The Deal Detective is SmarterTravel's resident bargain hunter, Kate Hamman. She's always on the lookout for new travel deals and invites you, dear reader, to submit your own questions.
As you know, every week I try to uncover the truth behind a new travel deal and do my best to solve your travel questions. This week, I'm going to mix it up (just to keep you guessing) by starting with a reader question close to my heart, and then investigating a new "free airfare" deal from Holiday Inn.
Question of the Week:
Sudha writes, "My husband and I want to visit Niagara Falls sometime by June 2009. We'd like to take this opportunity to also check out Canada. The total trip time could be for 10 to 12 days. Could you please suggest the best time to go there and how to plan it regarding places to visit in Canada and around Niagara and things to do? Are there any specific websites I should check or any deals. We live in New Jersey. Thank you."
For starters, I have to declare my unwavering love and appreciation for Canada. From the rugged wilderness of Vancouver to the largely French-influenced cities of Quebec, the country offers an incredibly diverse range of things to see and do. With so many options, planning a trip can be a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, you've chosen a perfect starting point in Niagara Falls, and I think we can come up with an itinerary that will give you a great introduction to our neighbors up north.
Since you haven't given me many details on transportation, I'm going to suggest you fly from Newark to Buffalo and then rent a car. The best time to go depends on your budget and tolerance of cold weather. Prices and crowds drop in the winter, because the frigid temperatures keep most people at bay. With this in mind, two good times to visit are the spring and fall shoulder seasons, even though it can still get a bit chilly. All prices listed below are in U.S. dollars, and include taxes and fees.
I've chosen to price your trip for mid-April travel, and I was able to find round-trip flights from Newark for $199 per person. Renting a car through a company such as Hertz will cost about $415 for 10 days. So, for transportation alone—sans gas—you're looking at spending about $815.
Now let's turn our attention to the heart of the trip. In 10 days, you can see the natural splendor of Niagara Falls, drink wine in an English setting, visit a major city, tour Canada's capital, and enjoy a taste of French-infused Quebec.
I suggest spending the first two nights in Niagara Falls. The U.S. side is cheaper, though it doesn't offer the best views. Rooms start at about $40 through Hotels.com, and it's fairly easy to cross the border to the Canadian side during the day.
On day three, drive about half hour to Niagara on the Lake, where you can sip wine, explore the English-style city center, and tour the local vineyards. It's up to you if you want to spend a night here, but there are several great options, albeit a bit more expensive, for places to stay. Rooms outside the downtown area start at about $84 per night.
From there, travel about 90 minutes to Toronto, where you can visit exceptional museums, try food from around the world, and experience the big-city setting. Rooms start at about $64, and I would suggest spending two nights, so you'll have a full day to explore.
Your next stop is Canada's capital, Ottawa, which is about a five-hour drive from Toronto. The city features 30 museums, 50 galleries and theaters, fantastic shopping, and a true sense of Canadian culture. Stop by the ByWard Market for a quick bite and exciting shops. A one-night stay starts at about $73 per night.
After you've gotten your fill of history, drive about two hours to Montreal. Since the largely French-speaking city features such a wide range of activities, you'll probably want to spend two nights. Rooms start at $77 per night, but you may find deals on the city's tourism website. Popular neighborhoods to explore include old Montreal, the village, plateau Mont Royal (where you can climb a small mountain), and the underground city.
The seven-hour drive back to Buffalo will bring you through Syracuse, New York. Supposing you stay in or near Syracuse, you can find a room starting at $57 per night. However, you can travel back the way you came through Canada, and spend an extra night in Ottawa or Toronto if you prefer. The drive is just a bit longer.
So, without factoring in gas prices, food, and activities, the total cost for transportation and lodging comes to about $1,400 for two people.
As for researching your trip, I highly recommend reading the information provided on each city's tourism website. Many of them also offer deals and a slew of insightful things to do. You can order maps and guides that will help you maneuver around like a pro. I also suggest reading other traveler's reviews of hotels on TripAdvisor, our sister site, before booking. And as I always say, compare everything to make sure you're getting the best price.
Enjoy Canada! Also, I'd love to hear from any other readers who may have tips for Sudha about what to see or do in Ontario or Quebec.
Deal or No Deal?
Holiday Inn is offering a way to combat the rising cost of air travel with its Stay to Fly promotion. If you stay at a participating hotel by December 31, you'll receive vouchers for a $198 round-trip ticket between 198 cities in the U.S., or a $298 round-trip ticket to Canada or Mexico.
So, where's the catch? The biggest red flag for me is that the price of a hotel room is higher when booked with this deal than when booked through a third-party online travel agent. For instance, I searched for rooms near Salt Lake City for one night on October 15 through both HolidayInn.com and Travelocity. I found that it was $31 more expensive to book with Holiday Inn than Travelocity; however, you do get the flight voucher, which may makes up for the price difference.
The most important question of this deal, I believe, is if the voucher is really worth anything. Redeeming a flight voucher can be a headache, and, as we all know, the devil is in the details. In this case, you are emailed an award notification with a set of two ID numbers that must be registered at HIAirAward.com within 30 days of booking your room. Your flight must then be booked within three months with a specified travel agency for travel within six months of your online registration. The voucher only covers the flight's base price, and you are responsible for all taxes, surcharges, and baggage and security fees.
Flight vouchers can be tricky and are oftentimes more hassle than they're worth. However, if you have a great deal of patience and a tolerance for paperwork, then the deal is right up your alley and you'll assuredly save.
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