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.

How to take advantage of Black Friday travel deals with very little cash.

Don’t you wish you had a couple thousand dollars sitting in your account that you could use to grab some of these fabulous Black Friday and Cyber Monday travel deals? Yeah, me too.

Here are 3 ways that you can take advantage of the great deals without putting a lot of cash down.

  1. Hotel deals. Book flights and hotels separate. You can book almost any hotel with just paying a 1 night deposit and holding the reservation with your credit card. So, book 7 nights at a great rate, and just pay for 1 night upfront, and the rest when you arrive whether it’s in a month or 8 months from now. But you are locking in today’s discount price.
  2. Think long term, not short term. If you are travelling within 60 days you will be asked to pay the whole package price. It you are booking 3-11 months in advance, you are only asked for a deposit when you book through a travel agent. It’s almost like paying your autopac insurance in monthly instalments. There is an upfront booking fee (about 40 dollars) and a deposit (most often $250-$500  per person.) but then you can pay the rest on monthly instalments or however you choose so that it’s paid in full typically 60 days before you depart. So, if you want to grab the sale price for an Easter or Summer holiday, do it now. Then you’ll pay the vast majority in 2019 after you get your tax refund or Christmas bonus. But again, you lock in today’s sale price. (Yes, you can literally sign up for a $3000 vacation package with under $300 per person upfront cost. Now this deposit is non-refundable and you will lose it if you cannot pay the rest of the commitment, but if you CAN make payments, this is the easiest way to do it. No loan or interest charges from a bank.)
  3. Collect points. Sign up for Air Miles, or Westjet Rewards, or Aeroplan programs. They are free programs. Or get the Westjet World Elite MasterCard (perks like no charge for checked bags) and start collecting points that you can use towards future travel. Even if all you ever accumulate is a free hotel night, or a short haul flight, it is something that you can use to bring more travel into your life without a cost.

Bonus tip: If you collect Westjet Rewards, you can keep accumulating them and “cash them in” with your final payment on your holiday. And yes, you can still redeem these reward dollars when using a travel agent.