Before booking your flight, check airline websites for seat sales and special offers. Air Canada (www.aircanada.com) and WestJet (www.westjet.com) both have a special offers page. Also be sure to visit online travel sites, such as Flight Centre (www.flightcentre.ca), Expedia (www.expedia.ca), Orbitz (www.orbitz.com) and SideStep (www.sidestep.com), which enable you to compare different carriers' fares.
Those willing to travel at off-peak times are also more likely to find better prices. "If you have the flexibility in your schedule, you can volunteer to get bumped off an overcrowded flight in exchange for an airline credit," says Shel Horowitz, editor of Global Travel Review, an online publication at his website (www.frugalfun.com).
This summer, kids travel for free between June 1 and Sept. 15 on Via Rail. Via Rail also sometimes runs discounts on certain routes. Check their website (www.viarail.ca) for special offers. During the rest of the year, children aged two to 11 pay half of the adult fare and full-time students with an International Student Identity Card are eligible for 35 per cent off the regular adult fare in economy class.
As for car rentals, you may qualify for a discount if you are a member of an association. For example, Canadian Automobile Association members receive 15 to 20 per cent discounts on standard rates at Hertz. And read the fine print. "Sometimes it's cheaper to rent a car for a week than five days," says Horowitz. You might also consider joining a car-sharing club such as Zipcar if your family is travelling to Vancouver or Toronto and doesn't need a car for the entire duration of the trip. Sign up for a membership online at www.zipcar.com. Rental costs are, on average, $9.75 per hour (in Vancouver) or $10.50 per hour (in Toronto) or $69 a day, along with a $55 annual fee and one-time fee ($25 in Vancouver; $30 in Toronto).
Page 1 of 2 -- Save money on accommodations with tips on page 2!
Comparison-shop on travel websites for the best hotel deal. Horowitz recommends calling individual hotels and national chains to find out if there are any special rates available. Consider other options for accommodation, such as joining a homestay network like Servas Canada (canada.servas.org).
Homeowners may enjoy a house swap with another family. The only charge is joining a house-swapping agency, which connects you with other interested families. HomeLink International (www.homelink.ca) charges $130 per year and Home Exchange (www.homeexchange.com) costs $99.95 US per year.
Or, consider staying at a bed-and-breakfast. "They're not all cheaper than a hotel, but many are less expensive for a comparable room," says Horowitz. The website BBCanada.com offers a directory, and listings include photos and an icon indicating whether the establishment is family-friendly.
Hostels are another option for budget travellers. Hostels.com (www.hostels.com/en/ca.html) lists hundreds of hostels in Canada, and the listings include pictures as well as visitor comments and ratings. Hostelling International Canada (HI-C) also lists more than 60 hostels from coast to coast on its website (www.hihostels.ca). The majority of HI-C hostels have dedicated family rooms. You don't need to become a member, but if you do, you'll receive even better rates. Rates vary at each hostel but, for example, a room for four people at HI-Toronto costs $108 per night with a membership and $124 per night without a membership, compared to about $184 per night in a standard hotel.
Families travelling between May and August can often bunk in at university residences. The University of Victoria, for example, rents out four-bedroom cluster units (similar to an apartment) for $188 per night (www.housing.uvic.ca/visitor). The University of Prince Edward Island offers accommodations for a family of four in a Blanchard Hall apartment-style residence, which costs $122.71 per night (www.upei.ca/rfcs/html/summeraccomodations.html).
Page 2 of 2 -- We spill our best transportation tips on page 1.