In the last few months, we have seen the approval and now rollout of COVID-19 vaccines for children. This means kids will have an extra layer of protection, and once fully vaccinated, they won’t have to miss two weeks of school, daycare, or camps upon return from international destinations.
These are all positive steps towards the resumption of family travel, and may put March Break travel back on the agenda for some Canadian families, including ours.
In this article, I wanted to highlight a few family-friendly easy trips in the United States for families to consider over the upcoming March Break.
Flight Booking Strategies
Before we delve into the destinations, let’s talk flights. Right now, airfare during March Break (March 12–19, 2022) is equivalent to price-gauging.
Currently, a direct round-trip flight with Air Canada from Toronto to Orlando will cost $1,200!
We can’t control the price, but there are some things you can do to help reduce the cost.
1. Adjust your travel dates by a few days.
If your job affords you the flexibility and you don’t mind your children missing a few days of school, then travelling just a few days before or after March Break can save you tons.
In the example above, changing our dates to March 14–22, 2021 cuts the cost by 50%. Use Google Flights to toggle through other dates and compare pricing.
2. Use a 2-for-1 voucher.
Both Air Canada and WestJet have their 2-for-1 Buddy Pass and companion voucher respectively, if you sign up for one of their co-branded credit cards. If you don’t have one, now would be a good time to apply and still get the voucher in time to book flights.
With the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard, you should see your voucher shortly after the first statement after you’ve used your card once (in addition, you’ll also earn WestJet dollars, which can be applied to your flight as well).
For the Air Canada Buddy Pass, your best bet is to sign up for the American Express Aeroplan Card or American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card, as their Buddy Passes post shortly after the minimum spend is met, whereas with TD and CIBC you could be waiting for several months.
Get your spouse to do the same, and for a family of four, your flight cost will be reduced by half.
3. Book on points.
Points have been a lot easier to come by recently, so even with dynamic pricing, it may still be more worthwhile to pay on points than cash.
However, for the best pricing, you may want to once again be flexible with dates and consider taking a connection. Take the example below for a one-way flight to Orlando – here’s the direct flight on March 12, 2022…
Here’s the same date, with a long layover in Cleveland…
And here’s the direct flight on March 14, 2022…
With the above strategy, you could go from 90,000 Aeroplan points per person round-trip to less than 30,000 points for the same trip.
Hotel Booking Strategies
As it’s peak travel time for families, many hotels will be charging higher rates during March Break. Here are some tips to save a bit, whether it be in cash or points.
- Once again, travel a few days before or after March Break if possible.
- If redeeming Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors points for a stay, maximize by staying five nights so you get the Fifth Night Free.
- Want to stay at a luxury property but it’s too expensive? Average out the cost by staying at a cheaper property for a few days before moving onto the nicer one for last 2–3 nights.
- Family of five? If the kids are young, book a room for four. Most hotels are unlikely to make a fuss unless you draw attention to it.
- Choose properties that include free breakfast or offer it as part of your elite status benefits.
- Consider booking an Airbnb (although it may not always be cheaper), and make sure to book through a shopping portal like British Airways Avios to earn some extra points.
Family Travel to the United States
By far, the United States is the easiest international destination to travel to with kids in tow.
Flight times rarely top a few hours (unless you’re going to Hawaii), and if you’re not comfortable with flying, you can now drive, thanks to the US land border restrictions being lifted.
The fact that we only need a rapid antigen test to enter the US, and that many American destinations offer free PCR testing for returning to Canada, makes travel to the US more affordable option as well.
Here are a few March Break suggestions depending on what sort of vacationing your family enjoys.
1. Cross-Border Family: Upstate New York
If you’re based in Ontario or Quebec, have younger kids and don’t want to fly, but want a little getaway for 3–4 days, then give Upstate New York a try.
I haven’t been to the former, as our trip was cancelled when the pandemic first hit, but it’s a highly rated attraction.
Meanwhile, my family loves the Strong Museum so much so that we bought an annual pass one year. It’s the second largest children’s museum in the US and great for young kids and old.
For the younger ones, there are interactive themed exhibits, play structures and a butterfly garden. For the older ones, there are plenty of games (including old and new arcade games and a pinball machine area) to entertain them for hours.
If you want to extend the trip, spend a night or two in Niagara Falls to enjoy the falls, or visit the Bird Kingdom and other attractions along Clifton Hill.
In terms of places to stay, you can consider the Buffalo Marriott at LECOM Harborcenter. The hotel is located across the street from the Explore & More Children’s Museum, so it’s super convenient location-wise.
It’s also a Category 5 Marriott Bonvoy hotel, currently going for 35,000 Bonvoy points per night during March Break, so you could redeem an anniversary Free Night Award here instead of paying US$313 a night for a room with two queen beds.
Assuming you have enough points and certificates to cover the trip, you’d only have pay for the fuel to drive there, meals, and admission tickets, which makes this trip quite budget-friendly.
2. Theme Park Family: Orlando
If you love theme parks and having tons of attractions at your doorstep, then Orlando has it all.
