Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Canada

Driving the Sea to Sky Highway in British Columbia

This trip is a bit dated, but I figured I’d walk (or drive) down memory lane and describe the fun day my wife and I had together when we were visiting Vancouver last winter. 

As a Christmas gift to my wife, I planned a short getaway to Vancouver, British Columbia over New Years 2017. After enjoying Capilano Suspension Bridge and  Bright Nights in Stanley Park, we finished with a spectacular drive on our last full day in beautiful British Columbia.

All of our nights were spent in Vancouver, so this was our starting point. Vancouver has one of the best settings of any city I’ve ever visited. With the sea and Vancouver Island in the distance to the west and snow-capped mountains to the north, the city has a beautiful backdrop no matter the angle. It also has amazing outdoor recreation opportunities. You can be in the mountains within only a few minutes of the city.

Driving the Sea to Sky Highway

The stretch of highway heading north from Vancouver is aptly named the Sea to Sky Highway. And even in winter it is totally worth a drive.

We took off mid-morning from Vancouver, heading through Stanley Park and over the Lion’s Gate Bridge. After passing through the suburbs on the north side of the city, the road turns north at Horseshoe Bay. This is where the views begin. For nearly 30 miles, the highway is rarely more than a stone’s throw from the ocean, flanked by mountains on the east and with a backdrop of snow capped peaks to the west.

We would have stopped more along this stretch had we known conditions were going to be as nice as they were on the rest of the drive. We pulled over at a park just before the Sea to Sky Gondola. Given that it was a beautifully clear day, I was quite bummed that the gondola itself was closed due to high winds. I wanted to soak in the view of the snow capped peaks of British Columbia stretching to the north. But standing at the side of the road in the icy shade would have to do.

Stopping in Squamish

A few minutes later we were in Squamish, where we made a brief pit stop. Squamish markets itself as the recreation capital of Canada. Random fact: the company I work for has a client whose son chose to go to college in Squamish for exactly this reason.

We ate some lunch in the car after meandering away from the highway for a couple minutes. I then took a very brief walk along the river. Don’t let the picturesque photo fool you. While the view was lovely, the wind was ripping, and man was it cold. Kels stayed nice and toasty warm in the car.

As we continued our trek north from Squamish, the road began to climb. The sun was fully out and heating the asphalt, so I became less worried about ice on this stretch. We made good time and the trip took a little under an hour.

Arriving in Whistler

We were nearly to Whistler before we finally started driving over snow. It was packed in patches and sloppy in others. I knew whatever tires our California-rented Corolla had wouldn’t allow much room for error, so I was extra careful. I made a right at the first major intersection we came upon.

The end of the road for us was the resort area on the south end of Whistler known as Creekside Village. We hopped out of the car to wander around for a bit.

We did stop in at the convenient Starbucks for a warm pick-me-up. Strangely, the barista that took my order was from Australia. His accent was very obvious. Then I realized all the baristas were from Australia, which was even more weird. They even had name tags with their hometown on it. I didn’t have the nerve to ask how and why they were all here, and if they were part of some sort of Starbucks barista exchange program. Their Canadian counterparts would surely be enjoying the land down under during the height of summer (I sure did a few weeks later).

We then walked up toward the lift to take a little look at the slopes. I greatly enjoy skiing. My wife does not. When we went skiing in Quebec the previous winter, she did one run down the “easiest way down” and then decided she better stick to the bunny slope.

So, given the cost of the sport plus the trek to get to any decent ski resort, I don’t really go often (a total of 3 times in a decade). But one day we’ll have to come back to Whistler and enjoy a day or two on the slopes. The place looks and feels amazing. I’m not surprised it is one of the top rated ski resorts in North America. Others say it is the best in the world.

Returning along the Sea to Sky Highway

The drive back was just as pleasant. We stopped several times along the way to take in the scenic vistas.

Canada makes me want to move there every time I visit it. But then I remember their politics.

What mountains.

My wife’s signature photo style where all or part of the sun is in the frame.

We made another pit stop in Squamish so I could grab a coffee. We enjoyed the views of the water again as we continued southward, the sun slowly sinking towards the southwest.

Then it was back over the Lion’s Gate Bridge and into Downtown Vancouver.


Driving the Sea to Sky Highway is one of my favorite memories of our trip to Vancouver. It was a wonderful midday outing. Going into it, I didn’t know if we would make it to Whistler or not, but I am glad conditions were nice and we got to take a look around.

We did make it to Canada a second time in 2017, visiting Banff National Park and Calgary, Alberta (SEE: Banff, Alberta in 14 photos). This was also a major travel hacking win (SEE: Staying at the Fairmont Banff Springs for $99.18).

Until next time, Vancouver. This time we’ll have kids along for the journey.

How we stayed at the Fairmont Banff Springs for 3 nights for $99.18

One of the things I love most about this hobby is finding ways to make great experiences highly affordable. My wife and I have had the opportunity to go on several wonderful trips, all for fractions of the “normal” price.

Moving forward, I’ve decided to tally up some of them (or parts of them) to showcase how useful you can make miles and points. My first was tallying up what a week(ish) trip to Australia cost me (SEE: The Anatomy of a One Week Trip to Australia).

