Calgary

Travel tips to help your loonie go further

The low Canadian dollar is taking some of the fun out of travelling this summer, but there are ways to help you stretch your loonies and even find some deals.

Europe and South Pacific emerging as good a travel bargains with the low Canadian dollar

Many people are staying closer to home this summer because of the low Canadian dollar. The Glacier SkyWalk near the Columbia Icefields in Jasper National Park only opened last spring, making it a possible new destination for many Albertans. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The low Canadian dollar is taking some of the fun out of travelling this summer, but there are ways to help you stretch your loonies and even find some deals.

Travel experts have some advice on inexpensive destinations and other tips that can help you save money even before embarking on a holiday.

The Canadian dollar is hovering around 76 cents, the lowest level since 2004

The dollar has certainly changed some travel habits, says Leslie Keyter, The Travel Lady, a travel agent for 20 years in Calgary. American destinations, such as Hawaii and Disney World, which are normally popular, are not the first choices because of the tanking Canadian dollar. But Europe seems to be attracting more travellers.

"People are looking at Europe. That has been very, very popular even though with the Euro quite a bit stronger against the Canadian dollar, it still seems to better buying power for Canadians than spending money in the U.S," said Keyter.

Here are some additional tips to help you be a more frugal traveller.

1. Be careful of changing currency

Mark Felgar, who runs GreedyRates, a website which compares credit card rates and offers, says try to avoid exchanging currency at the airport or at a hotel. Charges in excess of 10 per cent are typical. Banks will normally charge three per cent depending on how much money you're exchanging or what type of client you are. If you have time, make some phone calls to see which institutions have the best currency exchange rates.

You can also get currency through ATMs at your destination, but again, be aware of the fees, which can range from $3 to $5. Some banks also have international partners, such as Scotiabank, which is part of the Global ATM Alliance. It's connected to 50,000 ATMs in about 40 countries, allowing travellers to avoid surcharges and access fees.

Also try to find a credit card that doesn't charge a foreign exchange rate, which is typically 2.5 per cent. Though there are only a few in Canada, Felgar says Chase offers three, one through Sears, Marriott hotels and Amazon.

Many Canadians aren't aware that their credit cards offer insurance for trip cancellation, car rental and health insurance. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

2. Take advantage of credit card perks

You know that annual credit card fee you're charged? More than likely it's covering some travel perks, says Felgar. Many Canadians aren't aware that their credit cards offer insurance for trip cancellation, car rental and health insurance. It's not uncommon for travellers to be upsold into paying for these items twice. So be sure to read the fine print on your credit card policy to find out what you're entitled to.

3. Sign up for a new credit card

Felgar also recommends doing something called 'travel dollar churning.' He suggests scouting out credit card companies which offer incentives for signing up. You may get 25,000 points, which can help pay for a flight, hotel or rental car. "Churning is the game. Those that take advantage of the welcome bonus are the ones getting ahead," Felgar says. For long-term gain, consider applying for a couple of credit cards over a few months' time. "Suddenly you have a free flight or two at your disposal," said Felger. 

Portugal is proving to be a popular destination because of its affordability. (AP Photo/Armando Franca) (The Associated Press)

4. Wallet-friendly destinations
Spain and Portugal have emerged as two budget-friendly destinations, says Keyter. There are many affordable flights and cheap accommodation. "In the off-season, you could spend three to four weeks there for $1,700 a person." You still have to buy food, but prices are pretty affordable, she added. 

Greece is also likely to become much more affordable. As it wrestles with its economic woes, the country will be looking at bringing in more tourist dollars and there's good chance there will be some deals. 

If you've always wanted to go to the South Pacific, now is the time, says Keyter. The Cook Islands, for example, is affordable for Canadians because everything is in New Zealand dollars. You can save even more money by getting accommodations with a kitchenette.

5. Save with a staycation

Keyter says plenty of people are staying closer to home, too. Camping or road trips are cheap ways to travel in Canada while the weather is wonderful. It's also a good way to save for that beach holiday, in Mexico for example, once the weather turns cold again.

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