I had the flights all picked out on Aeroplan in business class. There was availability on the preferred airlines on the right dates. The hotel points were ready to go. My father had mentioned wanting to take another jaunt over to Europe and it seemed like a great trip was in the making. But when it came time to pull the trigger, the urge to go overseas faded. It was replaced with a desire to visit more exotic places…like Parrsboro or New Ross.
Okay, time for Plan B. No miles needed but what about those hotel points? Not so useful in rural areas. So my mission was to find ways to save on stays of 1 or 2 nights for my parents in places where there are few or no chain hotel options. Hopefully something below can be helpful to someone reading.
I’ve sorted it into 4 different angles to approach budget local travel: finding deals and discounts, redeeming points, earning points or rewards for future use, and seeking ways to add value to your getaway.
1. Find Deals and Discounts
The starting point is the initial search for accommodation and rates. An easy way to do this is to check comparison websites like Trivago, Kayak, TripAdvisor etc. I’ve also recently started checking Google Hotels as well. All of these display rates available at various booking sites and give you a sense of what types of lodging are available.
If you’re a CAA member try a search on its travel booking website. Input your membership number and look for the “unlocked” symbol.
Check out any websites that offer travel deals such as Groupon or Travelzoo. Also be sure to check the official tourism website for your destination in case there are any special offers on lodging.
Currently on Travelzoo there is a promotion for Rodd Hotels, a Maritime hotel and resort chain. If you book the Travelzoo rate you get a $25 gift card to use at the hotel. For example, looking at the Rodd Charlottetown, the Travelzoo rate for August 29th is $121 plus tax. Booking direct on the Rodd Hotels website (while logged in for “private offers”) shows a price of $183.20 plus tax. Both are cancellable rates.
Bed & Breakfasts and Motels
One nice thing about smaller establishments like bed & breakfasts and motels is that their rates tend to be more static than chain hotels where rates can shoot up on popular travel dates. Of course, that also means availability at the best options will get snapped up quickly. You might also get a better price booking direct than through a third party website or there might be an interesting package offer that is only available by booking direct.
This a useful website for searching accommodation and reading reviews. As I understand it, reviews may only be posted by guests who actually completed a stay booked through the website, so they tend to be reliable. Another nice feature of Booking.com is the ability to make a reservation using a referral link to get a $25 rebate to your credit card after your stay. If you’re booking 2 nights you could book one in your name and credit card and the other one in your travel partner’s name and credit card to get another $25 rebate. The referrer gets a $25 credit as well. Need a referral link? Try this one. It’s my mother’s. She says thanks.
There are a number of vacation rental websites but Airbnb is the one that seems to have gained a lot of traction in recent years. I’ve never used it myself but I have used others like VRBO. Whatever vacation rental website you use, be sure to tread carefully. Read reviews and ask questions if you have concerns. Pay close attention to cancellation terms. You can often save quite a bit by renting a vacation property but make sure you’re well informed before you book. There are referral codes for Airbnb as well but I do not have one. Feel free to put one in the comments.
2. Redeem Points
When I think of redeeming points for lodging I automatically think of IHG, Marriott, Hilton and the like. But chain hotels are typically only found in larger centres and your travels might take you to smaller locales. But there are indeed ways to redeem points to save on your local getaway.
It’s possible to buy gift cards for booking sites like Booking.com or Hotels.com in either physical or digital form. Now, you cannot actually redeem loyalty currencies like Air Miles or PC Optimum points for gift cards. However, you can redeem those points for groceries and then buy a gift card or e-gift card with the cash you saved. So you redeemed for that gift card…in your mind. Some might say, why not just use the cash you saved for travel? Why buy a gift card? Well, for a few people, getting the gift card might make the trip more likely to happen when it’s something that tends to get put on the back burner.
If you collect RBC Rewards points you can redeem those for Hotels.com gift cards. Keep an eye out for promotions when you can redeem at a better than usual rate. If you collect the Avion version of RBC points, one could possibly say they have a higher potential value if converted to WestJet Dollars or British Airways Avios points, but if you don’t have any flying in your future then the gift card redemption is a good option. Be sure to read the terms for using gift cards on the Hotels.com website so you’re aware of the procedure and requirements. Note the value on Hotels.com gift cards can be combined onto one card over the phone.
Fixed Value Points
If you collect credit card points like TD Rewards or Scotia Rewards, for example, that’s another way to cover the cost of non-chain hotels. Each point program has its own redemption system. For instance, TD Rewards requires you to book through their own Expedia For TD portal. With Scotia Rewards you can book via your preferred booking site and then redeem your points against the travel charges on your credit card statement later.
3. Earn Rewards For Future Use
Despite the name, one can actually book all types of accommodation through Hotels.com and it has its own rewards program. When you complete 10 nights you get a free night equivalent to the average rate of the completed stays. This is a fairly popular booking approach because it’s reasonably straightforward and gives you lots of flexibility with your lodging choices.
A few things to remember:
- The property must be listed on the website as a participant in the rewards program
- If you use a promo or discount code the stay will NOT earn reward credit
- At some properties you may earn reward credit but a free night cannot be redeemed there
Go to the website for more details on the program.
Chain Hotel Promotions
If your plans include a stay or two in locations that do have chain hotels, you really need to consider the current loyalty program promotions. Here’s an example.
Choice Privileges has a frequent promotion where you get 8000 points after 2 stays. It might be described as a $50 gift card but it’s actually 8000 points. Be sure when you register that your account is set to earn Choice points and not Aeroplan miles etc. I learned this the hard way.
Anyway, say you book one night at the Comfort Inn in Yarmouth and one night at the Comfort Inn in Bridgewater. You’ll get 8000 points added to your account after your stay. I’m not sure how long it usually takes. If you don’t already have some Choice points in your account it will be difficult to find a hotel with a redemption rate of 8000 points during peak travel season in the Maritimes. Redemption rates vary by time of year and day of the week. But there is no limit on how many times you can earn the 8000 points and there are periodic sales of points that can be a good deal to top up your account.
Air Miles Travel Hub
If you’d rather earn Air Miles than other loyalty points, check to see what you can earn through the Air Miles Travel Hub. If you haven’t booked through this website previously, until July 23, 2019 you can get 100 bonus miles on your first booking when you spend at least $100 before tax.
Another approach is to click through to your booking website from a shopping portal like Ebates.ca, Great Canadian Rebates, Aeroplan e-Store, Air Miles Shops etc.
Earn BA Avios with Airbnb
In a recent development, one can now earn British Airways Avios points for Airbnb bookings. From Halifax, BA Avios points can be redeemed for American Airlines’ seasonal flights to New York and Philadelphia. They could also come in handy for short flights elsewhere on future travels.
4. Add Value To Your Trip
It’s a good idea if you can plan your stay around a local event. Although it doesn’t actually save you any cash in a real sense, doing something interesting adds value to your travel spending. It can be tempting to just hop in the car and see where the rough road takes you, but even a little bit of planning can pay off and make your short getaway a lot more fun. There are so many great festivals and events happening around the Maritimes. Do some online searching or ask around. My parents are planning to attend the Festin Acadien Avec Homard in Abrams Village, PEI for the third year in a row. I thought maybe they would mix things up a bit and do something different, but no, they want to go back. It’s guaranteed good times.
You don’t have to go far away to travel. There is a lot to see and enjoy close to home here in the Maritimes. It’s odd to think that I’ve been to several other countries but there are still so many places here in Nova Scotia I have yet to visit.