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Update: You can no longer transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Amtrak.
If you’re looking for a frugal destination for your summer travels, you could stretch your vacation budget further by traveling to Canada!
That’s because the exchange rate between the US and Canadian dollar is very good right now.
It’s like saving ~20% everywhere! And you could get there cheaply if you can drive, take the train, or fly from cities near the US / Canada border.
There are lots of Canadian destinations Emily and I would love to visit but haven’t seen yet. Here are 5 on our wish list.
Oh, Canada! Our Picks for Fun Summer Travel
Before I share our list, 2 reminders…my favorite domestic airline, Southwest, does NOT fly to Canada! So Emily and I can’t use our Companion Passes. But there are plenty of other ways to get award flights!
And don’t forget to bring a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees (and be sure to pay in Canadian dollars to avoid currency conversion fees). That way you’ll make the most out of the great exchange rate!
1. Banff National Park, Alberta
Located near Calgary, Alberta, you’ll find some of Canada’s most beautiful scenery at Banff National Park. It’s an ideal spot for folks who love outdoor activities like hiking, climbing, canoeing, and camping.
How to Go
With most frequent flyer programs, a round-trip coach ticket from the US to Canada costs 25,000 miles.
But folks in Dallas, Phoenix, and Seattle could save miles by using British Airways Avios points for flights on Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, or US Airways.
And if you travel in July, pack your cowboy hat and boots and head down to the Calgary Stampede!
Where to Stay
Emily and I like to use Hotel Hustle to find hotels with available rooms that we can
book with points. But Banff has very few chain hotels, so it’s best to search for cheap paid rooms on sites like Orbitz, TravelPony, or Hotwire.
2. Montreal, Quebec
If you’re looking for a European-style vacation without traveling across the Atlantic, Montreal, Quebec, is a great option! Although the official language is French (it’s the 2nd largest French-speaking city in the world, after Paris), English is very widely spoken.
Montreal is famous for its world-class summer festivals and events.
- Grand Prix Montreal – Formula 1 racing from June 5, 2015, to June 7, 2015
- Just for Laughs – A 3-week festival featuring top comedians from July 8, 2015, to July 28, 2015
- Mondial de la Biere – Canada’s largest beer festival from June 10, 2015, to June 14, 2015
- Montreal Film Festival – Spot your favorite celebrities from August 27, 2015, to September 7, 2015
- Montreal International Jazz Festival – The largest jazz festival in the world runs from June 26, 2015, to July 5, 2015
How to Go
You can fly to Montreal Trudeau International Airport on most major US airlines.
So for example, you can use the miles in your United Airlines or American Airlines account to fly round-trip for 25,000 miles.
Folks who live near New York City and Philadelphia can get to Montreal very cheaply using British Airways Avios points to fly American Airlines or US Airways. Or fly round-trip from Chicago or Charlotte for 15,000 British Airways Avios points.
Amtrak is another choice! You could transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points for a cheap Amtrak trip to Montreal from other cities in the Northeast Zone, like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, or Washington, DC. A coach ticket is only 4,000 points 1-way.
Where to Stay
Adventurous types or backpackers might consider staying in an auberge, or inn. Some of these are hostels which cater mostly to a younger crowd (dorm style accommodations), but often include free Wi-Fi, social activities, and occasionally private rooms. Prices can be as little as ~$15 per person!
You’ll also find lots of cheap options through Airbnb, many under $50 per night.
Folks new to Airbnb can currently save $25 off a $75+ reservation using my link.
3. Niagara Falls, Ontario
Emily and I enjoy visiting romantic places. So Niagara Falls, Ontario, could be an option that’s closer to home. But it’s also a great spot for families, weekend partiers, gamblers, and the occasional daredevil!
Just don’t try to go over the falls in a barrel (it’s illegal and you’ll be fined $10,000 – if you make it!). 🙂
There are lots of attractions at and around the falls, including Maid of the Mist (boat tour), Journey Behind the Falls (portals and observation decks below and behind the falls), Clifton Hill (arcades, rides, and restaurants), and Marineland (similar to SeaWorld but on a smaller scale). Or take a helicopter tour if you’re feeling brave!
How to Go
Niagara Falls, Ontario, is a short drive from Buffalo Niagara International Airport (~40 minutes). But you’ll have to rent a car (and bring your passports!) to drive across the border.
Paid flights to Buffalo are usually cheaper than flying to Canada. But shop around!
The Amtrak Maple Leaf train also stops in Niagara Falls on the way to Toronto.
