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.
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.
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.
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
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.)
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)
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.
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.
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.
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)
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!)