Exactly How Much I Spent (And Saved) on a 10-Day Trip to the Canadian Rockies

Exactly how much I spent - and saved! - on my trip to Banff and the Canadian Rockies.

If you follow me on Instagram, you won’t be at all surprised to hear that I spent 10 glorious days in the Canadian Rockies this month. Trust me, I have the panoramic mountain photos to show for it.

Sunshine Valley in Banff National Park - here's how much I spent on my trip to the Canadian Rockies.

Some people commented on the photos that they wanted to add Banff and the surrounding areas to their travel list, or that they were heading there in the next little while. To help out, I figured I’d share all the details on what we spent as two people travelling in the Rockies, and where we were able to save money.

Before the Trip

The trip was based around attending a family wedding, so luckily – and thanks to some very organized wedding-havers – we were able to book a lot of things with tons of advance notice, which helped a ton on the saving side of things.

Airfare

We were flying from Ottawa to Calgary, and because we had so much advanced notice, I actually signed up for an American Express Gold Card to take advantage of their 25,000 bonus points on signup (when you spend $1500 in three months.) Those points transfer one-to-one with Aeroplan points, which happens to be exactly the amount it takes to book a round-trip ticket within North America.

Because that only covered the base fare, and not the taxes and fees, I actually used points I had accumulated on my Scotiabank American Express card to cover the balance (and then promptly closed that card as soon as I spent the balance of my rewards. No one needs two Amex cards, you guys.)

Total Airfare Cost: $0.00
Total Airfare Savings: ~$701.00 per person, based on the current best price I can find for an Ottawa – Calgary round trip.

Accommodation

We lucked out with our accommodation situation, in that we “booked” four nights staying with family in Banff (yes, right in Banff!) With ten nights in total, we had six others to account for, and we paid for all of them ahead of time.

Two of those nights – the first and the last – we stayed in Calgary, close to the airport, to accommodate arrival and departure times that were…. let’s say not ideal. (We got in at 2AM and left at 6AM.) Those nights we booked through Expedia.ca, and found a great rate right nearby that included a free shuttle to and from the airport. Our total expenses for staying both nights near the airport? $117 per person.

The remaining four nights were spent in a ski chalet at Kicking Horse, in Golden, BC, which was the location of the wedding as well. Because we had a big group together sharing the chalet, it worked out to $191.00 per person for four nights – aka, less than $50 a night to stay in a gorgeous ski mansion.

Total Spending on Accommodations: $308.00 per person
Total Saving on Accommodations (Average of $52.00 per night): $205.00 per person

During the Trip

Car Rental

We booked a car almost as early as we booked our flights, and I made sure to book the rental car reservation on my American Express Gold card, to take advantage of their rental car insurance perk. I also redeemed Aeroplan points that I had leftover from some work expenses charged on my Amex to score a $100 Budget Rent-a-Car gift card, to help cover the rental costs.

And it’s a good thing I did, because when we showed up at the Budget counter at the airport, they insisted on charging us an extra $12 a day because the primary driver (The Boyfriend) wasn’t the person whose name was on the credit card (me.) The only way around it was to add The Boyfriend as a (very expensive) second driver, even though I literally didn’t get behind the wheel once during the trip.

But no, not bitter. Not bitter at all about $116 I could have spent elsewhere.

It was still cheaper than paying for insurance through Budget (which omg they quoted us at $30 a day for basic coverage, which I can’t find anywhere on their website) so we ate the cost, but friends: think twice about booking with them, and always ask about hidden fees.

Total Spent on Car Rental: $532.00
Total Saved on Car Rental: $340.00 ($100 from the gift card I redeemed points for, and I assume $30 per day in insurance for 8 days even though I can’t substantiate that rate to save my life now that I’m home.)

Food

As per one of Barry Choi’s excellent tips on saving money on food while you’re travelling, most of the places we stayed afforded us access to a kitchen, whether it was with family in their homes, or in a chalet with a better-equipped kitchen than the one we have at home. That meant that breakfast was always an at-home affair, which saved us a fair bit of money.

We may have been a tiiiiiiny bit less frugal than we would have otherwise been with our other meals, thanks to the aforementioned at-home breakfasts, but I wouldn’t have changed our experiences for the world. We got to try a huge number of local beers and delicious foods that made the whole 10 days feel very vacation-y.

As part of our food budget, we also contributed a round of groceries to the family chalet, and allowed ourselves a fairly generous drinking budget outside of restaurants as well. That all went into our general “Food” category.

Total Spent on Food + Drink: $350.76 per person
Total Saved: $250 per person (assuming $10 breakfasts at restaurants and $30 dinners on the nights we ate with family)

Incidentals

This is the “everything else” category, and I’m calculating my own incidentals only here, because one of them is “the backpack I bought to replace my sad old backpack whose zipper has long side gone to the zipper farm to play with the other zippers.”

