Is the Canadian winter starting to get to you before it can even officially start? Are you tired of waking up in the dark and leaving work in the dark? Do you feel like you’re succumbing to the stresses and demands of the busy holiday season?
When we average less than three hours of sunshine per day in the winter, it can be hard to remove yourself from the seasonal “funk”. During times like these, it’s important to seek social support from friends and family, set realistic goals and expectations, get regular exposure to daylight, and find inexpensive ways to enjoy yourself when you’re feeling down.
How to save on holiday season travel
Perhaps a break from your daily routine on a sun-soaked island is just what you need, but whether you can afford it or not is another question. There are a number of ways to trim the costs and stick to a reasonable budget if you plan on travelling around the holiday season – from accumulating points on your credit card to put towards flights, to subscribing for email alerts from your favourite discount travel sites. Keep these things in mind when planning a cost-effective winter escape.
Tip #1: Look for credit card sign-up bonuses and use your cards wisely
From cash-back, to points to reward miles, there are a number of credit card features that can help you save on your holiday season travel. If you currently don’t have a credit card with a rewards program, you can check out some of our Best of Finance Award winners to see which travel rewards credit cards best fit your lifestyle and budget. Depending on the card, you can put your points or miles towards flights, hotels, cruises or full holiday packages. Keep in mind, however, that some loyalty programs may have blackout dates that apply to the holiday season.
Many credit cards also come with built in travel insurance. Check your card’s policy for features such as travel emergency medical or accident coverage, trip cancellation or interruption, flight delay, baggage delay or loss, car rental collision and travel assistance. Some cards also provide hotel or motel burglary insurance or room assurance. While you should always purchase travel insurance when going on vacation, having these features on your credit card means you still have a bit of coverage – and that in itself can save you hundreds of dollars.
Here are two credit cards that offer quick-turnover sign-up bonuses, and can get you up in the air within a few weeks.
Get 15,000 RBC Rewards points upon approval, which you’ll see on your first monthly statement. You can use your RBC Rewards points towards any available flight with any airline, for any type of seat with no blackout periods. Points can also go towards airline fees and taxes.
If you’re booking through the RBC Rewards site, you can use your 15,000 points for a quick getaway within or to an adjacent province/territory or U.S. State (maximum ticket price of $350).
And though the card comes with a $120 annual fee, new cardholders get the first year’s annual fee waived! The RBC Visa Infinite‡ Avion® also comes with extensive travel insurance coverage.
With the MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus® Mastercard®, you’ll get 2,500 bonus points after your first eligible purchase within the first 90 days of opening the account. Furthermore, you can get another 2,500 points by just signing up for e-statements. However, it may take eight to 10 weeks for the bonus points to appear on your account. Points are available to use as soon as they’re posted to your account, and can be redeemed for eligible travel purchases at the rate of 100 points per dollar. This card also has no annual fee, and even won Best Rewards Card with No Fee at our Best of Finance Awards this year.
Tip #2: Look for last-minute deals
If you’ve waited this long to book a trip but still have hopes to leave within a few weeks, then you’re likely comfortable with spontaneity. In order to take advantage of the best last-minute deals, you have to be flexible.
First, decide on a window of time – perhaps a four-week period – when you and your family are available to travel. If you have a flexible work schedule and don’t have children who are returning to school, you don’t necessarily need to leave on Christmas Eve or return on January 1. In fact, some of the best deals on sunny destinations can be found in early January. Also, don’t limit yourself to only leaving on weekends. Booking a midweek departure date can often be cheaper.
Next, sign up for email offers from travel websites that will keep you in the loop on last-minute deals. Look at resources like cheapflights.ca or selloffvacations.com that allow you to search for getaways at a discounted price. Many of these websites also have mobile phone apps – and sometimes booking through an app can result in additional savings. But be weary of booking through sites and apps that look fishy or have not yet been rated.
The day of the week that you actually book your trip also matters. Many travel websites will advertise their best deals on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when consumers tend to be the least active on their sites. On weekends, activity picks up and so do rates.
Pro tip: Remember to always go through the fine print in detail prior to booking to check for exclusions, extra fees or anything that appears suspicious. Also check whether flights and vacation packages are offered in Canadian or U.S. dollars. Always double check the currency when you open a new webpage, as this can change every time you open your browser.
Tip #3: Maybe it doesn’t have to be a sun destination
All-inclusive vacations on island destinations are all-the-rage this time of year, but getting away from home doesn’t necessarily have to involve bathing suits and pina coladas. Maybe your serenity can be found in exploring cities and sites. If weather is not a deciding factor in where you choose to get away, destinations in Europe may be much more affordable during the winter because it’s not high season. London, Paris, Barcelona, Dublin, or Edinburgh are good choices – all of which experience little to no snow though temperatures are lower than usual.
Another way to really save is to stay within Canada’s borders and explore parts of the country you’re never seen before. These days, the Loonie doesn’t fare too well outside the country, meaning you’ll get some of the best value for your dollar here at home. If flying is too expensive, but you’re unsure about driving because of snow and ice, Via Rail services many popular destinations within Canada. Still not sold on staying home? A trip to Vancouver will still get you out of the snow and into milder temperatures. It’s not beach weather – but it likely won’t result in frostbite neither.
Tip #4: Stay (at someone else’s) home
Of course, you can always stay with a friend or relative for free if that’s an option. But if not, Airbnb and similar home-sharing platforms are becoming just as popular as hotels. What makes it so attractive is that it sometimes works out to be more affordable, and also immerses you in the local culture more than staying at a chain accommodation.
However, prices for Airbnb rentals are completely up to each individual homeowner, and at this time of year, nightly rates may rise. It’s important to do your research and compare a number of different homes before making your choice.
Another good – and more affordable – option is doing a home exchange on sites such as homeexchange.com or intervac.ca, provided you are open to sharing your home as well. These sites do charge fees to list your home, but they are minimal in comparison to what you’ll pay at hotels or Airbnb-listed properties.
Almost on your way!
Here are some final quick tips to help you save on your holiday journey:
- Avoid overweight bag fees. Don’t over-pack your checked suitcases and weigh your bag at home. Think you can condense your belongings into just a carry-on bag? Save on checked-bag fees too!
- Take a cab, public transportation or ask a friend to drive you to the airport. Airport parking fees can be fairly steep.
- Arrive early. Missing your flight is not only stressful, but could possibly result in you having to pay extra for a later departure.
- If you’re travelling by car, bus or train, pack a bag full of sandwiches or snacks. This will save you the cost of having to stop at restaurants or buying overpriced meals on board.
Yes, the holiday season can be the most expensive time of year to travel, amongst many other things. But keep a budget in mind, stick to it, search for deals and look to your credit cards, and you’ll find yourself feeling much more relaxed as you welcome in 2019!
This post has been updated.