The Beatles were sure right this year. “It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter.” So it should not come as a surprise if many Canadians reward themselves with a spring trip after record-breaking winter weather. If you are yearning for a short getaway, keep reading for tips on how to save on spring travel.
Don’t be discouraged that prices soar when Canadian schools are closed for their school break. “It is the highest-price time of all,” notes travel expert Jill Wykes, a former senior executive with Thomas Cook Canada and now a media-relations adviser. Instead, consider booking later, when there will be a larger selection of flights and hotel rooms at lower prices. For teachers and parents of schoolchildren who don’t have this option, she advises booking months in advance, when you might find a promotional price for booking early.
Sellers of packaged tours and trips will generally offer Canadians the best value for flights, hotels, and ground transportation. During peak travel periods, travel agents are best equipped to find and grade their remaining offerings. They can search for spaces much faster than you could by using travel agent systems, and few will charge a booking a fee, said Wykes during a telephone call.
Outside of ‘spring break,’ spring can be a pleasant and economical time to travel. Travel and accommodation costs in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America peak during the winter. “Then prices drop hugely after Easter,” said Wykes. “There are not as many flights, but there still are flights at significant savings.”
Springtime in Paris
Europe is also much cheaper in the ‘shoulder season’ before summer. It gets warmer sooner than here, particularly in southern France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece, Wykes notes. Flowers bloom earlier than in Canada, and restaurants and tourist attractions are less crowded than in the summer.
Other money savers
Flights and hotel rooms are cheaper on certain days of the week (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays), and at particular times of the day. Tour operators like Air Transat and the rouge division of Air Canada, launched last July, will offer cheaper flights—direct to more European cities—than Air Canada had done during the spring previously. An apartment or small home may be cheaper to rent than a hotel, and even less expensive if you swap with the owner for time in your home. Find potential homes and consumer comments using websites like airbnb. Huffington Post found several quaint choices in Hawaii, but if you do your research, you can find your dream vacation spot almost anywhere.
Websites like Fodor’s Travel, TripAdvisor, Travelocity, Kayak, Expedia, BookingBuddy, Hotwire, HotelClub, Tablet, and Orbitz permit you to research prices. Some let you compare consumers’ comments. Yapta will alert you to changes in flight prices. Groupon Getaways, Living Social Escapes, and TravelZoo will alert you to discounts and rebates. Still, it can be difficult and time-consuming to compare multiple sets of results, and to be sure the choices are comparable. Some sites only quote US prices. So while booking one flight and one hotel room online is typically quite simple, for more complicated travel arrangements, Wykes “strongly recommend[s] using an agent.” A good agent will do the research, answer your questions, and check cancellation and refund policies. An agent may also find cheaper prices than you have found online.
Near the US border?
While not all Canadians live close enough, flights from US airports are often cheaper (with less tax) than flights originating in Canada. Proximity to Buffalo was certainly an advantage for one Ontario couple. They booked with Great Value Vacations of New York to travel from there to Ireland. The total cost for the flights from Buffalo to New York, and then New York to Dublin, plus their time in Ireland, was only $3,162 (US) for two, including parking in Buffalo, eight nights in four gorgeous ‘castle’ (villa) hotels, breakfasts, a car, and car insurance. Border-hoppers should note that Cheapair, a US travel website, has calculated the cheapest time to book flights within the US is 58 days in advance.
If you are a resident of Quebec, Ontario, or British Columbia, you will enjoy consumer protection, including reimbursement of travel expenses due to the insolvency of a locally registered tour operator or agent—or the airline they book for you. But if you deal with a non-registered company (such as one based in the United States), or if you live outside of these three provinces, consider buying an insurance policy that will cover a cancellation due to financial default. The Manulife Global Trip Cancellation & Interruption policy includes this type of protection, provided your cost of travel is booked as part of a package tour.
A travel agent or airline may only sell one choice of travel medical, cancellation, and interruption insurance. So check with an insurance broker who can offer you more selection. You could potentially pay less, yet be more confident that your pre-existing medical condition will be covered. And before you rely on a credit card for trip cancellation coverage, check for limitations, exclusions, and eligibility requirements that could affect you.
Best of luck finding a fun travel experience at an affordable price. Just be sure to consider your safety, your health, and risk of financial loss.
James Daw is a Certified Financial Planner and a former personal finance columnist for the Toronto Star. He has written about travel and other types of insurance for more than two decades. Find some of his latest work. James does not promote specific travel insurance products or services.