Tag Archives: Expedia.ca

Travel hacks for your wallet and your waistline

My husband and I recently spent a lovely fall week in Kelowna, B.C. It was a pleasure to travel domestically and not have to worry about passports, currency, customs and exorbitant surcharges to use our cell phones. But as always, there were a few things that worked out really well along with several hiccups that were a learning experience.

Getting there and back
I booked our tickets on Air Canada through Expedia.ca. My rationale was that instead of checking the websites of different airlines I could compare flights and prices all in one place. We ended up going on Toronto-Vancouver-Kelowna and returning Kelowna-Calgary-Toronto. The layovers were each about an hour and we weren’t pressed for time so it didn’t really matter. But as we were waiting to board on the way home there was a direct Kelowna-Toronto WestJet flight which I certainly would have selected if it had been offered as an option by Expedia.

Also, when booking on Expedia I still had to go to the Air Canada site to select seats which I forgot to do until several weeks before we left. I usually try to book bulkhead or wing seats and pay extra because I prefer more leg room. But I was shocked to learn that for the purpose of pre-selecting seats, our travel was considered to be 4 separate flights and we were charged accordingly.

Options were limited by then. So by the time I selected two aisle seats for each of us going out, the charge was $40 ($10 each for two flights), two front seats from Kelowna to Calgary ($20 x 2) and two bulkhead seats from Calgary to Toronto ($50 x 2).  The additional charges were over $200 including taxes! Direct flights would have cut these surcharges in half.

To add insult to injury, we had to pay $25 each to check one bag. Apparently this is common practice, but it’s been a long time since we flew within Canada and I wasn’t aware of this policy change introduced several years ago. The good news is that in both directions my second bag (a small roller board carry on) was checked in free at the gate. Of course, if you are traveling only with carry on luggage to avoid long waits for baggage on arrival you will not want to relinquish your bag, even if you are offered the opportunity to do so at no cost.

There is also no longer any “free lunch” or any other meal if you fly economy. Food is sold on the flight, but it is typically overpriced and popular items frequently run out. In addition, depending on when your flight is scheduled, food and drink may not be offered when you are actually hungry. We packed home-made sandwiches and fruit for both our trips out and back and we were glad we did.

Accommodations
We have a shared-ownership property in Muskoka which gives us 5 weeks a year. We were able to trade one week for a condo at The Royal Private Residence Club (a Delta property) in downtown Kelowna. The apartment was spacious with a full kitchen and a laundry room with a washer and dryer.

Similar properties are available for rent in many North American cities and worldwide. They are particularly cost-effective if you are traveling with a family and will have to rent more than one room. Furthermore, because kids don’t have the patience to eat three meals a day in a restaurant and constant eating out can be prohibitively expensive, a kitchen gives you the flexibility to eat what you want, when you want. And you need less luggage if you can throw in a couple of loads of laundry part-way through your trip.

AirBnB also has listings for everything from rooms to full apartments in most cities, offering similar amenities. They are generally much less costly than hotel rooms and can be more comfortable for both individuals and families than a basic room. 

Transportation
I also booked a pre-paid rental car on Expedia with Hertz. When we arrived at the Kelowna airport they said I was the named driver because I made the reservation and that it would cost $90 to add my husband as a second driver. I refused and after calling a supervisor, Hertz agreed to reverse the charge. However, because the car was booked by Expedia and not directly with Hertz, they had all kinds of problems figuring out how to change the designated driver and amend the contract. After over an hour of unsuccessfully trying to get the computer to accept the changes, they had to get a supervisor to write up a new paper contract!

I subsequently learned from various friends that other car rental companies add additional drivers at no cost. Also, there is significant variation between available deals for a one week rental and I should have done more research before pre-paying through Expedia.

What I learned
We had a great trip. Nevertheless, I have learned:

  • It is always better to compare price and features of each component of a trip on competitor websites and book directly with the preferred vendor instead of using an aggregator.
  • Given the opportunity, we will always select an efficiency unit or apartment instead of a basic hotel room when traveling for a long weekend or a week to a single location.
  • Making breakfasts and a few dinners in the condo can save a bundle and ensure there are yummy leftovers for lunch on the long flight home.

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Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

What to do on your staycation

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

I am convinced that there are two kinds of people in this world. The first group includes workaholics who never use up all of their paid vacation days. The second group carefully plans how each vacation day will be used and yearns for more.

This dichotomy was recently illustrated in the results of the 2013 Expedia.ca Vacation Deprivation Survey which revealed that employed Canadians forfeit an average of two days of vacation per year which could be used to relax or travel. This amounts to 32 million untaken days and $5.1 billion in wages handed back to employers.

Yet many Canadians show a strong desire to take time off, with one in five employed Canadians saying they would take a lower salary for more vacation time (22 per cent). Also, “an extra vacation day” tops the list of perks employees would like to receive as a reward for company loyalty.

In many organizations vacation days cannot be carried over to the next year, so it’s “use it or lose it.” But even if you can’t afford to take expensive trips to exotic locations, there are plenty of good options for taking a staycation close to home.

Wikipedia describes a staycation as “a period in which you or your family stays home and participates in leisure activities within driving distance, sleeping in your own beds at night.” You might make day trips to local tourist sites, swimming venues or engage in activities such as horseback riding, paintball or visiting museums.

The benefits of staycations are that they are far less costly than a vacation involving travel. There are no lodging costs and travel expenses are minimal. However, to make it feel like a vacation, budget for local trips, one or two meals out and tickets to local attractions.

Since 2011 the Government of Saskatchewan has funded the “Saskatchewanderer” project. One creative, energetic and motivated student has been hired each summer to discover everything that makes Saskatchewan great. Their job was to visit, video and blog about special events, little known gems and remote locations in the province.

You can learn from their experience. Andrew’s 2011 Adventure, Jeff’s 2012 Adventure and Caitlin’s 2013 Adventure include lots of terrific ideas about things to do on your staycation regardless of what part of the province you live in. Also check out the The Saskatchewanderer on Facebook.

Already this summer, a few of the places and events Caitlin has visited include Regina’s 46th Annual Mosaic: A Festival of Cultures; the PotashCorp Children’s Festival in Saskatoon; Grasslands National Park; and Hudson Bay, SK.

In contrast, Jonathan Chevreau, the editor of Moneysense and author of Findependence Day has a different take on staycations. In a blog posted on June 17th, he says one type of staycation is where you continue to work, but on your own projects rather than for your employer. You can also tackle various chores or home improvement projects.

If you still have a day job but have reached the point where you have several weeks of paid vacation a year, Chevreau says you may find a working staycation is an excellent trial run for retirement. He wrote the first edition of Findependence Day in the summer of 2008 during paid vacation weeks from his newspaper staff columnist job.

Whether you decide to travel on your vacation or spend the time working on pet projects closer to home, don’t forfeit paid vacation days. In years to come, no one will have fond memories of the extra time you put in at the office. But your children and your grandchildren will remember your quality time together, even if you went no further than the pup tent pitched in the front yard.

Do you have tips for people planning staycations? Share your tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

8-Aug Garage sales How to make money on your garage sale
15-Aug Back to school Back to school shopping: A teachable moment
22-Aug College/University Stay at home or go away to school?