Cheap vacation spots even a lower loonie can’t spoil

With March break coming up and the loonie at a low, a lot of Canadians looking to get away find themselves in a quandary: where to go for a budget-friendly vacation?

“If you’re thinking of going to Florida, well, you’re going to pay the price,” CIBC deputy chief economist Benjamin Tal told Yahoo Canada Finance recently.

Some tour operators have started adding a currency surcharge to offset the drop in the value of the loonie against the U.S. dollar.

But the currency conundrum doesn’t mean you have to write off trips to the U.S. entirely, some travel experts say.

“With holiday destinations so reliant on visitor income, local businesses as well as airlines are well aware that they’re better off at the fullest capacity in most cases, so deals are still available,” says Jason du Sautoy, executive director of supplier relations at Flight Centre Canada.

There’s also the price gap to consider. “We all know that once you’re in the States, the cost of consumer items and services is traditionally substantially lower than in Canada anyway, meaning that we’re still able to feel like we’re getting a bargain even at a 10 per cent on the dollar premium,” du Sautoy says.

If hot spots like Miami and Disneyland are still out of reach financially for people committed to an American getaway, pull out the map as there are plenty of other destinations to choose from.

Before the loonie started to take a dive, readers of Travel + Leisure picked the best U.S. cities to visit for an affordable vacation in a survey last year.

Kansas City topped the list because of its reasonable hotel prices, free admission to several galleries and museums, and budget-friendly barbecue restaurants. Other favourites included Nashville (great microbreweries), San Antonio (it costs nothing to visit the Alamo mission), Memphis (omnipresent talented street performers), family-friendly Salt Lake City, pedestrian-friendly Savannah, and Houston, where restaurant meals are $3 cheaper than the national average.

Looking for a sun spot?

Even cheaper getaways exist further south.

“The obvious and perennial favourites are Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica,” du Sautoy says. “All of these countries have plenty of great value hotels and resorts, many packaged as an all-inclusive with flights and transfers from Canada at prices that are well below cost for the last-minute traveller who doesn’t mind a reduced selection of hotels or destinations to choose from at this late stage in the winter.

“Most of the popular spots book out well in advance, of course,” he adds. “In this instance supply and demand will dictate the price more than the value of the Canadian dollar against the U.S. currency.”

Another economical travel option is to be a curious Canuck.

“Stay close to home,” suggests Ilana Valo, vice president of the Travel Network Corp. in Toronto. “There are so many beautiful destinations within Canada. Within a couple hours of most cities, you can find a number of fantastic country resorts, B&Bs, and retreats for everyone’s tastes and budgets.

“Porter, WestJet and Air Canada are constantly having sales to various destinations in Canada,” she adds. “Subscribe to their emails and stay up to date on their latest sale destinations. Hop on a plane to another Canadian city that you haven’t seen before. Montreal is always a favorite long weekend destination of mine: great food, a wonderful selection of boutique hotels, and fabulous shopping.”

Having a travel advisor is another way to get the inside scoop on exclusive promotions. You can also score deals by being open to adventure.

“Often there are good deals to be had as long as you’re flexible regarding where and when you want to go,” Valo says. “Travel outside of peak times and either right before or right after a destination’s high season to take advantage of the best savings.”

Another option, of course, is to have a staycation, playing tourist in your own town and even booking a night or two at a hotel. Inquire about local residents’ rates and other discounts. Then sit back and relax.

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