We recently took a trip to the Canadian Rockies in September. People often ask me how I plan my trips, so this is a step-by-step guide on how we planned our trip to Banff.
One of the main reasons why we wanted to take this trip is because Parks Canada is offering free admission to their national parks for their 150th anniversary.
Banff Trip Checklist
- 4 nights
- Intent = 2 in Calgary + 2 in Banff
- Ideal = 2 in Lake Louise
2. Flights from SFO to Calgary
3. Car rental
I signed up for the Chase Fairmont card earlier this year for the two free night certificates. The card was discontinued in August.
Peak season rates for the Fairmont Lake Louise is usually $1099 CAD/night.
To book reservations using the Fairmont certificates, we had to call the reservation line on the back of the card. They don't have an online system, so the representative has to manually look through different dates.
On our first attempt, there were no consecutive dates available for Lake Louise. After doing some more research, we realized it was better to stay in Banff Springs because there are more attractions near the hotel.
We called a few weeks later and were able to secure two consecutive nights in September for Banff Springs. Another benefit was that we could use the suite upgrade certificate with the booking.
Bottomline, try calling the reservation line several times over the span of a few weeks to check for availability.
For the remaining hotel nights outside of the Fairmont certificates, I booked using Hotels.com. My goal was to spend less than $100 for hotels in Calgary. I booked the Marriott in downtown Calgary two weeks before the trip and found a deal for $97/night.
Pro-tip: Hotels.com has a 10% discount if you book using a mobile phone.
On the last night, we were supposed to drive back to Calgary, but we wanted to spend more time in Banff, so we canceled the hotel reservation. I booked a last minute hotel reservation at the Juniper Hotel in Banff and used my Hotels.com free night since I accumulated 10 stays.
The free night is equivalent to 10% of all your hotel.com stays, so my free night certificate was worth $119.77. I still had out of pocket costs to pay, which came out to be $68.65.
To book flights, I set up a Google Flights notification for deal alerts. I routinely check for flights on Tuesdays because that tends to be the cheapest day to book a flight.
Pro-tip: if you're planning multiple trips at the same time, set up a folder in your bookmarks bar to stay organized.
Flights to Calgary from SFO usually range from $350-$550, but we wanted to wait for a deal. We kept an eye out on Scott's Cheap Flights for a price drop. Luckily, a few weeks later, there was a deal alert.
The great thing about booking through the Chase Travel Portal is that discounted fares are also reflected. I used the Chase Sapphire Reserve and spent 15,872 UR points on a roundtrip ticket.
We booked a rental car using the Costco Travel Portal. From my experience, they usually have the cheapest rates and offer free upgrades or additional discounts at select locations.
I usually don't check anywhere else for rental cars unless the Costco rates are absurd. Since reservations are free to cancel, I typically make one at least a month in advance and then check what the prices are closer to the travel date.
Pro-tip: If you have to wait more than 20 minutes for a car, that usually means the rental agency ran out of cars, or they're slowly cleaning returns. Ask the agent nicely if they can do anything for you for the inconvenience, i.e., discount or free upgrades.
We waited an hour for the rental car, and the agent took off a day of rental and gave us a free tank of gas.
Here's the breakdown of the cards we used to book the trip:
- Hotels = Chase Fairmont signup bonus (certificate nights + upgrades)
- Flights = Chase Sapphire Reserve ( via Ultimate Reward points)
- Car rental = Chase Sapphire Reserve (for primary CDW)
- Airport Lounges = Amex Platinum + Priority Pass
- Everything else = New cards to hit minimum spend with no foreign transaction fees