5 Fun Places to Get Big Travel With Small Money This Summer in Canada

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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.

5 Fun Places To Get Big Travel With Small Money This Summer In Canada

Instant Discount! You’ll Get ~1.22 Canadian Dollars for Every US Dollar

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

Link:  Canadian Tourism Commission

Link:  Nexus (Similar to Global Entry for Travel Between the US and Canada)

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

Why Go?

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.

5 Fun Places To Get Big Travel With Small Money This Summer In Canada

You Could Enjoy an Unforgettable Canoe Trip at Lake Louise, in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

If just kicking back and relaxing is more your speed, you could soak your troubles away at the Banff Hot Springs.  And you might run into some wildlife, including bears, elk, moose, and bighorn sheep!

Don’t forget to wear bear bells and be aware if you’re out hiking on the trails.  I wouldn’t want to surprise a grizzly! 😮

How to Go

Calgary International Airport is served by many North American airlines, including Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, United Airlines, and US Airways.

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

5 Fun Places To Get Big Travel With Small Money This Summer In Canada

There Are Lots of Ways to Earn British Airways Avios Points, and Sometimes AMEX Membership Rewards Has Transfer Bonuses!

And if you travel in July, pack your cowboy hat and boots and head down to the Calgary Stampede!

5 Fun Places To Get Big Travel With Small Money This Summer In Canada

Eh, Y’all! Canada Has Cowboys Too! :)

Most folks rent a car to travel from Calgary to Banff (~90 minute drive).  But there are also bus tours available.

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.

5 Fun Places To Get Big Travel With Small Money This Summer In Canada

The Fairmont Banff Springs Is 1 of Only a Handful of Chain Hotels at Banff National Park

You could also search Airbnb or BedandBreakfast.com for stays in summer cabins or other unique accommodations!  TripAdvisor also has lots of reviews.

2.   Montreal, Quebec

Why Go?

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.

5 Fun Places To Get Big Travel With Small Money This Summer In Canada

Old Montreal Is Known for Its European-Style Sidewalk Cafes and Architecture

Montreal is famous for its world-class summer festivals and events.

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.

And remember you can transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to United Airlines when you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Plus, or Chase Ink Bold (no longer available) card.

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.

5 Fun Places To Get Big Travel With Small Money This Summer In Canada

It Only Costs 4,500 British Airways Avios Points 1-Way Between Cities Like New York or Philadelphia and Montreal

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

Most big chains have hotels in Montreal, including Hyatt, Hilton, IHG, and Starwood.  And there are many options for lower-tier hotels which can save you points.

5 Fun Places To Get Big Travel With Small Money This Summer In Canada

Do You Know All the Ways to Earn Hilton Points, Besides the Hilton Credit Cards?

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!

5 Fun Places To Get Big Travel With Small Money This Summer In Canada

If You’re Just Looking for a Simple and Clean Place to Stay, Consider Montreal’s Many Hostels, Which Are Very Inexpensive

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

Why Go?

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!).  🙂

5 Fun Places To Get Big Travel With Small Money This Summer In Canada

Get Up Close & Personal With 1 of the World’s Most Powerful Waterfalls on the Maid of the Mist Boat Tour

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! 

And if you’re feeling lucky, check out Casino Niagara or Fallsview Casino Resort.

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.

5 Fun Places To Get Big Travel With Small Money This Summer In Canada

Drive Across the Rainbow Bridge Between New York and Niagara Falls – but Don’t Forget Your Passports!

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.

5 Fun Places To Get Big Travel With Small Money This Summer In Canada

Return to a Simpler Time and Stay in Pretty Niagara-on-the-Lake

I know Emily would love it!

4.   Toronto, Ontario

Why Go?

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.

5 Fun Places To Get Big Travel With Small Money This Summer In Canada

The CN Tower, Once the World’s Tallest Free-Standing Structure, Dominates the Toronto Skyline

There’s so much to do in Toronto!  First on my list are the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (because I love classical music) and Second City Toronto (because I love to laugh!)

But you all might also appreciate:

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!

5 Fun Places To Get Big Travel With Small Money This Summer In Canada

You Could Fly Cheaply to Toronto (or Feel Like You’re Flying at CN Tower’s EdgeWalk!)

Toronto is also served by Amtrak and many cheap bus lines from the US, like MegaBus.

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.

And there are some unique spots to stay in, like the Renaissance Toronto Downtown Hotel, located at Rogers Centre (a retractable-roof stadium used for sporting events and concerts).

5 Fun Places To Get Big Travel With Small Money This Summer In Canada

Some Rooms at the Renaissance Toronto Downtown Hotel Have Stadium Views!

And definitely check Airbnb, TravelPony, and Hotwire for bargains!

5.   Vancouver, British Columbia

Why Go?

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.

5 Fun Places To Get Big Travel With Small Money This Summer In Canada

Ocean or Mountains? You Can Do Both in Vancouver, British Columbia

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.

5 Fun Places To Get Big Travel With Small Money This Summer In Canada

Something a Little Different: Harbour Air Offers Seaplane Flights Between Vancouver and Victoria

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!).

Occasionally, the Vancouver Hotel Destination Association runs very good hotel promotions!  They’ll sometimes give away American Express gift cards when you stay at their member hotels.

And if you prefer to rough it, there are plenty of camping options not far from the city, including spots on the beach!

5 Fun Places To Get Big Travel With Small Money This Summer In Canada

Connect With Nature: Beach Camping at Juan de Fuca Provincial Park

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! 

Bottom Line

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?

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