Accommodation in the Canadian Rockies is expensive during the summer season.  Here are some suggestions for containing the cost of your vacation.  No doubt you'll already be familiar with many of these suggestions.  However, you just never know what new idea you may pick up here.  Also, please feel free to jump in and add your own suggestions.

Research

  • Cheaper air fares generally come with a lot of restrictions.  There are penalties for cancelling and changing your flights.  So you want to avoid drawing up an itinerary that later turns out not to be feasible, using that itinerary as the basis for your plane reservations, and then finding yourself locked into poor flight arrangements.  Use Banff National Park : Planning a Summer Trip  to become sufficiently informed to draw up a rough itinerary, and ask experienced travellers on the TripAdvisor forum what they think of your plans before your commit to any expenses.
  • Don't forget to budget for the national park entry fees.
  • If you will be backpacking (staying in hostels), check out Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum
  • Take advantage of freely available travel guides and maps from Travel Alberta and Tourism British Columbia.

Air Fare

  • Use a website like ITA Software, Kayak, or Which Budget to compare fares.
  • Generally speaking, the further ahead you book, the cheaper flights will be.  Usually a  flight booked three months ahead of your trip will be cheaper than a flight booked two weeks before your trip. 
  • The airlines often have seat sales for the upcoming northern hermisphere summer in January, so the New Year is a good time to keep your eyes open for special deals.
  • If you are using open jaw flights (into one city and out of another), compare the fares in different directions. If you will also be renting a car, compare the one-way (drop off) surcharges in differnt directions too.
  • When you're ready to book your flights, use Seat Guru to find the most comfortable plane seats in your price range.

Car

  • Again, the direction in which you travel can influence price, so compare the rates in both directions.
  • If you want to pick up a rental car in one city and drop it off in another city, but find that the one-way drop-off fee is prohibitive, try to do a circular drive that starts and ends in the same city. 
  • Rent the smallest car that's feasible.  A conventional vehicle is fine for the Canadian Rockies in summer and autumn.  You don't need an SUV at that time of year.
  • Adhere to the speed limit, and you'll avoid getting an expensive speeding ticket. Rental car agencies will bill your credit card for any photoradar tickets they receive in the mail, and may add a handling charge too.
  • Fill your rental car with gasoline just before you return it. Gas Buddy can help point you to the cheapest fuel.

 

Public Transportation

 

Accommodation

  • Use TripAdvisor to find hotel suggestions in your price range, and then check the TripAdvisor reviews of the relevant properties.
  • Some hotels in the Canadian Rockies have stringent cancellation policies in July and August.  Know what you are committing to.
  • Some hotels in premium locations also specify minimum stays of two or three nights during high season. 
  • In Banff there are 3 'budget style' hostel accommodations (Oct 2011). Hostelling International's 'Alpine Centre hostel' on Tunnel Mountain Rd has both dorm/share and private rooms. the Samesun hostel on Banff Ave is oriented to the younger crowd, and last (but not least) the excellent Y Mountain Lodge is run by the YWCA. The King Edward Hotel on Banff Ave also offers budget accommodations.

Food

  • If your hotel room has a mini-bar, do not consume any of the drinks or snacks in it.  Hotels charge an arm and a leg for the contents of their mini-bars.
  • Self-cater as much as possible.  Bring a collapsible cooler from home, or buy a Styrofoam cooler at your destination, and have picnic lunches and dinners.  It stays light until late on summer evenings, and there are pleasant picnic spots in, or just outside of, Banff townsite, Lake Louise village, and Jasper townsite. 
  • For inexpensive meals, check out Banff : Cheap Eats.
  • If you do treat yourself to a meal at a better restaurant, consider doing so at lunchtime when the menu is less expensive than it is at dinnertime.
  • For the real budget traveller, there is a supermarket in downtown Banff.