Now I’d like to tally up what three nights in Banff set us back on our recent trip to Alberta. You can see photos of the park in a previous post.

The catalyst for an amazing stay

Our recent trip to Banff was made possible by a single card offer. That’s how lucrative a bonus can be, if you know how to use it!

A few months ago I decided to jump on the Chase Fairmont card before it was gone. Chase pulled their public application link, and it was only a matter of time until the other links died as well. I applied through one of the two surviving application links, and was approved. After meeting the minimum spending, the card gave me some free nights and upgrade certificates at Fairmont hotels, and it was the main reason we were even able to plan this trip.

Admittedly, we could have stayed at a couple other places in/near Banff using points. But using the free Fairmont nights at one of their beautiful hotels in Banff was something I really wanted to do!

Stacking all the certificates and a checking account bonus, we had an amazing 3 night stay in a one bedroom suite. The views were spectacular.

Fairmont Banff Springs One Bedroom Suite View

Above is the view through the main living area window. Below is through the second window.

Fairmont Banff Springs

Sadly, the Chase Fairmont card is no longer offered. I wish it was and that you could repeat this experience.

Breaking down our costs for the stay

With the Chase Fairmont card I was able to earn 2 free nights at any Fairmont after $3,000 in spending. The card also offered a suite upgrade certificate, two dining/spa certificates, another room upgrade certificate, and a “third night free” certificate on paid stays.

I was able to stack the free nights with the suite upgrade certificate. We paid for a 3rd night using a bonus I got from opening an account with Bank of America. We were also able to use both dining certificates during our stay.

What our stay cost us:

  • 2 free Fairmont night certificates
  • 1 suite upgrade certificate
  • 2 dining certificates in the totals of $50 U.S.
  • $445.28 CAD for 1 cash night (including taxes)
  • $75 CAD parking
  • $15 CAD resort fee (I think for just 1 night)

Converting to U.S. dollars and subtracting out a $300 checking account cash bonus that we applied to the trip, the total comes to a mere $99.18. Pretty sweet. Or should I say suite?

What 3 nights at the Fairmont Banff Springs *could* have cost

The Fairmont Banff Springs is a true 5-star hotel. It is aptly called the “Castle in the Rockies”, and it is a gem, even among other beautiful hotels in the Fairmont portfolio.

But with 5-star rooms, dining, and service comes a 5-star price tag. The going rate for a standard room during the time we stayed was $399 CAD. The going rate for a one bedroom suite was $899!

Tallying up what the stay would have cost had we paid cash (all in CAD):

  • $899 per night x 3 nights + $297 taxes = $2994
  • $25 parking x 3 nights = $75
  • $15 resort fee x 3 nights = $45
  • $60 dining

The total is a ridiculous $3,174!!

Obviously, we never would have paid that much for this stay. This is something that makes determining “value” somewhat subjective. We can’t exactly say that we saved over $3,000 on this vacation when we wouldn’t have paid that much for it anyway!

Other expenses

Many of the remaining costs of the trip were covered by miles and points as well. The nights in the Bay before the trip we using IHG “free” nights, to the tune of $98 in annual fees for 2 nights. That’s a deal in San Francisco.

Our rental car and one night in Calgary were covered by the remaining travel credit on my parents’ Chase Sapphire Reserve. Our final night at YYC airport was using a free night certificate as well.

Even the flights were mostly covered using $200 in Delta gift cards and a cumulative $200 ($125 and $75) in United vouchers. Out of pocket cost came to about $170.


I hope this is another great picture of the usefulness of miles and points. My wife and I had an amazing vacation in the Rockies for both a cheap overall price, and a super cheap price relative to what the experience would have cost us.

Banff, Alberta in 14 Photos

I have plenty to write after this trip, but I’d figured I’d start with some photos and let the beauty of Banff speak for itself. Without words, that is.

Destination: Twillingate, Newfoundland

Fond are my memories of Newfoundland. It is such rugged, pristine country. Some places are worth a single visit. Others constantly beckon you to return. Twillingate, Newfoundland, is one of the latter.

The town of Twillingate is located on two small islands in far northeastern Newfoundland, Canada. Known as the Iceberg Capital of the World, tourists venture to Twillingate during the spring and early summer to catch a glimpse of the majestic glacial remnants as they lazily migrate south along ‘Iceberg Alley’ to their eventual demise.

But don’t come just for the bergs. After they drift by, there are whales to watch as well.

Twillingate, Newfoundland Map

The local economy in Twillingate, Newfoundland is based almost completely around fishing and tourism. There are several iceberg and whale watching tour companies, and the place comes alive in the summer. Well…as alive as a quaint, little, off-the-beaten-path town can.

Because Twillingate, Newfoundland is one of my favorite places I’ve ever visited, I’ve decided to feature it as the first travel destination in what will become an ongoing series of ‘destination highlight’ posts. I hope to release a destination highlight about  once a month. It is my goal to generally pick off-the-beaten-path destinations.

