site and having the waterpark access included in your room rate.

Nassau is not a place I’d recommend an Airbnb. There are some travel cautions set by the government for this area. And, some cruise lines have warned passengers not to go downtown when they are in port. Based on this, and my own personal experience, I’d stick to the resorts.

Definitely a place I would love to visit again and given the chance for an easy flight, at a bargain price, I’d leap at that chance to go.

 

Saint Martin/St. Maarten on sale

Both Air Canada and Westjet are offering 15% off flights to this Caribbean hot spot, when you book before January 30th.  The Air Canada code is Stmaarten2019. Westjet’s code is A56MD56 as shown below

Choose mid-week departures for the best value on flights.

Westjet exclusive code
sample dates

 

When paired with a highly rated Airbnb apartment ($919 CDN) for a week two people could travel for under $1500 per person sharing accommodations and meals.

This French/Dutch island suffered a devastating blow from hurricane Irma in September 2017. However, by August 2018 the cruise port was fully functioning and most tourist sites had been  restored. Some hotels continue to build and renovate, though the island is actively seeking tourist visits.

Visit http://www.stmartinisland.org to start planning!