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.

 

 

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!

My Golden Rules of Bargain Travel

  1. If it doesn’t sound like you, don’t force it. It’s not the trip for you.
  2. Read current reviews and visit Oyster.com to see what the real travellers are saying. (Go back to rule 1.)
  3. Don’t put too much stock into what the tour company says. Whether Westjet’s marketing team is describing the room, or Sunwing’s, or Air Canada’s…. it’s the same room. Whether it’s “modern” “chic” “spacious” or “deluxe” that’s just an adjective. It’s the same room.
  4. Check your flight times. If the price is outstanding, but the flight connections are miserable, is it a bargain? No.
  5. Know your prices. Have a general idea what the trip typically sells at so that you can recognize a bargain.
  6. Seek out less-busy times of the year to travel. (Right after school goes back in session. Right after national holidays.)
  7. When you spy THE bargain, the right deal for you, go for it! Be decisive. Act quickly. That price, or the last two seats on the plane might be gone tomorrow or they might be sold out in an hour. You’re not the only one who’s tuned into travel deals, reading blogs and scouring Twitter trying to save money and travel more.
  8. If you don’t have all the money and the trip is more than 60 days out, call your Travel Agent, put down a deposit and lock in that price! It’s easy to do. Payment plans are available for future travel. (Does not apply to last minute travel, booked 60 days or less in advance.)
  9. If you find a bargain that you love, but can’t go… share it! Maybe it’s exactly what one of your friends has been looking for.
  10. Don’t get hung up on rewards points. Like an ugly sweater, you may have paid lots to get it, but that doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile or a good fit for this party.

Happy travelling!
xoxo Cathie

Air Miles & Vacation Packages

Starting January 8th, 2019 Air Miles collectors will now be able to easily purchase their vacation packages online. Air Miles has entered into partnership with online Canadian travel agency RedTag.ca and has assigned a dollar value to miles.

Almost as straightforward as using a gift card  users should be able to pay for the vacation of their choosing with Air Miles. As I understand it, purchases can be made in whole or in part with Air Miles and the balance paid by credit card.

Air Miles will be valued at 909 Air Miles = $100  towards a vacation package. Therefore a $3000 vacation would cost 27,270 Dream Miles. Or a modest, and well timed vacation to Las Vegas, for 2 adults could cost as little as 9090 Air Miles.

Air Miles used to pay for vacation packages must be redeemed through RedTag.ca and can not be redeemed over the phone or at a local travel agency.

Air Miles can be collected through numerous retailers. Those Air Miles can be collected in two categories: Dream Miles (for travel, merchandise etc) and Cash Miles (for money off groceries, gas etc at point of sale.)

Visit Airmiles.ca to learn more.