09 Jan HOW TO SAVE 75% ON YOUR NEXT VACATION
Hello and welcome back! It has been quite some time since the last blog post but this has been one I’ve been wanting to put out for some time (and requested by many).
The perks of travelling often, whether for work or personal, is you start realizing where you can maximize savings so that you can make more trips out of your hard-earned money. If you’ve been following me for the last few years, you’ll know that pre-pandemic I’d be travelling every month anywhere from 2 to even 12 flight segments.
With travel restrictions being lifted, we obviously, well mostly me, put my head down and started planning. Since I was planning and strategizing our points and offers, I essentially planned 2 trips at the same time so we below outlines how we planned our 2 week trip in Hawaii and a 4-day trip to Vancouver.
Planning the Trip
I love the planning stage – you get to explore, research, and pick where you want to go. For me, I always use Google’s My Maps to start saving places. Especially for cities I haven’t been in, this gives me a better idea of distance from key points of destinations like the airport or the hotel. (If you dont want to eat up a lot of data, be sure to download an offline version of Google maps!)
Of course, there’s Pinterest and Instagram too. Pros and Cons for both, you see a lot of commonly visited places, so I always search for people who either have been to that location multiple times and search for hidden gems, people who are local to that city, or people who just know where to look.
We like a hybrid of spontaneous and planned out… when we say we’re “planning” a trip it means knowing what places we need to hit up, any spots that are a *must*, but the ‘when’ doesn’t really matter for us as long as we get there at some point during the trip. The only exception if it’s a highly rated and busy restaurant that requires bookings weeks in advance.
As COVID travel guidelines change often, I’d recommend checking the destination’s local government guidelines.
Flights is one of the costs that really eat up the budget for us, along with hotels. What we’ve done over the last couple of years is keep all our domestic flights with WestJet (for work and leisure), some flights to the states with WestJet, or with Air Canada for both U.S. and international flights.
WestJet MasterCard – if you aren’t with them already, sign up when they have bonus WJ Dollars. When I signed up I got 350 WJ Dollars, which will cover the base fare of your next flight. On top of that, there’s the companion fare you get whenever your card renewals so you only have to pay $119 or $399 for the second person (depending on destination). For the first-timers, I’ve seen offers where the first companion voucher is $0 (base fare) for an Economy ticket on a domestic, U.S., Mexico or the Caribbean flight. All you’d have to pay for is the tax. I’d highly recommend waiting out when they have offers like this.
We fly WestJet for domestic flights since they’re almost always cheaper than Air Canada and it allows us to fly more often. It takes awhile to get the first tier of status with Air Canada so I focused on getting status with WestJet, then do a status challenge with AC. For the status challenge, do not request it until you know you can do complete the segments with AC. Once I hit Silver at WestJet, I requested the Status Challenge which they required 4 segments within 90 days. I timed my request a couple months prior to my flight to Hawaii knowing that there is a bit of lead time before getting a response back from AC. My flight to Hawaii required making a stopover in Vancouver, for there and back so once I came back from my trip to Hawaii, I hit 25k status with Aeroplan. When status match is available, all you have to do is send a screenshot that shows your status with WestJet to firstname.lastname@example.org with your Aeroplan #.
Now some of you may wonder why the push for status… or even the WestJet Mastercard/whichever travel credit card you choose like the Amex Aeroplan. When you travel often and need to bring more than just a carry-on, the costs of bringing a luggage adds up trip after trip. The cost for bringing 1 luggage with WestJet is between $30-35 so when we fly with WestJet at least once a month, that’s $420. The credit card annual fee is only $119 so as long as we fly with WestJet at least 3 times, it covers the cost of the annual fee. The status also allows for free luggage, lounge access, seat selection and priority lines so it just makes travelling that much more comfortable. Likewise for Aeroplan’s 25K, it also covers for 2 checked bags, priority check in, 2 lounge guest passes, and more.
If you have a travel bank (and I think a lot of us do with cancelled flights due to the pandemic over the last 1.5 years), save it for a more expensive trip so you can use it to cover your taxes!! This saved us for our Hawaii trip which I’ll get to next.
Tip on those vouchers from Air Canada if you had experienced a flight delay: there was one $200 voucher that we had to use up, so we had used it for a booking and then had to cancel due to COVID, but then instead of receiving another voucher it was just converted to a travel bank like how it normally would and it’s a much better option than a voucher that expires. Travel bank at least gives you a little bit more flexibility since you can ask for extension or at least have a longer time period to use it.
