Finding good travel deals despite the falling Canadian Dollar

Palm trees in Sri Lanka (click for source)

Palm trees in Sri Lanka (click for source)

Fed up with winter weather so bitterly cold that your skin feels like it’s burning and the shock to your lungs of the super-chilled air makes your chest tense up — after just five minutes outdoors?

You are far from alone. Evacuating Canadians from the cold, if even for just a week, is big business during the first three months of the year. Statistics Canada data shows that, based on non-seasonally-adjusted numbers, more than three million Canadians returned to this country from countries other than the United States during the first quarter of  each of the three previous years — that is, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Most of these people will have been coming back from winter holidays in warmer climates.

Given the particularly severe weather this year, it should not be difficult for this number to hit three million once again. To illustrate how rapidly January-March tourism has boomed, consider this: the 3.1 million Canadians who returned from foreign countries other than the U.S during the first three months of 2013 represents an increase of:

  • More than 80 percent over the 1.7 million Canadians who returned from abroad in January-March 2003;
  • Three-fold over the 1 million Canadians who returned from abroad in January-March 1993;
  • More than six-fold over the 473,000 Canadians who returned from abroad in January-March 1983.

That rapid growth could be attributed in varying degrees to four things: a growing Canadian population; the strength of the Canadian dollar on foreign exchange markets in recent years; the discounting of air travel to the point that long-haul fares are comparable (after inflation) to the domestic fares of the ’80s; and the post-9/11 leveling of the playing field between the U.S. and more distant destinations in terms of both price and hassle factor.

The declining value of the Canadian dollar on foreign exchange markets in recent weeks, however, has started to put a bit of a chill on international travel by effectively driving up the sticker price of leaving the country.

Don’t let that dissuade you, however, from getting away from this unusually harsh winter. Even if the Canadian dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to on the exchange markets, here are four sites that can help you find value-for-money deals that will more than make up for our lower dollar:

The Economist’s Big Mac Index. Typically, we think about the strength of the Canadian dollar in comparison to the U.S. dollar. But a weaker Canadian dollar in U.S. terms can conceal other places where our Loonie, as we affectionately call our currency, can go a long way. The Economist’s Big Mac Index can help you find such deals. Simply look for countries whose currencies are seriously undervalued against the U.S. (and, often, Canadian) dollar. Hong Kong, for example, appears to be a bargain right now thanks to a dollar that is trading at nearly 50 percent below its purchasing power value.

Numbeo. Numbeo measures the cost of living in cities all over the world by collecting information from thousands of local users; and compiles it into a colour-coded map so that you can see which cities have the highest and lowest everyday living costs. If you’re interested in going to Europe, but a bit bothered by London or Paris prices, consider cheapish Portugal or the Croatian coast (which is apparently quite nice); or moderately priced Spain.

Also, check out Numbeo’s cost-of-living comparison page to get a better sense of how foreign everyday costs compare to Winnipeg’s, and their Hotel Index Map to find good deals on accommodations.

Google Flights. This site comes with a handy map of its own that allows you to browse around for destinations that offer the best bargains if you have a travel date in mind, but haven’t actually selected a destination. The menu at the top of the map allows you to filter out complicated itineraries, inconvenient departure times or airlines you dislike, as well as offering the ability to limit the map to destinations that are within your budget.

Amadeus. (Update, Jan. 28: Amadeus launched a drastically revamped web site today that is heavy on style, but has stripped away much of the functionality described below that made the site worth visiting in the first place. The hotel search engine is gone, flight options are more limited, the ability to filter out undesirable airports is gone, etc.) Once you have settled on a destination, this can be a handy site for seeking out good deals on both flights and accommodations. The flight search engine (click on Flights, then Best Fares) lets you search for deals from both primary and nearby airports, shows “hacker fares” where the price of buying two one-way tickets is less than that of a single round-trip ticket, and allows you to filter by departure time and stopover length.

The hotel search engine (click on Hotels, then Best Rates) allows you to set a maximum distance from the city centre or any other major landmark at your destination and to view all hotels within your nightly budget. Setting a maximum nightly price and then sorting the hotels from 5-stars to 1-star can unearth some excellent deals, such as the fact that you can get a room at the four-star Hotel Harbour View in Hong Kong in late March/early April for $120 Cdn. per night, or at some of Portugal’s most luxurious hotels for that same price.

Note that Amadeus displays prices in British pounds only. To convert British pounds to Canadian dollars, multiply by 1.8. To convert Canadian dollars to British pounds, multiply by 0.55 (or, divide by two and then add 10 percent).

Happy deal-hunting.

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About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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