The Prince of Travel team will be taking part in a 300-year-old tradition next week, as T.J. and I head down to New Orleans for a few days to partake in the city’s famously exuberant Mardi Gras celebrations on Fat Tuesday every year.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans has always been among the major cultural phenomena around the world that I’ve wanted to experience, so when T.J. mentioned that he had done it a few times himself and was considering another trip this year, I knew it would be a wonderful opportunity to tag along.
New Orleans itself was a place that I had been meaning to check out for a long time as well, and there seemed to be no better occasion for a first-time visit than when the city was at its rowdiest during the Carnival season.
Because of our limited schedule during this time of the year and the relatively last-minute decision to take this trip, it’ll be a relatively quick two-day affair, although I’m pleased that we’ll get to spend the entirety of Fat Tuesday – the day that represents the culmination of the month-long festive period – watching the parades and indulging in po’boys, crawfish, and some hopelessly greasy fried chicken and seafood.
(Once we booked the trip, T.J.’s wife apparently said, “Ricky has no idea what he’s gotten himself into!” And looking at the pictures of Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, I’m definitely ready to experience a celebration quite unlike anything else.)
Admittedly, T.J. and I approached the trip in a rather casual fashion (i.e., only after a series of back-and-forth WhatsApp messages, over several weeks, saying “Okay are we going to book this?” followed by several days of radio silence).
And yet, flights to New Orleans during this time of year tend to get booked up very quickly, so by the time we were properly researching our options, none of the ideal choices were in play.
Cash fares had long since skyrocketed, and to be honest, even though it was a relatively short journey down to New Orleans, I did want to fly in business class this time in order to maximize my productive hours before the boisterous behaviour begins. But the award redemptions we encountered on both Aeroplan and British Airways Avios only allowed for rather awkward mixed-cabin itineraries with either early-morning departures or overnight layovers.
For the outbound flight, we found a mixed-cabin business class routing on Aeroplan that would give us an economy class flight from Montreal to Toronto, followed by business class down to New Orleans. It’s never a good feeling to pay the full business class mileage for a mixed-cabin routing, but in the absence of any better options, I decided to book this one-way flight for 25,000 Aeroplan miles.
Meanwhile, the return options under both Aeroplan and Avios were even less appealing, since they had us departing NOLA very early in the morning, whereas we’d much prefer to return later that evening and maximize our time in the city.
Eventually, we took a look at Aeroplan Market Fare rewards, where we were very surprised to find another mixed-cabin business class routing that was available at a lower mileage level than the equivalent routing that was fully in economy class.
Aeroplan has been playing some games with their Market Fare reward pricing recently (perhaps in an effort to condition members to get used to Market Fare-style pricing on North American redemptions in the new program), but sometimes it throws up little surprises like this. And while the Market Fare rate of 40,000 Aeroplan miles certainly wasn’t cheap, it allowed us to get on the exact 3:30pm departure from New Orleans that we wanted, so I begrudgingly paid up.
In the end, the itinerary looks as follows:
Montreal to Toronto on Air Canada, departing 6am and arriving 7:28am, economy class
Toronto to New Orleans on Air Canada, departing 8:40am and arriving 10:33am, business class
New Orleans to Toronto on Air Canada, departing 5:25pm and arriving 7:12pm, business class
Toronto to Montreal on Air Canada, departing 8:30pm and arriving 9:45pm, economy class
We’re lucky that T.J. works for a travel agency with access to special hotel rates, because otherwise the hotel availability on both points and cash would’ve been pretty sparse during the busiest week of the year in New Orleans.
However, the way that travel agency rates work is that they’ll only occasionally appear at certain hotels every now and then, but they tend to be very generously low rates when they do show up.
Indeed, T.J. kept a close eye on the travel agent rates at New Orleans’s Marriott properties over the dates of our stay, and when two nights at the JW Marriott New Orleans became bookable for US$118 per night, we didn’t hesitate to secure the room.
(I know, right? At those kinds of hotel prices, I should really be
leeching off travelling with T.J. more often.)
The JW Marriott is situated a few streets down from Bourbon Street in the heart of the action, but hopefully just far enough to be relatively peaceful overnight. As longtime readers know, JW Marriott also happens to be my favourite brand within the Marriott portfolio, so I’m very much looking forward to visiting yet another location of theirs.
Travel agency rates do not earn any elite qualifying nights, but it seems to be a bit of a mixed bag whether the elite benefits like suite upgrades, free breakfast, and lounge access are granted. We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed that T.J.’s Platinum Elite benefits do indeed come through, but otherwise, New Orleans seems like a mighty fine place to be stuck without free breakfast with a wealth of mouthwatering delicacies at every corner.
In the end, my out-of-pocket cost for this trip came to the following:
Aeroplan taxes and fees, YUL–YYZ–MSY: $97
Aeroplan taxes and fees, MSY–YYZ–YUL: $7
Two nights at the JW Marriott New Orleans: $156
I’m so excited to finally travel to New Orleans, a city that’s been on my bucket list for a long-weekend getaway for so many years, but that I’ve somehow never gotten around to visiting until this year’s Mardi Gras celebrations. I look forward to an indulgent few days of eating, drinking, and indulging in New Orleans’s famous Fat Tuesday festivities.
I’ve already put together a healthy list of restaurant recommendations for my time in town, but I’m sure many readers who’ve experienced NOLA for themselves will have many favourite spots of their own to recommend, so please do send them my way!