Here’s what we did for our flights to Hawaii: a combination of a sweet companion fare offer that WJ offered in 2021 where the second fare was $0, WJ dollars and travel bank. Using up the WJDollars that I have saved up from pre-covid travels, that covered all of the entire base fare for the two of us, and used the travel bank for the taxes since WJDollars can’t be used for taxes! So in total we paid $0 for our round trip flights to Hawaii! Our 2 checked bags are free as well (with status, or if you have the WJ MC)- plus we have lounge access, and priority check-in. I had a travel bank of $300 so we had more than enough to cover the taxes (huge win!.. because who likes to pay taxes?!).
Here’s the caution: you can only use 2 methods of payments with WJ so you can cover your base fare with WJ Dollars, and pay the tax out of pocket or use your travel bank.
We used our other account’s WJ Dollars for our flights to Vancouver so we just had to pay for the tax. Given the seat sales going on, we weren’t able to use our companion vouchers and worth saving the companion vouchers for a longer haul flight.
Hotels are expensive, we spend quite a bit of our budget on hotels- however, that does not mean we don’t find ways to save on the cost. Just like flights we always stick with the same company so we book all our stays with Marriott as much as possible unless there’s nothing available. It takes 10 nights to hit status, which allows you to redeem for night stays with less points. It takes a bit longer for us to save on Bonvoy points but it’s worth it when we get a free stay at a JW or even a Ritz-Carlton. If you have corporate discounts for hotels, use it- based on what we’ve seen, the prices rarely get better than the corporate discount codes.
Here’s what we did for Hawaii: we had 85k Bonvoy points (you can also purchase additional points if you need to, there’s usually sales for the points so it’s actually at a decent price if you need to top-up) so we used that on a night in Honolulu where we had enough for a luxurious stay. We played around with the dates, especially with December being a popular month, we found a night that we were able to redeem a free night at the Ritz Carlton in Honolulu. We could’ve easily used the points at another hotel, however by using the points at the Ritz, we saved what would’ve costed $700 for a night! We had booked timeshares for the rest of the trip but also used some AirMiles for a night stay before flying out and only had to pay for the tax since there’s no resort fee.
We’ve always used our Bonvoy points or AirMiles for our stays in Vancouver, but during the last year we’ve lucked out on some amazing deals that the Marriott group had offered. We also have an Amex Platinum (a future blog post on how we maximize Amex points), which gives the $200 statement credit each year for a stay at a hotel which also includes perks like free breakfast, late check-out, $100 resort credit, etc. We had used our $200 statement credit when we stayed at the Four Seasons in Whistler.
What we’ve done in the past for Whistler: we would book a stay up in Whistler during our visit to Vancouver using the $200 statement credit so depending on when you go, the stay might be almost free or pay about half price. During the pandemic, we had a $100 credit that we could use and since spas weren’t open, we were able to use that for a romantic picnic! We got bikes, and a backpack that had everything we needed – sandwiches, drinks, dessert, towel and utensils. We also had free breakfast for 2 the next morning on the balcony which was an absolutely perfect end our stay at the Four Seasons. Check out the blog post of our stay here.
While on the topic of hotels, let’s discuss car rentals and parking.
It all adds up, car rentals vary by city and not only the cost of that but also the parking at the hotel. The parking rates at the hotel typically range from $30-50 as far as what we’ve seen. We use a corporate discount code for car rentals, and that always saves a huge chunk (so if you have a friend that has a code, I’d ask for a favour or two ;)).
One night, the light bulb in my brain turned on: hotels often offer free parking for electric vehicles, so why don’t we find an electric vehicle to rent? We weren’t able to find electric vehicles through AVIS, but Turo does have options for electrical vehicles. Turo is like AirBnB for cars so the only downside is that our credit card insurance does not cover Turo- however Turo offers some options for protection if you’d like. Marriott has a list of hotels that have the electric vehicle charging stations (while most provide it for free, there are some that may have a fee) and here’s a full list of which hotels that do.
For a weekend stay at a JW, with an electrical vehicle you save $42/night, roughly $140 weekend including tax. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather use that $140 towards food or experiences!
When we used our corporate code for Avis, we saved a huge amount by only having an average of $300 for a week of what typically would be upwards between $1500-2500 a week for standard economy car rental during high season. However, for the same price for car rental without a corporate code, you might find a better deal/value by booking Turo. If your company uses Perkopolis, there’s a discount code for Turo there. Unfortunately they don’t do referral codes.
