Life

Beat the Canadian dollar: How to get a good deal on travel to the U.S.

By Jim Byers, Special to Postmedia Network

If you’re the manager of a hotel or restaurant in Prince Rupert or Niagara Falls, you’re probably pretty giddy with joy about the rapid slide of the Canadian dollar. After all, your prices have dropped something like 25% for Americans thinking of a holiday in Canada. Not to mention the Canadians who are scared off from a visit to the U.S. and are instead bumping up your bottom line by vacationing locally. So, congrats to you.

On the other hand, some of us like spending time in the U.S. Maybe we have family in Seattle or Syracuse. Maybe we like to take the kids to Disney World. Or maybe we like the shopping malls. Whatever the reason, plenty of Canadians still need or want to travel to the U.S. these days. For them, and for me, the lacklustre loonie is a pain in the backside.

It’s tricky, but there are ways to soften the blow of a Canadian dollar hovering around 75 or 76 cents against the U.S. greenback. Here are a few ideas.

1. Try making your trips at off-peak times. New York City is never really cheap, but hotels that rely on business travel types can often be considerably cheaper on a weekend. I’ve found good deals in the past by staying on a weekend in lower Manhattan, near the financial towers of Wall Street. The restaurants in the area are much improved and subway lines are just steps away. Hawaii is expensive even by U.S. standards, but prices are better in their slow season, which is usually September and October (after summer vacation but before U.S. Thanksgiving). I recently booked a WestJet ticket for a round-trip flight from Toronto to Maui in early September for less than $700. That’s a steal.

2. Skip the fancy hotels. Try using Airbnb to book someone’s house or apartment. You’ll not only save money but you’ll probably get exposure to cool, local neighborhoods you might miss by bedding down at the Best Western. You also can try getting a group together and renting a house. A place that rents for, say, $2,800 a week would be $65 per person per night if you have six people. Hostels have become increasingly sophisticated as older travellers try to save money. You also can save money by cooking at home, versus eating out.

3. Deal directly with a hotel. If you see a room on a hotel booking site for $200, call the hotel directly and see what rate they can give you over the phone. You might be surprised. It can’t hurt to ask them for a break on the Canadian dollar. That might get you a raised eyebrow in big cities, but border states that rely on Canadians are hurting, so it’s worth asking if they can give you a one-time “falling loonie special.”

4. Use public transit. More and more American cities are building transit lines to reduce their dependence on cars. Los Angeles will soon have a rapid transit line that links their growing downtown to the beach in trendy Santa Monica. Service already is excellent between downtown and Hollywood. Cities such as Phoenix and Tampa also have boosted their rapid transit options as more folks move downtown.

5. Change your meal routine. Restaurants often charge far more at dinner than they do at lunch. Try lunch at that hip new spot in Chicago and then grab a Chicago hot dog or deep-dish pizza for dinner instead of the other way around. Also look for happy hours. They’re much more widespread – and with deeper discounts – in the U.S. than they are in Canada. You’ll save a bundle by eating – and drinking – early. You also can save a bundle in New York by grabbing lunch at one of the delicatessens that are popular with local business people in a hurry. Or pack a picnic and dine al fresco in San Francisco.

6. Be selective about when you visit your favourite destination. Vegas can be stifling in summer, but rooms are usually discounted pretty heavily versus the rest of the year. Myrtle Beach has great food and offers tons of value, especially in the hotter months of the year and in winter. Towns such as Panama City Beach in the Florida Panhandle offer great value in winter, when the weather is still cool compared to destinations in the southern part of the state.

7. Pounce on those deals. Set up Internet alerts for your favourite destinations and monitor websites regularly for specials. I was looking to book the Hawaii trip I mentioned on points when I suddenly thought, “I wonder what the WestJet site has to offer.” As a result, I saved my points and got a fabulous deal on my Maui flights.

8. Look for freebies. As the song goes, the best things in life are free. So it is with great cities in the U.S. and around the world. It costs nothing to wander the streets of New Orleans and listen to the sound of a jazz band filter through a French door. Likewise, a walk through Central Park or the new High Line Park in New York City won't cost you one dime. New York has a website for freebies that includes everything from free museum days to no-cost TV show tapings: www.nycgo.com/free

9. Pray for oil prices to jump and for the Canadian dollar to rise again. But don’t count on it.


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