I embarked on a cross-country hopper journey last week as I travelled back from the Vancouver Miles & Points Meetup.
The trip was spurred by a moment of inspiration when I wondered how many long layovers I could fit on a single domestic Air Canada itinerary. Upon realizing that it was in fact possible to string together quite a mammoth trip, I had no choice but to go ahead and make it a reality. Let’s look back on how things played out.
Vancouver Meetup: A Smashing Success
To be honest, I wasn’t sure how many people were going to show up for a first-time meetup in Vancouver, but I was overjoyed that we eventually had a sold-out crowd at the event. We gathered at the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre Hotel, and the gloomy Vancouver weather didn’t stop me from having a fantastic time meeting everyone in the community and exchanging stories, tips, and ideas.
It’s always satisfying to look around the room at these events and see people engrossed in conversation, delving into the nitty-gritty of what we’re all passionate about – travelling the world on points. I witnessed new friendships being formed and even old ones rekindled – indeed, one guy ran into quite a few acquaintances at the event whom he didn’t even know had shared the same interest!
As with most of these events, the truly dedicated crowd tends to stay well past the end, and we brought the afterparty down to the hotel bar. Beset by jet lag, I said my goodbyes and dipped out around 10pm, but quite a handful of people were still going strong by then.
I know some people were disappointed that the event was sold out and they weren’t able to make it, so I’ll definitely look for a larger venue next time. Just please don’t be like this guy… 🙄
I stayed at the Sheraton for my first two nights in town, and they couldn’t have been nicer to me throughout my stay. No doubt I had a little extra special treatment thanks to hosting an event at the hotel, such as a nice suite upgrade and a generous amount of complimentary amenities.
I particularly liked spending time in the Sheraton Club Lounge, although the paltry food offerings within the lounge did leave me a little disappointed.
For my next two nights, I moved over to the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver. I’ve heard impressive things about this hotel ever since it opened early last year, and it did not disappoint.
I received a very lovely one-bedroom suite, and the Executive Lounge was a stunning space as well. This’ll definitely be my go-to choice when staying in Vancouver going forward.
The only complaint I’d have is the massive Parq Vancouver casino located right next-door – indeed, Jessica wasn’t feeling too well for the rest of the weekend, so it was far too easy for us to trot down to the slot machines and burn a few fivers on some mindless entertainment.
Tuesday: An Alberta Adventure
My Canadian hopper began in earnest on Tuesday morning as I flew to Edmonton on an Air Canada A319. Business class on domestic flights is a pretty cookie-cutter experience, and I would eventually grow very tired of the parsley omelette dish that Air Canada serves for breakfast!
What I like about the airline’s narrowbody fleet is that a good portion of the aircraft has been fitted with Gogo In-Air Wifi, so I was able to get lots of work done along the journey using the 10 Gogo passes I recently got from the US-issued Amex Business Platinum Card.
It was pretty jarring to see the vast snowy landscape upon our descent into Edmonton, but thankfully I had come prepared for my pit stops in the harsher parts of Canada with a new pair of boots that I had bought in Vancouver.
Once in Edmonton, I took a bus to the West Edmonton Mall, which was my primary objective for my 8-hour stop in town. North America’s largest mall has enough room for an ice-skating rink, a water park, and a sea lion show that takes place at 2pm and 4pm every day, on top of dozens and dozens of storefronts!
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Once I was got over the sheer size of the place, though, it just felt like another mall similar to the ones we have in Toronto. I picked up a new pair of AirPods at the Apple Store (gotta take advantage of that low Alberta sales tax) before watching the sea lions do their thing.
A very kind Edmonton-based Prince of Travel reader then got in touch with me and offered to drive me around. Thanks to him, I was able to visit the Alberta Legislature (or the “ledge” as it’s colloquially known), which is a rather peaceful setting for an evening walk in the snow.
He then drove me to the airport for my 8:30pm flight to Calgary. I was very thankful for his hospitality and made sure to teach him an MS trick or two 😉
This flight was operated by a Dash 8-300 with no business class cabin, so I was seated in Seat 8A for the short ride. A 12-hour overnight layover in Calgary wasn’t enough time to do anything of note, so I took an Uber to my friend’s house and posted up there for the night.
Wednesday: Cross Country on the CRJ-900
I briefly visited the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Calgary for a coffee before jumping on a Bombardier CRJ-900 for my quick hop across the Prairies to Winnipeg, Manitoba. The CRJ-900 is likewise equipped with in-flight wifi, and its smaller size also means that its business class is arranged in a nifty 1-2 configuration. I therefore grabbed Seat 3A to have an aisle and window all to myself.
Touchdown in Winnipeg occurred at noon, at which point I ducked into the Plaza Premium Lounge for a light lunch before heading into the city.
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As a brief aside, I usually find that Maple Leaf Lounges have slightly better decor and ambience but often skimp out on the food offerings, whereas Plaza Premium Lounges always serve up a hot dish or two. Therefore, whenever I have the choice between visiting a Maple Leaf Lounge or a Plaza Premium Lounge, I usually go with the former if I’m just looking to relax and the latter if I’m feeling peckish.
Winnipeg Airport was surprisingly beautiful. It was fun to look at the departure boards and marvel at the plethora of places with interesting names that have service from Winnipeg, like Flin Flon, Red Lake, and Sioux Lookout.
One of the things I should’ve thought about before I booked this trip was the cost of getting to and from the airport in each city. After shelling out for an $18 airport bus in Edmonton and a $35 Uber ride in Calgary, I was thankful to find that Winnipeg’s J.A. Richardson Airport is well-connected to the downtown core by a cheap and convenient bus service.