It includes everything from thank you gifts for our hosts, to that backpack, to a stop at Shoppers Drug Mart for things I forgot to pack (can’t take me anywhere.)

It also includes a bit of money to cover dog incidentals that my amazing, fantastic, rockstar mom incurred while she dog-sat for us, but those are entirely offset by the literal hundreds she saved us by not having to kennel The Dog.

Total Incidental Spending: $272.16 for one person
Total Incidental Savings: ~$300.00 total from not kennelling The Dog.

Airports

Ok, we get no frugal points for our airport behaviour. Literally 0. No frugal Scooby snacks for us.

Since we booked our flights on points, you know we had a monster layover in Toronto on our way to Calgary – like, over seven hours long. So we did the reasonable thing, and spent the bulk of our ~$100 a day budget on eating and drinking at Mill Street in the Toronto Airport. For the amount of time we killed in comfort and with beers in hand? Worth it.

We also may or may not have treated ourselves to Starbucks drinks and snacks after a particularly turbulent flight that had me basically hugging the ground when we were back inside a building that wasn’t moving. Again, worth it.

Our grand total for airports includes one checked bag between the two of us, and the food and snacks we treated ourself to in the most overpriced, marked-up place on earth: domestic North American airport terminals.

Total Spent in Airports: $105.18 per person
Total Saved: Literally $0 we are luxurious monsters.

Attractions

This is one budget line item you definitely, 100% need to include if you’re planning a trip out to the Rockies. From the free omg-look-at-that views to the unbelievably-worth-it $40 gondola rides, here’s a list of every attraction we visited and what we spent there.

Banff National Park Entrance Fee – $39.20 (2 Adults, 2 Days)
On the way into Banff, we paid admission to get into the national park. Worth it for all the amazing free things we did while we were there! Bonus: if you know someone who has an annual pass, you should borrow it from them if they love you enough to lend it out.

Norquay Ski Lift Pass – $20.95 per person
This has to be the best view you can get of the town of Banff, and I’ll fight anyone who tells you differently. It also made it quite clear that the “hike” we did was the Banff equivalent of an easy Sunday stroll, because the other mountains make it look puny.

The view from the Norquay ski lift in Banff.

 

Cave and Basin Admission Fee – $3.90 per person
I had no idea what sulfur smells like until I found myself in an underground cave housing a sulphur hot spring that is, apparently, the birthplace of Canada’s national parks.

It smells like eggs and is horrible, but the museum is cool and worth visiting for sure.

Banff Park Museum Admission Fee – $3.90 per person
If you want old-timey history and taxidermied animals – which was literally what The Boyfriend had in mind when he said “let’s visit some museums” – this is the place to go. They have so many animals there you guys.

Sunshine Valley Gondola Ride – $40.95 per person
If you do one gondola the entire time you’re out here, make it this one. The gondola ride itself is super long and scenic, and it takes you up to these gorgeous, unbelievable fields on top of the world. Plus, it includes a ski lift pass that takes you right to the tip-top of the mountain, and the views were the best we saw the whole trip – which says a lot. (In the summer, it’s only open Friday – Saturday – Sunday though, so plan accordingly.)

That’s just the paid attractions, but for the low low price of $0 we also saw a gorgeous waterfall, hiked to the Lake Agnes teahouse at Lake Louise, saw Lake Morraine and Emerald Lake, hiked Tunnel Mountain in Banff, and saw the Spiral Tunnels (which is a train thing.)

Total Attraction Spending: $89.30
Total Attraction Savings: $19.80 (thanks to a very kind offer to borrow an annual Banff park pass for our last two days there!)

Our Grand Total Spending and Saving For The Trip

Drumroll please… For the entire 10-day trip to the Canadian Rockies, here’s what I spent and saved.

Spent: $1391.40 (per person)
Saved: $1815.80

 

There’s a reason I’m not a travel blogger, and it’s partially because I rarely travel, and partially because my best advice on how I saved money this trip boils down to “luck into having the most welcoming, helpful, wonderful family ever, and also have your mom take care of your dog for you.”

In all seriousness, travel for the sake of travel isn’t very high up on my priority list, but travel to spend time with family and people I love? That’s way up there. Beyond all the stupidly gorgeous Instagrams, that was the real purpose and highlight of the trip, and the time spent with amazing humans was worth so much more than we could have possibly spent to get there.

Plus, thanks to The Boyfriend and I both adopting some savings strategies ahead of time, we both covered the trip from our vacation savings accounts and incurred zero debt on the trip. Wooooooo!

Have you ever been to Banff and the Rockies, or do you plan to go in the future? I’d love to hear any ways you were able to save money while you were there, or experiences you thought were a must-see (so that other people planning their trips make sure to visit them!)

