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Two things people I know really miss in the pandemic are live music and travel. We are still a ways from normalcy, but vacation plans are being made. “Travel spending is showing a pulse for the first time in more than a year,” the latest COVID-19 consumer spending tracker from RBC Economic report says. For some tips on getting the best value from your renewed travel spending, let’s check in with budget travel expert Barry Choi.

Q: Barry, travel seems an ideal way to celebrate the end of the pandemic, whether it’s in your own province, elsewhere in Canada or abroad. How big a surge in travel spending do you see coming in the next 12 months?

A: The surge in spending is already here. Many provinces have announced their reopening plans and the border to the United States is still shut. The combination of these two factors have led to an uptick in demand for local travel. Anything outside of the major cities is already seeing high demand this summer. I also suspect that as soon as more people are fully vaccinated and travel restrictions start to ease (including the hotel quarantine in Canada), then you’ll see many people book trips right away.

Q: What are you seeing so far in prices for airline tickets, hotels, cruises, tours and such? What do you see coming for prices once travel reopens to the U.S. and other countries?

A: Cruises and tours are currently offering some of the biggest discounts right now. For example, G Adventures has 20 per cent off 2022 departures, while many cruises are offering hundreds of dollars in free upgrades. Recently, Air Canada has quietly lowered their prices on a lot of domestic routes so there are deals to be had. Hotel prices have mainly stayed dynamic based on demand.

Q: Can you give us some tips for booking travel for the months ahead – I’m thinking about things like getting refunds if the pandemic doesn’t go away as fast as we hope.

A: Only book a trip if you’re satisfied with the refund policy. Paying more for a flexible policy could be worth it. You also don’t want to travel again without travel medical or trip cancellation/interruption insurance. As we’ve all learned, emergencies can happen at any time. Travel deals come and go quickly, if you see something that catches your eye, book it right away. Especially if it has a good cancellation policy.

Q: What are some websites and apps that can help keep travel affordable?

A: Travelzoo is one site I like a lot since they’re the most organized and have some exclusive deals. Anyone who wants to learn how to maximize their points for luxury travel should check out Prince of Travel. I also write about travel deals for The Globe and Mail’s travel section, but that’s on pause until demand picks up.

Q: With travel curtailed in the pandemic, there was a lot of talk about the appeal of cashback credit card rewards. Is it time to pivot back to travel rewards and, if so, what are a few credit cards that stand out to you?

A: Now is indeed the time to switch back to travel credit cards as there are some incredible offers available. The Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card has a welcome bonus of 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points right now. That gets you up to five nights at a category 2 hotel since Marriott gives you the fifth night free when you book four on points. There’s also the TD/CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card. The welcome bonus is worth up to 20,000 Aeroplan points and a Buddy Pass. Currently, you can convert your Buddy Pass to 30,000 Aeroplan points. That’s up to 50,000 points you could earn. For reference, I just booked two flights to Orlando from Toronto and it only cost me 38,000 points.

Q: What’s your first post-pandemic trip going to look like?

A: I’ve got a few speculative trips booked that may or may not happen depending on how things go. London to see family since I had to cancel a trip there last year. Orlando for the theme parks. I’m itching to ride the new Velocicoaster at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. I’ve also got the Bahamas on my list since I could use a break for a few days. I’ve always wanted to try the shark water slide at the Atlantis.


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Rob’s personal finance reading list

Bargain prices on domestic flights

CBC reports that the Air Canada and Westjet have been offering 20 per cent off their base fares for domestic travel. More information on bargain domestic fares here.

Which countries can Canadians visit?

The Y Deals website has a continually updated list of countries that Canadians can visit, and what you have to do get there.

The latest on federal travel restrictions

Keep track of rules for travelling outside the country, and returning to Canada.

Travel and the Astra Zeneca vaccine

There’s some uncertainty about travel to the United States for people who received the Astra Zeneca vaccine, which has not been approved by the U.S. Good and Drug Administration. Here’s a Twitter thread that suggests this policy is not widespread.


Today’s financial tool

Build a walking tour for a city you’re visiting using the GPSMyCity app for your smartphone.


The money-free zone

In keeping with the travel theme: Leaving on a Jet Plane, three ways. John Denver, Mary Wells and My Morning Jacket.


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