Details, Details

  • The tighter your budget is, the more important planning is.  For a traveller with deep pockets, forgetting to bring a sweater and being forced to buy one in expensive Banff townsite won't be a disaster.  But the same mistake will squeeze someone who is travelling on a strict budget.  Use the Universal Packing List's questionnaire to generate a customized packing list for your trip and decrease the chances of leaving something important behind.
  • When you make any reservation (for a hotel, rental car, or whatever), meticulously note all the details, most particularly the confirmation number.  If the hotel, rental car company, or whoever is unable to meet its obligation to you, be assertive.  Quote the confirmation number, and ask the clerk what he / she will do about it.  In most cases, the business in question will upgrade you for free (to a better hotel room, a larger car, or whatever the case may be).
  • Pedestrian as it sounds, check your credit card statements after your vacation.  Make sure that you have been charged correctly. 

Priorities 

  • Refrain from buying souvenirs.  If you feel compelled to buy them, The Bay (a department store chain) will give you a reasonable price to quality ratio.
  • Carefully consider what your priorities are.  There are many activities that cost money in the Canadian Rockies (canoe rentals, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, cruises across lakes, gondola rides to the tops of mountains, etc.).  Yet, even if you don't avail yourself of any of those amenities, you still can derive an enormous amount of pleasure from the scenery. 
  • Something you might consider doing is treating yourself to one or two fee-paying activities, and doing everything else for free.
  • If you have children, get them involved in choosing the activities to which you will treat yourselves.  Make a game of it.  Give them a budget to work with, and ask them to help with the research.  Kids are so Internet-savvy that they may be better researchers than you are.  

Freebies and Discounts

Coupon Books and Discount Programs 

  • Whenever you can, take advantage of discounts for senior citizens (65+), children and family groups.  
  • If you belong to the Canadian Automobile Asoociation (CAA) or American Automobile Association (AAA), don't forget to check their website for attractions and hotels that offer discounts to CAA/AAA members. Some travellers have found that CAA/AAA discounts are also extended to people who belong to an auto club in another country (e.g. AA in the UK, Australia's AAA). There's certainly no harm in asking, but those discounts would only be extended as a courtesy; the participating businesses are only obliged to give discounts to CAA/AAA members.  
  • The Calgary Entertainment Book is a reputable coupon book which you can buy online. It often includes discounts for travel to Banff. Be sure to brows the offers online to see if you would recoup the cost of the book by using the coupons.
  • The Students Union Ticket Pack (SUTP) coupon book is another reputable coupon book which is available in Alberta cities. The "travel" section of the Calgary book often includes discounts for hotels and restaurants in Banff. Again, browse the website to see if the book would pay for itself. You will need to enter a three-letter Calgary postal code to see the book; T2P is the downtown Calgary postal code.
  • If you intend to pay with a Visa credit or debit card, check out the Visa Perks program for possible savings.

Alternatives to Paid Attractions

There are some popular paid attractions in Banff National Park. However, there are similar experiences that are free (i.e. already paid for as part of your park pass):

  • Banff Gondola: If you're fit, you can take  the hiking trail to the top of Sulphur Mountain, where the gondola goes. Then you can either walk down or take the gondola down for half price. (If you go up the gondola, though, you must pay full price even if you plan to walk down.) If you're not interested in the hike, you can see great views from the top of Tunnel Mountain (a shorter, less strenuous hike), from the viewpoints on the Mount Norquay road, and from the viewpoints on Tunnel Mountain Drive.
  • Lake Minnewanka Cruise: Nothing will be exactly like taking the 90-minute cruise on the lake. But a walk along the lakeshore trail to Stewart Canyon will give you a quieter experience that you can take at your own pace.
  • The famous Banff Springs Golf Course costs over $200 for a round on the famous 18-hole Stanley Thompson course. However, the 9-hole Tunnel Mountain course is less than half that. And for just $5 you can buy a small bucket of balls on their driving range and also access practice chipping, putting, and bunker greens to scratch that golf itch in fabulous surroundings. (They also offer a large bucket of balls and a bottomless bucket of balls, at a higher price of course.) Thanks to TA member 5 of 5 stars SchmetterlingDawn for this tip!


Free Activities

Check out Banff National Park : Free Activities.