Desirae is on a mission to demystify and un-boring financial info for millennials, so that we can all save more money, spend on stuff that matters to us, and still have a latte or two along the way. Money is literally why we can have nice things, and Desirae is committed to helping make sure you know just enough to make the right calls for you. (She’s also committed to her expensive dog, her side hustle, and her retirement fund.)

33 Comments on “Exactly How Much I Spent (And Saved) on a 10-Day Trip to the Canadian Rockies”

    1. Desirae

      Right?! It was the perfect morning hike for us – not tooooo hard, but enough of a slope and distance that we felt like we had done something, haha. We got there super early as well and beat the crowds, and on our way down we were so grateful we weren’t travelling in packs!

  1. Alyssa Fischer

    How do you make me laugh even when you’re talking about museums and sulphur?! I’m so glad you guys had a chance to come out west and breathe in our beautiful mountain air. I’m assuming you’ll be coming back on the reg. Because, well, it’s beautiful. (And I will force you).

    I’m impressed with your savings! You’re hired to plan my next trip.

    1. Desirae

      Ok so for real, I read this and had a panic attack that I had spelled sulfur wrong in my post. Fun fact, I looked it up on Wikipedia and both spellings are technically accepted in Canada! (Insert “the more you know” gif here because I don’t know how to do that in a comment.) And we actually will be back, but probably not before the Awesome Epic Sleepover that will be CPFC. SO EXCITED, OMG.

      And thank you! I like to pretend I’m a travel hacker.

  2. TJ

    My first “solo trip “, and by “solo”, I mean I booked a shuttle van to the airport and flew to Vancouver by myself and hopped on a tour bus to explore the Canadian Rockies. While I enjoyed Vancouver itself, along with Whistler, (this was less than two years after the olympics were there, so that was pretty cool), and Lake Louise definitely has a great photo op on a clear day, but the highlight was definitely the two nights we spent in Jasper and two nights in Banff. Most of our tour was in hotels, but in Banff, we did stay in the chalets. Our chalets were very close to a hostel that we could walk to for karaoke and shenanigans.

    Did you by chance check out the BeaverTails pastry shop ? Maybe a tourist trap but it was pretty tasty.

    Funny story about my Canadian Rockies adventure, I was flying out of Orange County CA and there is only one flight from SNA to Vancouver per day, and It is on WestJet, and this is the only flight that WestJet was operating out of that airport. My plane had a flat tire. They actually had to have someone drive a tire from LAX and my filght was delayed long enough that the airline gave us vouchers for two meals.

    1. Desirae

      Oh man, I live in Ottawa, home of the first permanent Beavertails store! Trust me, I grew up on those, and they are amazing. The best one – and don’t let anyone tell you differently – is the Killaloe Sunrise. It is a classic. If you haven’t had that one, you’ll have to come back and get one.

  3. Rosemarie

    How we saved on our trip to the Rockies last summer:
    – Camping in BC Recreation Sites (free! and you can look them up on the Internet)
    – Camping on crown land (free!)
    – Camping in BC parks campsites instead of private campsites
    – Borrowing guide books from the library
    – Renting a car from a private car rental instead of a big name car rental centre
    – Credit card car insurance
    – Eating out only sometimes

    1. Desirae

      Ah yes, camping! The classic frugal choice for people who are way tougher than I am, lol. I’m such a wimp and have never really gotten into the whole camping thing – but from driving by some of the campsites, it looks like there were some bonkers-scenic places to do it in the Rockies!

      Also, what is this private car rental?! I want that. I hate big name car rental companies (which was probably obvious in the post, lol. If not, I drastically understated my experience.)

    1. Desirae

      Not a ton actually, we’re definitely only “Ottawa active,” not “Mountain active.” (Seriously, why is every mountain person the fittest human alive?!) We did the Lake Agnes tea house, Tunnel Mountain in Banff and Johnston Canyon – more “walks” than hikes, lol.

  4. Andrew

    Awesome to see how someone else did spending wise on their trip to Banff this summer. I love how there is no such thing as a bad picture in the mountains, they all look awesome. Super post Des!

    1. Desirae

      Right?! It’s like yeah, my Instagrams were nice and all, but it would be even more impressive if they sucked! I loved checking out your spending recap too – so fun to see how other people do it!

  5. Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies

    You nailed it. And those photos, oh the photos! This gives me the travel bug so bad. I am opening a Chase Sapphire card this weekend. Hopefully, that means a fun trip is in the future…and not just grad class tuition payments 😉

    1. Desirae

      I’m just jealous at the amazing rewards you guys get for opening credit cards in the States! This was probably my one foray into “travel hacking”, and I’ll be retreating back to my no-fee cashback card soon enough, haha. (Also if you manage to travel and teach and do grad school and tutor, can you teach me how to live?)

