Sunday, December 13, 2009

Winter escapes, travels deals and tips for booking online

Many Canadians are making travel plans for the holiday season and may be trying to escape the cold weather.

It can be hard to know whether to book online, through a travel agent, or how to find the best deals on hotels, flights and more.

If you're thinking about a getaway, what is the first question you should ask yourself?

First, start with what type of experience do you want - adventure or relaxation, kids or no kids, etc. This means many things to many people. Get clear on what you and your family are looking for. It will help narrow down your possible choices.

How do you decide what's worth spending your money on?

That's where your budget comes in and what your family’s likes are.

Here’s a few scenario’s with costs for contemplation:
  • Going to the mountains (here in Alberta for example). Factor in gas, your car, hotels starting at $200 plus a night for a couple, ski lift tickets and so on. For a 4 day long weekend, that will likely run you $600 - $1,500 or more with food and beverage. That’s not factoring all the extras or taking the kids along.
  • Going to say Vancouver for a week at the Pan Pacific (I used the dates of mid January on for this example) will run you about $1,500 for two including flights (leaving from Edmonton). I’ll get to online bookings in a moment.
  • What about taking advantage of the low cost options down south? San Diego for a week in mid Jan at the Sheraton Hotel and Marina will run you about $1,300 for two with flights and accommodation, again, on
  • Looking for some sun? Lastly, a week at the Mayan Riviera in Cancun will run you around $2,000 for two, but it’s all inclusive. You have to know yourself as a couple and how much food and drink you’ll usually consume. You don’t have to worry about this at an all inclusive. This one was a 3 star…if you’d like to bump that up, the Grand Cozumel for example…4 and ½ stars will run you around $3,400.

Can airlines make a different to the kind of trip I'm taking?

Absolutely! Keep in mind that almost every US carrier has some baggage fee and a few are simply outrageous (up to $50 for your second bag). Also, as a Canadian, I'm used to the back of the seat TV's on all Air Canada and WestJet flights. Not so with most US carriers. So be prepared to bring a great book, a plethora of magazines and games for the kids if you opt for this option.

Booking online? What should you keep in mind?

I recently came back from a trip to San Diego, and for the very first time, but with great trepidation, booked my trip online. Generally my trips are booked for me by the company that hires me and many companies still choose to use a travel agent. Why? Well, lots of things can go wrong and flying in the winter is particularly sketchy at times. Thus, a human being anticipating problems is a must. Plus, the cost is a write-off.

But if you're booking a trip for personal use or wouldn't mind saving a few bucks, going online is the way to go.

I booked with Expedia. ca and was highly impressed. I was waiting to be dinged for extra fees at the hotel or airline check-in, but everything was billed as promised (other than baggage fees - but I was warned about that). Plus, the hotel I stayed at was fantastic, a huge suite and I was able to get a club floor upgrade - all for less than $100 Canadian a night - including taxes, which is pretty much unheard of. Being skeptical, I did call the hotel in advance myself to see what type of deal I could muster on my own. Even with my corporate rate, the fact that I'm a preferred Starwood guest, I couldn't get a price under $220 USD, so, Expedia really did deliver.

Here's some other sites to check out:

Happy travels!