Jessy and I do love taking a long weekend trip in the fall every year, giving ourselves one last opportunity to enjoy a bit of nice weather before the bitter cold of winter sets in (that was very much the case when we lived in Toronto, and even more the case now that we’ve moved to Montreal).
Last year, we ventured out to the Pacific Northwest to Portland, Oregon, and this year we’ve decided to spend along weekend a little closer to home in Providence, Rhode Island.
Believe it or not, our choice of Providence was inspired by nothing more than an information booth that the city’s tourism board had run at the TravelCon conference in Boston back in June where I had been a speaker.
Providence was one of the few destination-specific booths at the event, and Jessy and I somehow found ourselves chatting with the representative there. He painted a picture of an ideal destination for a long weekend in the fall – a small, easily walkable downtown area, a nice riverfront, lots of festivals and live music happening on the weekends, and plenty of outdoorsy stuff to do in the vicinity.
So when it came time for Jessy and I to think about our extended trip for one of these weekends in September, Providence was naturally on both of our minds. Its relative proximity to Montreal would allow us to get back and forth without too much travel time and maximize our time on the ground, while the pleasant early-fall weather – a glorious 27–29˚C this weekend – promises to be a welcome final reprieve before returning to Montreal to face the onset of winter.
We’ll have a total of three days in town, and we’ll probably spend two of those days walking and biking around the city and taking in the New England charm (which we had quite enjoyed when we spent a bit of time exploring Boston during TravelCon in the summer).
A friend of mine had also recommended that we check out nearby Newport, Rhode Island on the coast, so we’ll probably also make a day trip out of taking the scenic ferry down the Providence River to Newport and enjoying some fresh seafood by the water.
Overall, Providence is a relatively quiet college town in the US’s smallest state, so while Jessy and I looking forward to seeing some new things, we’re also hoping to take it a little easier and treat ourselves to a relatively relaxing long weekend after a rather hectic period in our lives, with the move to Montreal and all.
Providence does have an airport that’s in fact serviced by Air Canada, but only from Toronto. Flying into Providence from Montreal, therefore, would entail taking a pretty massive detour of heading a few hundred kilometres west and then back east, when in fact we could’ve travelled south-by-southwest and gotten here in a fraction of the time.
After comparing the options, I realized that it made a lot more sense to simply fly into Boston and then take the train down to Providence, which takes between 30 minutes and an hour depending on which rail service you take (Amtrak will get you there faster at a higher cost, whereas the MBTA commuter rail is slower but more cost-effective).
Hopping on the one-hour flight down to Boston and then catching a train for another hour sounded like a much better way to get to Providence than the four-hour journey via Toronto, and also gave us much more flexibility in our travels, since there were many more Montreal–Boston flights per day than the six-times-weekly Toronto–Providence service.
For short-haul flights like these, I’m usually in the habit of looking at both cash prices and points redemption options, since I find the value proposition to be just about on par with each other.
I was surprised at the average price of Montreal–Boston direct flights, though. I’m used to seeing around $200–250 for routes like Toronto–Montreal or Toronto–New York, so Montreal–Boston certainly seemed expensive to me at around $350 per person even if booking in advance.
I then checked Aeroplan, whose short-haul flight options can indeed be quite competitive in these situations. For a simple round-trip in economy class, I was given the option of booking a Classic Flight Reward at 15,000 Aeroplan miles per person or a Market Fare at 17,000 miles per person.
While the Classic Flight Reward might seem more favourable on the surface, the difference in taxes is quite significant between the two: the Classic Flight Reward required around $200 in taxes and fees per person, whereas the Market Fare was much cheaper at only $77 in taxes and fees, since there didn’t seem to be a Carrier Surcharge on the Market Fares.
So the choice was between spending an extra 2,000 miles or an extra $130 per person, and the decision was clear.
I went ahead and redeemed 17,000 Aeroplan miles + $77 in taxes and fees per person for our round-trip flights to Boston, from which we’ll need to catch the airport bus to South Street Train Station and then take either the Amtrak or the MBTA train down to Providence for another $50 per person or so.
For this trip I needed a simple hotel stay for three nights in Providence. Those of you who regularly follow my travels will know that Marriott is my preferred hotel chain thanks to the Titanium Elite status I’ve built up with them, so naturally the Marriott website was the first place I looked.
I wasn’t feeling too inspired by either the Courtyard or the Marriott, but the Renaissance Providence Downtown caught my eye as a newly refurbished property that looked like a comfortable home for our three nights in town.
(As someone who recently started focusing on earning Hilton Honors points as well, I also took a look at the Hilton Providence, which I struck from my list for the same reasons as the Courtyard and the Marriott – it just felt a little too much like a cookie-cutter North American hotel for my liking, whereas the Renaissance looked like it had a fair bit of character and was more worth getting excited about.)
That left the question of how to go about making the booking. The sad reality is that the Marriott Bonvoy program has lost a lot of its lustre in recent years, which has, in my view, done particular damage to the value in redeeming points for mid-range hotels in North American cities.
Not only here in Providence but all around North America, you’ll often find city hotels that cost US$200–250 per night that are categorized as Category 5 (thus costing 35,000 Bonvoy points as the standard rate), or US$300–350 per night that are categorized as Category 6 hotels (thus costing 50,000 Bonvoy points as the standard rate).
At those rates, I’d feel annoyed at the thought of redeeming points, since I’m not really getting anything close to the high value that I could extract out of my Bonvoy points if I redeemed them towards more luxurious stays in other parts of the world in the future. And yet, I’d also feel equally annoyed at paying cash, since it’s still a fair chunk of money per night coming out of my pocket.
In the end, I decided to book three nights at the Renaissance Providence Downtown on a corporate rate of US$215 per night.
Now, I’ve touched upon the reasons why paying cash for hotels might be more favourable than it first appears – for example, I was able to use my Scotia Rewards points from the Scotia Gold Amex to cover a portion of the cash expense, and I’ll also be earning 6x Bonvoy points from my Amex US Bonvoy Card and 17.5x Bonvoy points as a Titanium Elite member, resulting in an extra 15,000 or so Bonvoy points towards my next stay.
However, I can’t deny that while I know in my mind that paying cash is more favourable than redeeming points in these situations, it doesn’t quite feel nearly as satisfying as getting a clean $0 bill as a result of using points.
My heart is saying, “come on Ricky, use those points, you have so many of them anyway”, whereas my mind keeps reminding me that the value simply isn’t there, and that the points would be much more useful on future stays.
Ultimately it comes down to what value you personally place on the points. I know some of you, in this situation, might’ve simply dropped 105,000 Bonvoy points on the hotel because you enjoy the rush of treating yourselves to a “free” trip, and that’s totally fine too.
On the plus side, at least the hotel was kind enough to upgrade my to their Vice Presidential Suite after I asked them over the chat. I suppose that goes some way towards putting my aching heart at ease…
So in total, my out-of-pocket costs for this trip (per person) are looking like the following:
Aeroplan taxes and fees, YUL–BOS round-trip: $77
Train from Boston to Providence: $30
Renaissance Providence Downtown, 3 nights (after offsetting a portion using Scotia Rewards points): $340
A nice and easy trip in September of every year is the perfect stop-gap solution for my incurable wanderlust between more ambitious trips in the summer and winter. I’m looking forward to a few relaxing days in sunny and preppy New England and continuing to check new parts of the United States off my bucket list. If anyone’s been to Providence or Newport, feel free to let me know in the comments what’s good to eat, see, and do!