    1. Desirae

      Thank you so much! Haha I mean, realistically, that’s if we hadn’t tried to save anything at all – but on the other hand, it’s not so far off what people routinely spend on vacations, so I’m still pretty pleased with our results!

  6. Casey

    The insurance is indeed$30. I’ve gotten it before. And usually the secondary driver is free if he is your common law spouse!! You should have argued that

    Glad you had a good trip! I’m currently on the other side of the country in cape Breton 🙂

    1. Desirae

      UUUUGGGGHHHHH I tried arguing it but we were late for a coffee with a friend and I didn’t have the time to really fight with them much more than I did. Sadness factory too, because it did seem like a totally ridiculous policy – especially since for all they know, we could be married and I just kept my name! It bugs me on so many levels to this day.

  7. The Dividend Mogul

    Hi,

    First time visiting the site! I have never been there but looks beautiful from the pictures! The first thing I thought of when you mentioned the credit card was that she better have taken advantage of free collision insurance. To my delight, you did! Sounds like an amazing trip for the price you paid and for 10 days!!! You’re not a travel blogger….but maybe you should as it was very easy to read and gave us some great tips!

    -TDM

    1. Desirae

      Thank you so much, and three cheers for credit card collision insurance, right?! I couldn’t even believe the amount the people next to us were being quoted. By the time they asked me if I wanted to get insurance I all but screamed “NO” and threw my Amex at them lol.

  8. Julie @ Millennial Boss

    Laughing at the “I’ll fight anyone who tells you differently” line. Too funny. Your instagram pictures made me want to go to Banff immediately. Looks like it was a decently frugal trip with the airline miles/staying with family/borrowing the parks pass. I think your next move needs to be contacting Travel Banff (if that exists) and get some kind of travel blogger sponsorship to go back. Scratch that, maybe I’ll do it! 😉

    1. Desirae

      You should totally do it! Meanwhile, I’ll focus my pitching efforts on getting sponsored to come out to California, because as usual, your “this is just a regular weekend hike” photos are to die for.

  9. Rue

    I ~think~ I’ve been to Banff…but I think I was also like 16 and completely annoyed about a ridiculously crammed van full of family (2 of whom don’t travel well at all)on a 12 hour drive (we went to Edmonton at some point in this trip too) so I definitely don’t remember appreciating any of it.
    We actually stopped at a lake and I had to pay out of my own teenaged pocket to rent a canoe on my very own teenaged birthday (I was so mad)

    This year is too late but next year I think definitely I will have to take a long weekend and drive here because you made it look and sound amazing. Amaaazing.

    If you ever go back to Alberta, I do remember the dinosaur stuff being super cool. The Royal Tyrell museum was pretty awesome.

    If you ever come to Vancouver, I will totally take you around! No frustrating car rentals needed 😉

    1. Desirae

      Ahhhh Vancouver is on my list and don’t joke, because I will TOTALLY take you up on this offer! Banff is definitely the kind of trip I think is better as an adult than as a teenager (although as a little kid it would be pretty fun too!) First of all, beer, and second of all, getting to explore in the way you want to without family compromises is the best part. It’s so variable, in that you can be a sloth (hi, it me) or do grim treks every single day, and basically everywhere in between the two extremes. Going at your own pace in the mountains is A+!

  10. Scott @ Couple of Sense

    Haven’t been to the Rockies but seeing the rest of our glorious country is next on our to-do list; and we’ll be revisiting this post for some additional tips when it is time. Sounds like an amazing trip with splurge spending in all the right spots!

    1. Desirae

      It really was amazing! I’m a big fan of exploring in our own (very wide) back yards, haha, especially with the US exchange rate as it stands right now. There are also a huge amount of road trips on my list from Ottawa over the next few years, and those should be fun as well (And of course, will come with their own detailed budget breakdowns!)

    1. Desirae

      Hahaha someday, I promise! Trust me, San Francisco last year for work was enough “climbing” for me for a while. Those hills are no joke!

  11. Amanda

    Ughhh rental car companies. Ask Y about our experience in Scotland :/ I have recently discovered you can rent cars at Budget/Enterprise etc. through the Costco website and it is cheaper! I know you’re a member, so def. keep in mind for the future 🙂

    I’ve been to the Rockies a few times when I lived in Edmonton (I never ventured outside of the obvious areas because I have a deep fear of bears, specifically grizzlies, lol) – one of the most beautiful places on earth IMHO 🙂

    1. Desirae

      OH MAN I think I knew that about Costco too, and it totally slipped my mind! Thank you Amanda! (And I will totally ask Y about that story, car-rental horror stories are my jam.)

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