If you’re staying in a central location, car rentals may not be required for every single day, but would be cheaper to rent a car to do a day trip say across the island if you’re in Honolulu, than taking an Uber.
We try to book on OpenTable when we can, as with a certain number of reservations, you can redeem the points for a voucher. With the OpenTable vouchers, we could only use the voucher in the country we redeemed it in so we couldn’t use it in the states if we wanted to. However, even if you’re travelling within Canada, you can use the voucher for a free/partially-free meal!
Tip: We don’t always plan when we go out for dinner but we’ve gotten into the habit of checking if the restaurant has availability on OpenTable and book it for the next available (most cases we’ve been able to book the next table in 15 minutes if we’re nearby) and this really helped us accumulate to get the $60 voucher. If you’re like us, you want to have a nice dinner so why not use the $60 on a nice dinner to treat yourself? I’ve used my vouchers at Miku when in Vancouver.
We’re not overly picky when it comes to breakfast so something simple like a baked good and a drink would be perfect. To keep our food costs lower, we did a Costco trip on the first day we landed in both Maui and Oahu so that we can get things like breakfast food or some snacks if we are on a week or longer trip, and whatever we find locally that makes sense to have. It saves the cost of having a $20USD meal each person for the first meal of the day and saving it for something like lunch or dinner, or even happy hour! So over the course of our 2.5 weeks in Hawaii, we saved over $600USD by doing this and bringing our own coffee beans/matcha powder as well.
We all like to be tourists sometimes, so I search for deals when it comes to visiting multiple attractions. Costco sometimes offer the tickets in the warehouse as well. We’ve found deals when we wanted to checkout a few locations in Vancouver like the Aquarium, Capilano Suspension Bridge, Sea to Sky Gondola and there was a promo we took advantage of through Vancouver Attractions where they offered 25% off when you book 2 attractions or 35% off when you book 3.
While planning for our trip in Honolulu, I came across Waikiki Trolley hop-on, hop-off, it’s a great option to see multiple destinations at a great price especially if you’re not getting a car rental.
When we were looking for excursions/activities in Hawaii, we found the most savings on Groupon. Groupon had a bunch of promo codes in December so we were saving at least 50% by booking through Groupon, which were the same companies that were on Viator (ie. snorkeling was on Viator for $400 for 2 people, but on Groupon it was $320 for 2). Plus you can get cash back via Rakuten as well, so savings on top of savings.
|Regular Price (CAD, Taxes In)||Actual Cost (CAD, Taxes In)|
|Flights||$1450.12(Round trip YYC – HNL)|
$420 (Interstate HNL- OGG)
|$0 (WJ Companion voucher + WJ travel bank + WJ dollars) |
$290.76 (Seat sale)
|Hotel (Maui)||$2847.96 (Kahana Falls)||$1197.60 (Timeshare)|
|Hotels (Honolulu)||$2262.69 (Imperial Hawaii Resort Club) |
$872.47 (Ritz Carlton via Bonvoy)
$393.48 (Aston Waikiki Circle Hotel)
|$325.40 (It was a free week for us through Timeshare. We paid for the exchange rate) |
$0 (w/ Bonvoy points)
$94.42 (Airmiles + paid for tax)
|Car Rental (Maui)||$1325||$344.21 (w/ discount code)|
|Car Rental (Honolulu)||$1152||$523.89 (w/ discount code)|
We had saved $7947.44! It pays off when you do a bit of research and have patience 😉 We know there won’t be any way of savings any of the resort fees so I’ve excluded it from the table assuming they’re just costs that are unavoidable. But we try to control as much of it as possible.
|Regular Price||Actual Cost|
|Flights||$428.92||$231.94 (WJ Dollars + paid for tax)|
|Hotel||$891.30||$130.76 (paid for tax + resort fees)|
|Car Rental||$286.11||$158.02 (w/ discount code)|
We saved $1097.52= 66%!
So after comparing our travel costs to what it would’ve been if we did zero research, I hope this gives you guys a bit of an insight on how we book our travels so that we can travel more frequently to different locations.
These expenses is what we consider the “big ticket items” where we tend to spend more time planning. This doesn’t include our shopping (because we all want to treat ourselves or buy souvenirs).
I’ll have more blog posts coming up about how we spent each of our weeks in Maui and Oahu soon!