Before long, I was out and about in Manitoban territory for the first time. It was a blisteringly cold day by my standards, but when another local reader offered to show me around, he was quick to remind me that this -10˚C weather was in fact considered balmy for Winnipeg winters!
I got to see The Forks, which is an important historical meeting site for Aboriginal Peoples at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. There was also the “Winnipeg sign” nearby, which elicited a chuckle from me as it seemed like a pretty clear imitation of the one we have in Toronto.
Behind the sign is the Canadian Human Rights Museum, which someone earlier on the trip had recommended that I visit. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to stop by this time around, but I’ll definitely go see it the next time I’m in town – probably in the summertime!
My flight out to Ottawa had been delayed by a solid two hours, so I got to swing by the Manitoba Legislature on my way back to the airport. I wish there was something exciting to report, but from a quick drive-by it looked almost exactly the same as its counterpart in Alberta.
And then it was time to get back on the plane. Another CRJ-900, another Gogo wifi pass used up, another aisle-and-window-seat-in-one. I had gotten up at 6am that morning back in Calgary, so I slept for most of the flight, and by the time we landed in Ottawa I was hungry and ready to join some friends for some late-night BBQ.
An Uber ran me $20 this time, but thankfully my friend was kind enough to give me a ride back to the airport, where I’d pass the night at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Ottawa Airport. This was an extremely new hotel, having just opened a few weeks ago, and I was pleasantly surprised at how nice (and how extremely spacious) it was!
Thursday: Eastward for the Beechcraft
Beep! Beep! My alarm clock wakes me up mercilessly at 5am.
I’d give anything to continue sleeping in my king bed, and truth be told I was feeling more than happy to go home at this point. But alas, I had signed up for another day of flying around the country on tiny turboprops, beginning with a brutal 6:40am flight to Montreal.
This one was a CRJ-100 that had no business class, so I posted up in the very last row of economy class and slept for the entire flight. Once on the ground, I purchased an STM day pass for $10 and ride the airport bus into town. I catch the metro to my friend’s apartment, where he’s been kind enough to prepare some homemade poutine and a much-needed espresso.
After catching up over breakfast, we go out and walk around the city for the remainder of my 6-hour layover. Despite living in Toronto, I actually hadn’t visited Montreal in almost ten years and had forgotten how beautiful of a city it is. It was a wonderful morning walk down Rue Ste.-Catherine and then back to the McGill campus, and I’ll definitely have to pop back up here for a long weekend sometime soon.
Back to the airport again. There isn’t much to tell you about the 1.5-hour trip to Saint John on a Dash 8-300, besides the fact that I napped again for the duration of the flight and had to be woken up by my fellow passengers as they were deplaning.
Now, I had done my research on Saint John Airport, so I knew that the only options into town were a $30 taxi ride or a 50-minute bus ride on a local bus that only served the airport once every hour. Given that I only had four hours here, and that I was already running on very low batteries, neither of those two options appealed to me at all.
Founded on June 24, 1604, Saint John is Canada’s oldest incorporated city, so I’d love to pay it a proper visit eventually – just not this time. My plan was therefore to remain airside upon arriving at the airport so that I didn’t have to clear airport security for a seventh time on this trip…
…except Saint John Airport is so damn tiny that there’s no real concept of “airside” or “landside”. Indeed, upon getting off the plane, we walked into the single-story airport building and arrived at baggage claim, after which we were dumped out into the open street.
I do love these tiny airports, and I find that it’s a part of the charm of visiting the remote and less-trafficked destinations out there. I hung out in the airport’s cafe for the next four hours, chugging coffees and catching up on some work. Saint John Airport may be small, but it sure has all the essential things you need, including an abundance of power outlets!
By the time 8pm rolled around, I was getting excited for the main event of the evening and the only reason I even flew out to the Maritimes in the first place – the 45-minute flight to Halifax onboard the Beechcraft 1900.
Sitting on the tarmac, the plane looks hilariously small, and there’s almost a bit of cognitive dissonance at the fact that I’ve just swiped an Air Canada boarding pass to board this flight.
And once you get onboard, the intimacy of the 18-seater cabin makes you feel like you’re flying private, whilst the bare-bones surroundings makes you feel like you’re in a plane from a bygone era. It’s quite the experience.
The open cockpit was a real sight to behold, and I spent virtually the entire flight with my eyes glued on the instruments. Our approach into Halifax was especially enthralling – the lights of the landing strip were clearly visible, and you could feel the plane swaying in the air as it fought off a strong wind shear. I’ve flown quite a lot over the years, but it’s been a while since the last time I’ve had a white-knuckle landing like this!
I took lots of pictures of the Beechcraft 1900 flight and intend to do a mini-review of it. If you’re an aviation geek in any capacity, I’d highly recommend trying it at least once before it gets phased out.
Upon arriving in Halifax, I accepted one final reader invitation, meeting up with Nova Scotia-based blogger Anne from Packing Light Travel for locally-sourced seafood and drinks. Poutine for breakfast and lobster for dinner? That certainly beat the Plaza Premium Lounge food that I had been surviving on the past two days!
To be honest, I was feeling pretty knackered over the weekend as I recovered from three days of being on the road, but I’m very satisfied with myself for having pulled this trip off successfully. Aeroplan certainly lets you do some pretty creative things, and this is just one example. I can’t help but wonder what other possibilities are out there – could you, say, visit all 13 provincial and territorial capitals in one go?
Not only was I very happy to see some new corners of our country on this trip, but I also felt deeply moved by how many Prince of Travel readers offered to show me around their cities as I was passing through. Together with the successful meetup we had in Vancouver, I really do feel like my work on the website has made some impact, so thank you all so much for being a part of it!