Our $500 weekend ski getaway

The bf and I have always held the belief that being frugal should not come at the expense of enjoying life. We still go on vacations every year because we place value on traveling, experiencing new locations, and trying out new foods and drinks. However, vacations do not have to be expensive. There are always deals to be had or ways to save money. This past weekend, we went up to Whistler, one of our local mountains, for a ski and spa getaway. The total cost? About $500! And the great thing is, we actually splurged ! In other words, it could have been even cheaper. Here’s how we did it…

Renting a car

We had a few options for car rentals. Since we are part of a car sharing program, we could book a co-op car or use the co-op’s member discount to rent a car. With a car sharing rental, we’d pay per hour and per kilometer, but would not have to pay for gas. To rent a car, we’d not have to pay for mileage but we would have to pay a daily rate and pay for gas.

The distance from Vancouver to Whistler is about 115km. We also wanted to head up to Duffy Lake for a game of pond hockey, which added another 85 km or so. It was pretty clear that we were traveling too far to be paying for mileage!

So we decided to rent a car instead. We have an Entertainment Book, which has lots of coupons for car rental companies. The discount for less than 3 days was 10% off at Enterprise, which is the same discount as we would get from the car co-op. With the discount, it worked out to be around $60 for a Saturday morning to Sunday evening rental. Not bad… But then we investigated further. Turns out, their online advertised promotional rate was better than what we could get with the coupon – a full $15 less! Needless to say, we booked it. Unfortunately, they would not let us use both the coupon and the promotion. :)

Hack it: We did not pay for any gas! We were traveling with two friends who put in some money for gas. We also put an ad up on Craigslist offering a ride to Whistler and which netted us one extra passenger for an easy $15.

Cost: $45

Booking a hotel in Whistler

Here, we admittedly splurged a bit.

There were one bedroom hotel rooms available using the “last minute deal” section of the resort website for about $130 a night for a 3-star hotel. Given that price point, I was pretty sure that I could get a similar room at a cheaper price using Priceline. However, we were traveling with two friends and wanted to make sure there were two beds available. This is not always possible with Priceline. The cheapest two bed “last minute deal” offer was a 350 sq ft. room in a 4 and a half star hotel for $229. Not bad, but we were pretty sure we could do better.

First we looked for “local resident” deals – But each hotel we called shut us down. This isn’t too surprising since it’s peak season!

Then, we looked to our friends. Turns out, we had a friend with contacts in the hotel industry! A few phone calls later, we had a 600sq ft. suite at a 4 and a half star hotel, with two beds, full kitchen and a jacuzzi tub for $199! This suite was regularly priced at $449. By turning to the people we know for suggestions, we not only saved money, but got an amazing room as well! And by getting a room with a kitchen, we were able to bring up food instead of eating out.

Hack it: If you don’t care about having more than one bed, check out the last minute hotel deals and then jump on Priceline and make a cheaper bid. Then, even if there is only one bed, everyone can squish together on the bed or take turns on the floor in a sleeping bag. This works well for me and my girlfriends when we go to Seattle, but not so well when you have couples or people with back problems.

Cost: $199 + tax or $115 per couple

Getting equipment and lift tickets

Generally, it’s always better to borrow rather than rent. We were not able to borrow any ski gear, but we were able to borrow all of our clothing from friends and family – including snow pants, gloves and goggles! We had jackets and toques already.

For the bf’s ski gear, we looked online at different rental options. It’s a lot cheaper to rent gear before you get to the mountain. Unfortunately, our leaving time and returning time did not coincide with a one-day rental – we’d have to get it for two days, which negated any potential savings. If you can rent and return in the same day, I found that rentals outside of the mountain were generally $10 to $15 cheaper.

On the mountain, prices were generally the same across different retailers. You do save about 10% when you book online in advance however, so we just chose a retailer located close to the hotel. For one set of high performance ski rentals, we paid $50. For a basic set, you would pay $10-$15 less.

Lift tickets are amazingly expensive. For Whistler, the full cost of a one day pass is $95 + tax. Ouch! However, there’s no need to ever pay full price for lift tickets.

If you’re a local resident, nearby ski hills will often have memberships or promotions that you can take advantage of. For example, Whistler has the “Edge” card, which reduces the cost of lift tickets depending on how many days you purchase. For a one-day purchase, lift tickets are $77.

If you are not a local resident, lift tickets can often be purchased at a discount price from affiliate retailers. Here in Vancouver, you can buy lift tickets at your local 7-11 for about $85.

I went on Craigslist to search for even cheaper tickets. I was able to find many offers for 2-for-1 vouchers, which people were selling for $20-$30. I bought one for $30 (damn my impatience!) and we ended up getting 2 lift tickets for just under $140 ($95 regular + tax + 2-for-1 voucher at $30) – or $70 each! Sweet! The bf split the cost with one of our friends.

Cost: $120

Spa time in Whistler

Alas, I was not going skiing. I was going… to the spa! Or at least, I wanted to.

I looked at all the websites I could find but every spa in the resort seemed to want to charge nearly $150 for a facial. Ouch! The only other option was a 30 minute mini-facial which forced you to choose between an exfoliating masque and a cleansing masque for $50, which didn’t seem to make sense to me. I decided to leave it until the last minute.

Many smaller spas and retailers do not have websites. This is true whether you are at a resort or in your hometown. But, these are the places that often have the best deals! I was able to find a small Aveda hair and esthetics salon and spa which offered a 30 minute facial (with both exfoliation and cleansing included) and foot massage for $60. Done! And for the record… it was divine.

Hack it: Do it yourself – Get yourself some fancy bath salts and enjoy your hotel’s bathtub. Lounge in the whirl pool. Even Aveda exfoliating and cleansing masques could be bought for $10 each from the spa (1.5 ounce bottles, good for 2-3 uses I’d estimate) for an easy do-it-yoursel facial.

Cost: $65

Food and drink

We brought out own! (Mostly)

For breakfast, we had eggs, toast and pizza buns. Coffee and tea were complimentary. For lunch, we had sandwiches, juice and granola bars. We splurged on dinner by going out for a beer and a pizza, then wine and tapas at Araxi.

Cost: $100

Total cost for a weekend in Whistler

For car rental, gas, hotel, lift tickets and rentals, food and drink, and a spa visit, we paid a total of $445! And that’s with lots of splurging.

If you do not need to rent a car, the cost goes down to $400.

If you get a smaller hotel room or opt for a less extravagant hotel, the cost goes down to $350.

If you do not need rentals or can borrow equipment from friends, the cost goes down to $300.

And finally, if you do not splurge on expensive food and drink at a very expensive restaurant like Araxi, the cost goes down to less than $250.

So there you have it! A weekend ski getaway for $250 to $500.

Posted in: Entertainment and Leisure

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