Autumn is here, and as an after-peak travel season, sometimes called a “shoulder season,” it’s a great time for a getaway.
While lodging and tour prices may decrease with the temperatures, plane tickets and the gas prices are still inflated in Canada. So, why not avoid both and take the train?
With a few tips and tricks, it’s possible to explore the country by rail without breaking the bank. Here’s what to keep in mind.
Understand your options
When it comes to train travel in Canada, the primary option is Via Rail. While Amtrak provides limited service from Canada to a couple of U.S. destinations, Via Rail provides nationwide passenger service.
Via Rail has more than 400 stations in Canada, including large cities like Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto, as well as small towns and villages along the way. Via has three main routes that spread across the country as well as four shorter, scenic adventure routes that access more remote areas such as Churchill, Manitoba which is famous for polar bears and beluga whales.
Much like planes, trains are broken up into different fare classes. Via’s Escape and Economy classes are the most basic levels, and they come with the fewest perks. Economy Plus, Business and Business Plus classes are a step up, and may come with benefits like with lounge access and complimentary Wifi.
For multi-day journeys, there is a Sleeper Plus option that includes private cabins and bathroom/shower access as well as meal service. Travellers on the Toronto-Vancouver route can also purchase Prestige tickets which are the most expensive and luxurious option for multi-day travel.
Nerdy Tip: Economy seats are typically the cheapest on offer. However, when it comes to multi-day journeys, keep in mind that this economy seat is where you will do everything: sit, eat, sleep — without access to showers. For longer trips, you might want to keep an eye out for a deal and upgrade to the Sleeper Plus option.
Book early, and maybe on a Tuesday
When it comes to train travel in Canada, booking early is best. The closer you get to the travel dates the more the demand there will be, especially for the shorter, popular routes. And when demand is high, prices can easily double. Time of day will also play a role in the cost of your ticket. Early morning or evening departures tend to be cheaper than those that take place during typical business hours.
When booking train tickets online, take advantage of Via Rail’s Discount Tuesday. On Tuesdays, they offer cheaper seats to those booking train travel. All you need to do is use the promo code ‘Tuesday’ but, again, the earlier you book the better the deal.
Via Rail also offers special discounts to the following groups:
- Children age 2-11.
- Students and youth under 25.
- Seniors age 60+.
- Canadian military members.
- Indigenous communities.
- Group of 10+ people.
- CAA members.
- Hostelling International members.
Nerdy Tip: Via Rail does occasionally have seat sales throughout the year so it’s worth signing up for it’s email list to be notified, and keep an eye out on typical holidays when most companies run deals, like Canada Day, Boxing Day and Black Friday.
Take advantage of stopovers
One way to see more of Canada without paying extra is to use the Via Rail free stopover program.
A stopover, by Via Rail standards, includes a stop in a city for 4 hours or more. This can give you ample time to stretch your legs, see a few sights and grab a bite to eat in a new place, without buying a separate train fare or paying for lodging.
All classes except for business class are allowed one complimentary stopover at no charge. Business class passengers are only allowed Stopovers in Toronto, Montreal, or Ottawa. Other fares have more stopover flexibility. Adding additional stopovers is possible, but know that the longest stopover will be considered the complimentary stopover, but any additional stopovers are charged.
Reconsider the dining car
Depending on the length of your journey, trains may have a dining car for sit down meals or a dining cart that makes the rounds during your journey. If you buy a Business, Sleeper Plus or Prestige ticket, meals are included. However, if you are travelling economy then you will be have to purchase food when hunger strikes.
Similar to airplanes, the on-train food options will be limited and expensive. To save money, bring your own meals and snacks for the journey. Dried fruits, nut mixes, granola bars, chips, crackers and bottled beverages are relatively easy to pack and you won’t have to worry about keeping them cool.
Bonus tip: Pay with points
If you’re a frequent rail traveller (or hope to become one), consider joining the Via Préférence points program. There’s no cost to join, and you’ll earn points for eligible train travel purchases that can be redeemed for free trips later.
It’s also worth noting that Air Miles is a Via Rail partner. If you’ve got a stash of points on an Air Miles credit card and you are looking to save some cash, you can redeem those Air Miles for Via Rail vouchers that can then be used to purchase any type of ticket, on any route.
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