Greetings from small town America! It’s a great place to be, especially as I hear stories from friends back home that sound hugely similar to View from the Wing’s. What a mess I’ll be returning to…
I may be spending Canada Day in the good old US of A, but in honor of a worthy celebration, here are five trips you can take with miles and points next time you want to hit the beautiful, interesting, and friendly country of Canada. For American citizens, these places are easily accessible, great for long weekends, and definitely worthy of a visit.
How could I not start the list with my favourite Canadian city? Sure, I grew up just over the border from here, so it wasn’t really “going on vacation”, but most folks aren’t that fortunate and should make the effort to hit Toronto. It truly makes a great long weekend spot, with something to appeal to just about anyone. So what makes it perfect for a frequent visitor? Great dining, fun nightlife, Broadway-style shows, and shopping in all varieties. First-time visitors will also love some of the museums: my “kid-at-heart” husband still has a soft spot for the Science Centre, families love the zoo, and no one ever grows tired of the Royal Ontario Museum. Throw in a great view from the CN Tower, a day at the Canadian National Exhibition and round your summer visit out with al-fresco dining and a baseball game.
Fly There: Basically any frequent flyer program will get you to Toronto Pearson, with prices ranging from as low as 9,000 British Airways Avios from NYC and most programs charging 25,000 miles for a standard round-trip economy ticket.
Stay There: My husband swears by the Four Seasons centrally located near the designer shopping in Yorkville, but just a few subway stops away is the Hilton, a much more affordable option. It’s easy to hit the subway or walk through the “Path Network”, a system of underground walkways lined with shops that makes it easy to get around when you don’t want to deal with lake effect snow. The indoor/outdoor pool is great too, for all times of year. Other choices include hotels in all major chains.
Quebec City, Quebec
Anyone looking for an international experience without the long flight should head to Quebec. You truly feel like you’ve hit a bit of France, though English is also widely spoken. Definitely stop into the old section of town, great for just wandering, but also full of attractions for history lovers. The architecture is interesting to look at, and a perfect day starts with the Changing of the Guard at the Citadel. Learn more about the area afterwards at the Musée National des Beaux-arts du Québec and the Musée de la Civilisation. If you’re crazy like me, you’ll time your visit in the winter, in order to spend time cross-country skiing near the St. Lawrence River or dog-sledding at the Ice Hotel. Finish it up with a hockey game (how could you not?!) and a visit to the Winter Carnival.
Fly There: You’ll find plenty of service to Jean Lesage International Airport, but in some cases you may find it easier to fly into Montreal and drive (or rail) from there.
Stay There: Again, you’ll find hotels in all chains and price ranges in Quebec City, so getting a free night shouldn’t be an issue. If you’ve got a free night certificate, the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is stunning (or at least stop in for a cocktail), but the Courtyard Marriott Québec is much more practical, with an affordable price and great location. It’s category 6 rating makes it 30,000 points per night.
Canadian Rockies, Alberta
Obviously I’m a fan of the great outdoors, and the mountains in Alberta are breathtaking. Fly into Alberta and do yourself a favor by renting a car for as much time as you can afford. Hikers will find themselves in heaven with seven Canadian national parks within reasonable distance of Calgary. Even non-hikers will appreciate the beautiful scenery, potential wildlife sightings (I always recommend bringing binoculars), gondolas, and water activities like canoeing and rafting. My personal preference is heading their between July and September for perfect weather on outdoor activities, but cuddling in at some of these mountain lodges in the winter would no doubt be a romantic getaway.
Fly There: All major alliances have flights into Calgary, a great starting point for places like Banff and Lake Louise, and Star Alliance flyers in particular will appreciate connections to Edmonton, perfect if you’re heading to Jasper.
Stay There: Chain hotels are a little harder to come by in this region, with no Starwood, Marriott, Hilton or Hyatt properties in the mountains themselves (you’ll find them in Calgary and Edmonton, however). There is a lonely Holiday Inn in Canmore near the mountains in Banff for just 15,000 points per night, though you’ll find me either camping or settling in with a cabin rental.
Victoria, British Columbia
Here’s a secret: I don’t like Vancouver. However, I love nearby Victoria, a city that is entirely different! Here you’ll find a charming, relaxing place to spend a few days. A perfect day for me includes a morning at the Royal British Columbia Museum, afternoon tea at the Empress, and then a stroll through Butchart Gardens, sticking around for evening fireworks. The rest of the weekend could include activities such as whale watching (it’s a hot spot for orcas), biking down the Galloping Goose Trail, a pub crawl by evening, and just enjoying the Inner Harbour and its many street buskers, vendors, and float planes.
Fly There: Star Alliance makes it easy to head directly to Victoria International Airport, and Delta/American flyers can redeem awards through partner Alaska Airlines. For more options, consider flying to Seattle or Vancouver and then approaching the city via ferry. My wishlist includes a floatplane ride from Victoria to Whistler!
Stay There: Victoria screams Bed & Breakfast to me, just to add to its British feel, but if you’re looking for a free night, try the Marriott Inner Harbour for 30,000 points per night. You’ll easily be able to walk to the harbour, museums, great dining, and shopping, so you definitely won’t feel the need to rent a car in order to get out and about.
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
Fact: My father thinks it would be “fun” to road-trip 53 hours each way to Yellowknife. Fact: I think that’s a horrible idea, but thankfully you can still visit this remote location by flying in. This is another outdoor paradise with hiking, fishing, and more, but frankly I’d recommend heading here in the heart of winter. The aurora borealis are definitely viewable from this area, and what could be better than drinking cocoa and watching the northern lights while on vacation? Try some snowmobiling, curling, and broomball while you’re here and then head south to go home and warm up.
Fly There: You’ll want Star Alliance miles for an Air Canada connection to Yellowknife, basically the only way to get here by miles. Otherwise, expect a pricey connection from Calgary, Edmonton, or Ottawa.
Stay There: Hey, you’re not in a tourism hot-spot, so it shouldn’t surprise you that chain hotels essentially don’t exist. Enjoy an independent hotel for a few days, or turn in those Wyndham Rewards points for a night at the Super 8 (don’t worry: there’s a Tim Horton’s just next door for your morning coffee).