This list here is almost endless, and there are activities to suit every age. Aside from Disney World and Universal Studios, there’s also SeaWorld and Legoland as theme parks.
Other nearby attractions are Gatorland, the Kennedy Space Center, and NASCAR’s Daytona International Speedway and the Everglades (where you can take an airboat tour!)
If you need a break from the theme parks, then take a day to chill at your resort. Just make sure to choose one that has a nice pool or lazy river. Or get your fill of retail therapy at Disney Springs or one of the two outlet malls in town.
Marriott and Hilton have a huge footprint in Orlando, and options for March Break can be found starting at around US$150 a night, going up to over US$600 if you’re considering a luxury property.
I’ve covered accommodation options extensively in a previous post, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but there are a few options that recently caught my eye.
The JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa is a new Category 6 hotel, currently going for 60,000 Bonvoy points or US$450–700 per night during March Break.
Located only eight minutes from Disney’s Transportation and Ticket Center, it’s quite close to the theme parks.
It offers shuttle service to Disney World (covered by your resort fee), a kids’ club for ages 5–12 with day and night programming for a fee, an adults-only pool, family pool, rock-climbing wall, mini-golf, and more (see below).
The JW Marriott will be on my bucket list to check out on my next visit to Disney, but otherwise, there are plenty of other options which won’t break the bank, such as the TownePlace Suites Orlando at FLAMINGO CROSSINGS® Town Center.
As a Category 3 hotel with complimentary breakfast and a shuttle service to Disney that is located only a 10-minute drive from the Animal Kingdom and 12-minute drive from Hollywood Studios, the location is great and much more budget friendly from a cash or points perspective.
3. Party Family: Las Vegas
What used to be known as “Sin City” is now very much a family-friendly destination.
If you’ve been to Niagara Falls, think of this as Clifton Hill on steroids. Just walking down the Las Vegas Strip is a spectacle for kids in itself, with the miniature replicas of the Eiffel tower, New York City, and the Sphinx.
There is also no shortage of shopping or food options. Have a picky eater? No worries, as the buffet options are endless, as are the activities and attractions.
During the day, you can ride a gondola in the Venetian, go on a roller coaster in New York New York, catch a Cirque du Soleil or David Copperfield show, and visit the Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N., Mandalay Bay’s Shark Reef Aquarium, or Discovery Children’s Museum.
In the evening, don’t forget to catch the fountain show at Bellagio before partying on in the city that doesn’t sleep.
To top if off, March is a great time to go, with comfortable temperatures, low crowds, and affordable hotel prices.
Although there are plenty of Marriott and Hilton options in Las Vegas, if you’re looking for something unique, you’ll want to check out MGM Resorts and their themed accommodations, like staying in a castle at Excalibur Hotel or in a pyramid at Luxor Hotel.
Currently, the hotel rates at these two hotels are ridiculously cheap for March Break on Hotels.com:
There’s also The Mirage, which has a volcano, lions and dolphins on display and houses the Cirque du Soleil show.
If you prefer more water play, Mandalay Bay Resort has an 11-acre pool complex with a lazy river, wave pool, and 2,700 tons of sand. Because of MGM’s reciprocal relationship with Hyatt, you’ll want to book these properties through Hyatt.com if you want to earn Hyatt points for your stays.
If you prefer a more Airbnb-type accommodation, consider the Marriott Grand Chateau, a Marriott Vacation Club property, which features spacious one to three-bedroom suites with fully equipped kitchens, living and dining areas, and ensuite washer and dryers.
The three-bedroom suites can accommodate up to 12 people, and are reasonably priced, making it great for trips with friends or extended family. As a Category 5 hotel, Free Night Awards can be redeemed here as well.
4. Beach Family: Hawaii
Poke bowls, shaved ice, luaus, volcanos, beaches and fabulous resorts – need I say more?
With temperatures in the mid 20’s, March is the perfect time for beach activities. It’s also whale-watching season. Of the four islands, Maui and Oahu are probably the most popular.
When it comes to accommodations during March Break, Maui is looking to be pretty expensive, with cash rates starting at over US$500 a night with Marriott.
Hilton and Hyatt only have a few properties in Maui, and they aren’t priced any better. Your best bet is to book on points, but even then, be prepared to pay at least 48,000 Bonvoy points per night (taking into account the Fifth Night Free benefit).
If you’re set on staying at the Ritz-Carlton or Waldorf Astoria, unfortunately you’ll be paying peak or premium award pricing, which in my mind, is not worth it.
If you still find yourself short on Bonvoy points and are looking for a reasonable cash rate instead, try looking at the Hilton properties on Oahu. Decent properties along the popular Waikiki beach can be booked for around US$200.
If you’re ready to return to travel with your family, visiting the United States is a great place to start and plan a small escape from our cold Canadian winters. March Break is peak travel time for most families, which is reflected in the cost of flights and accommodations, but that doesn’t mean that savings can’t be had.
And if you’re not quite ready yet to step outside our border, that’s OK too. In that case, stay tuned for a rundown of Canadian March Break family travel destinations coming soon.