So if you have the Southwest Companion Pass, you could travel very cheaply to Buffalo, because your companion flies with you for free on paid and award tickets. Southwest does not fly to Canada, so this is a great option.
If you’d prefer to fly into Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport, it’s about a 90-minute drive to Niagara Falls.
There are also shuttle and bus services to Niagara Falls from both Buffalo and Toronto airports. They’re usually more economical if you’re traveling as a group.
Where to Stay
Most major hotel chains are represented in Niagara Falls (on both sides of the border), and some of the hotels can be had quite cheaply using points!
Wine enthusiasts or folks looking for a quieter stay should consider 1 of the bed and breakfasts or inns at Niagara-on-the-Lake, ~25 minute drive from Niagara Falls. It’s like a 19th century village, with carriage rides, quaint shops, and live theater at the Shaw Festival.
I know Emily would love it!
4. Toronto, Ontario
Canada’s biggest and most multi-cultural city, Toronto, Ontario, is the 4th largest city (by population) in North America. It’s known for being clean and safe, and there’s no shortage of exciting things to see and do.
But you all might also appreciate:
- Canada’s Wonderland, home to 1 of the world’s tallest roller coasters
- Day-trips to the CN Tower, Toronto Islands, Toronto Zoo, Royal Ontario Museum, and The AGO, Art Gallery of Ontario (high on my personal list too!)
Toronto’s many ethnic neighborhoods for tasty food and bargain shopping, like Chinatown, The Danforth (Greektown), Gerrard Street (Little India), Kensington Market, or Little Italy
I’m not a big sports fan but I have friends who’d be excited to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame, see a Toronto Blue Jays game at the Rogers Centre, or visit during the 2015 Pan Am Games from July 10, 2015, to July 26, 2015.
I’d skip the sports to save time for more food exploration!
How to Go
You can fly nonstop to Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport from most large US cities. All the major US airlines fly here, except Alaska Airlines and Southwest.
And it’s only 4,500 British Airways Avios points each way in coach if you fly American Airlines or US Airways from Charlotte, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, or Washington, DC!
Where to Stay
Like many large cities, paid nights in Toronto hotels can be expensive. But if you stay using points, you’ll find dozens of options from every major hotel chain.
5. Vancouver, British Columbia
On Canada’s Pacific coast, Vancouver, British Columbia, is a nature-lover’s dream destination. Between the ocean and the mountains, there are so many outdoor activities to enjoy, including hiking, sailing, whale watching, climbing, and fishing.
Vancouver is very multi-cultural and has a significant Asian influence. It’s a city made for foodies (like me!).
Families and shop-a-holics would enjoy a day at Granville Island, which includes a public market, boutiques, and restaurants. And don’t forget to visit Stanley Park, a great spot for running, biking, or spending the afternoon at the beach.
How to Go
You can fly to Vancouver International Airport on most US airlines. If you live in Los Angeles, Portland, or Seattle you could get there cheaply using British Airways Avios points.
And from New York, there’s a great opportunity to fly Cathay Pacific Business Class or First Class using British Airways Avios points!
Because Vancouver is close to the Washington state border,
folks in that area could easily drive. Or take the Amtrak Cascades train (only 1,500 points 1-way in coach).
Another option is to take the Victoria Clipper ferry from Seattle to Victoria, British Columbia. Victoria is on an island (and is a beautiful destination on its own!) so you’ll have to take another ferry (or a seaplane ride!) to get to Vancouver.
But it would be a very interesting and scenic trip! Emily and I enjoyed a seaplane ride when we went to the Maldives last year for the amazing views!
Where to Stay
Vancouver hotels can also be pricey, especially in the summer. So check Hotel Hustle to see where you can book with points (there are lots of choices!).
And if you prefer to rough it, there are plenty of camping options not far from the city, including spots on the beach!
A cheap beachfront stay with no elite status needed! I like the idea. 🙂
Bonus: If you do visit Calgary, Montreal, Niagara Falls (New York), Toronto, or Vancouver you can apply for NEXUS. Approval gets you a Known Traveler Number which nearly guarantees you TSA PreCheck in American airports. It’s a great time-saver!
If you’re looking for Big Travel with Small Money this summer, consider a vacation in Canada!
That’s because the exchange rate between the US and Canadian dollar is very good, so your money goes further. But remember to use a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees!
From the world-renowned big city summer festivals to the spectacular National Parks, there are lots of interesting places to see in Canada this summer.
Emily and I want to visit soon!
Which places in Canada are on your list of favorites?