How to Get There

There is no way around it: getting to Twillingate isn’t easy. It is well off the beaten path. The closest airport is in Gander (YQX), and it is an hour and a half drive away. Other options include Deer Lake (YDF, 4 hours) and St. John’s (YYT, 5 hours).

To get to Gander (assuming you don’t fly into that airport) you will need to take the Trans-Canada Highway, which stretches across all of Newfoundland. To continue on to Twillingate, from Gander you take route 330 north until you turn onto route 331. This will eventually intersect with route 340, which will take you further north all the way into the town of Twillingate. The entire drive is beautiful.

All of the region’s airports are served by Air Canada, Porter, and/or WestJet. Expect to pay at least $350 round-trip, and more like $550  to $700 from anywhere in the U.S. If WestJet serves an airport near you, they will probably be the cheapest option. Essentially all flights will require a Canadian connection, so don’t expect anything less than a 1-stop from everywhere in the U.S. You’ll be lucky enough if it is a 2-stop.

Twillingate Newfoundland Flights

As out of the way as Newfoundland is, it may be a worthy use of award miles. Air Canada is the only airline within an alliance that serves the area, so using United miles (StarAlliance partner) for an award ticket is probably your best bet. Based on my little research, the routing may be less than ideal, however, with many saver award flights arriving during the middle of the night. St. John’s is likely the best bet for decent flight options.

Driving all the way from Nova Scotia is also an option, but it requires a ferry crossing from North Sydney to either Argentia or Post-aux-Basques in Newfoundland. The drive from Argentia is shorter, but the ferry is longer and includes an overnight crossing. The Argentia ferry also doesn’t run every day.

Ferry information is available from Marine Atlantic. The overall travel time for the route from Nova Scotia (assuming you fly into Halifax) is a minimum of 20 hours. It is a great way to see more of Newfoundland if you have the time, but the option certainly isn’t for everyone.

Things to Do

At the top of the list should be an iceberg tour. A few different companies offer berg tours, and most if not all offer wildlife tours as well. All are well recommended on TripAdvisor. My wife and I booked with Cecil Stockley the Iceberg Man, and we can honestly say it was a fantastic experience! Do note the timing of the bergs and plan accordingly. We were quite lucky to see a couple in early July. Late May or early June is recommended.

Twillingate Newfoundland Iceberg

The chance to see an iceberg up close is a great reason to visit Twillingate.

The Twillingate islands offer some great hiking as well. The Top of Twillingate trail provides wonderful views of the town, as well as the nearby coastline and neighboring islands. I also recommend the trail from Long Point Lighthouse is also recommended. Twillingate’s website contains a great map of the local hiking options.

For when the weather is not conducive to outdoor excursions, there is the Long Point Lighthouse to see, the Prime Berth Heritage Center to experience, and the Twillingate and Durrell Museums to visit. The Auk Island Winery and Driftwood Gallery may be worth a peek as well. I didn’t see the latter two, though, to be completely transparent.

Where to Stay

Twillingate is far off the beaten path, so there are no chain hotel options. However, there are a multitude of B&Bs and vacation rentals from which to choose. The best way to search for availability is going to be via Google maps and/or TripAdvisor. A search by a typical online travel agency will likely yield no more than a couple results. You will have to head to the individual website for each lodging option to either reserve online or call them to book.

2009-12-31 23.00.00-1628

My wife and I had the pleasure of staying at the Captain’s Legacy B&B for our brief time in Twillingate, Newfoundland. I highly recommend it. John Huddart and his wife are excellent hosts. There are only a few rooms, so it makes it easy to get to know the other guests, especially over the delicious breakfast John and Addie serve. John was also invaluable in providing us with information on a great berg tour company and other things to do while enjoying Twillingate.

Among the other options we considered, before settling on the Captain’s Legacy (they are #1 on TripAdvisor!), were the Iceberg Alley B&B, the Rum Runner’s Roost B&B, and Kelsie’s Inn.

If you stay in Gander, there is a Comfort Inn along the main highway. This makes Choice Hotels the winner among the chain hotel options. The going rate for reward stays appears to be 25,000 points per night. Gander is a decent drive from Twillingate, but it has its own set of attractions, including the North Atlantic Aviation Museum.

As a side note, Gander was used as an emergency landing spot for a large number of flights during the 9/11 attacks. There is a book about the events. It comes highly recommended.

What to Eat

The Twillingate restaurant selection is quite limited. There is nothing that I would describe as fine dining, and most of the places are casual places that offer seafood and typical Canadian fare.

For lunch on our 2nd day there, we ate at the R&J Restaurant. The food was decent, the place clean, and the service pleasant. They have a variety of offerings and are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I would suggest the seafood options, considering Twillingate is home to a small fishing industry.

Other places we considered were the Canvas Cove Bistro and the Cozy Tea Room & Bakery. The Canvas Cove Bistro is actually associated with Iceberg Quest tours.

Final Notes on Twillingate, Newfoundland

I hope you can add Twillingate, Newfoundland to your list of places to experience someday. It is certainly one of my favorites.

Some places are great to visit because of their history and culture, others for their incredible beauty. Twillingate fits a third category: places that have a great feel, an essence that you can’t really describe. It was simply amazing being there, even if it was for little more than 24 hours.