If you like museums, then you’ll probably like Washington. The many Smithsonian museums are excellent and free and open every day of the year except Christmas. In addition to the museums, I’ve enjoyed visiting Ford’s Theatre, the National Archives, the Memorials on the National Mall and Arlington National Cemetery. The sightseeing is easy and inexpensive so I thought I’d pass along a few tips on getting there and staying there.
The first consideration is when to go, and from a budget perspective, it’s an important one. That’s because hotel rates tend to be lower on weekends in Washington and significantly lower around U.S. holidays. Below are some examples of times when you can get a great deal on accommodation. Note that I’m using CAA rates. The advance purchase rates would typically be a bit lower and the standard rates a bit higher. I’ve also included a hotel located across the Potomac in Arlington, Virginia. It’s conveniently close to the Rosslyn metro station and it only takes a short time to get to the museum area. Buy a reloadable SmarTrip card when you arrive.
Labour Day Weekend Sept. 1-5
Washington Hilton $87 USD (where Ronald Reagan was shot)
Hyatt Arlington $90 USD
U.S. Thanksgiving Nov. 23-27
Crowne Plaza – The Hamilton $108 USD
Grand Hyatt Washington $117 USD
Christmas Season Dec. 16-31
Holiday Inn Washington Central – White House $104 USD
Courtyard Washington, DC/Foggy Bottom $98 USD
These are just a sampling of a few hotels and many of these rates will change so it’s good to check the booking site periodically.
The next task is getting there cheaply. Three airports serve Washington: Dulles (IAD), Baltimore (BWI) and Reagan National (DCA). Reagan National is the most convenient as it’s closest and connected by metro. But it also tends to be the most expensive to fly to from Maritime airports. I checked fares for Sept. 1-5 and Nov. 23-27 and found the cheapest on the September dates was Halifax to Dulles on Porter at $432 (using one of their frequent promo codes would bring it down a little, and Sept. 2-7 it drops to $360). In November, Porter is again cheapest at $405 but drops to $360 if returning a day earlier or later. The fares to Reagan National from Halifax are $500+.
You might want to use some Air Miles or Aeroplan miles for this trip. From any airport in the Maritimes the Air Miles required to fly to Washington is 1500 in low season and 1900 in high season. High season is June 1 – Sept. 15, Dec. 16 – Jan. 7 and Mar. 1 – 31. With Aeroplan one can book a short-haul reward with 15,000 miles. This flight must be entirely on Air Canada planes and will include a connection in Montreal. (Connecting in Toronto or Ottawa will bump it up to 25,000 miles). You also have the option of including a stopover in Montreal of however many days you wish.
The challenge now is finding the availability to use one of these reward currencies. When I searched the Air Miles site just now for Sept. 1-5 Halifax – Reagan National (DCA) for 2 passengers, there were several options on Air Canada at a discount rate (1520 instead of 1900 due to a 20% off promo) with taxes and fees of $153.48. Same from Moncton. There was no availability at the base level from Sydney, Saint John or Charlottetown so with the discount they were 1976. Fredericton was higher at 2128. I should mention that I’m using an Onyx account to search which apparently gives one preferred access to flight availability although I don’t know how “preferred” it is.
Next I checked Nov. 23-27. From Halifax, lots of choices at the base 1500 level for off-season dates. Again, similar results from Moncton. And as with the September dates, Saint John, Charlottetown and Sydney are higher at 1950 and Fredericton highest at 2100. My Aeroplan search didn’t go so well. There was outbound availability from some airports via Montreal but no return flight options that would keep the miles amount in the short-haul category. However, it’s possible to book a one-way for half the miles with Aeroplan and try to find a reasonable one-way fare home. Perhaps Aeroplan availability will appear, or perhaps it won’t, but it’s worth it to keep checking often in case it does.
This highlights the benefit of collecting more than one type of miles or points. Air Miles gets a lot of flak, but in this case they would be a good value for a nice budget trip.
One final note on sightseeing. I like walking tours that don’t require advance booking – just show up at the meeting point. I did one such tour in Washington and it was very good and free (tips only). Here’s the link.