By Heather Camlot
Beth Beaulieu, a holistic nutritionist in Toronto, recalls with partial dread and partial humour the moment she decided it was time to start researching vacations online. “Every summer, my family would take trips to Maine. One year, my dad found this place in Ogonquit. We were all packed in there – parents, children, boyfriends — and my sister and I thought, ‘We can do better than this.’”
Since then, Beaulieu has booked five family vacations to Maine and as well as four ski trips with friends, including her upcoming January jaunt to Mont-Tremblant. “I like having the control,” she explains about researching and booking online. “I feel like I can get a better price and I can find something suited exactly to my needs.”
Other reasons to head online to plan a vacation:
- See exact dates available
- Peruse photos of the resort or property
- Possibly negotiate directly with the property owner
- Read what others have said about the property you’re considering
- Find complementary deals, like discounted lift tickets.
Many ski resort sites also offer useful information like snow reports, trail maps, webcams of the mountain and advisories, not to mention other activities available, from dogsledding to tubing.
How to start
The first things to consider are where you’d like to go and with whom. If you’re going with friends, they may prioritize budget, while heading out with family may require special amenities for kids. “This year, I was looking at more ‘luxurious’ homes because I had more people that cared about the chalet experience and did not necessarily want to ski all the time,” explains Beaulieu. “Know your group and your budget. If you have a group where skiing is the priority, then look for something more rustic–and cheaper!”
Once you have an idea of destination (the Laurentians, for instance), visit the location’s tourism site for a list of resorts and ski hills.
Pick the ones of interest then visit their sites to see what kind of packages are being offered and of course, when. December is already late in the season but that doesn’t mean there aren’t deals to be had or prime weekends still available. But Beaulieu does suggest in the future booking in September or earlier for the best picks.
You can also search non-resort web sites, such as Vacation Rentals By Owner or TripAdvisor, for properties just off the resort but that may be better suited to your needs (and budget). Beaulieu says resort sites are great for couples or small groups, but for larger groups, you’ll find more deals with renting a home.
It’s important to make a list of needs (number of bedrooms and bathrooms, for example) and wants (hot tub, shuttle bus to hill), as well. And as you search each property or communicate with the owner, have a list of questions on hand – are pets allowed? Do you have any more photos?
You may also want to sign up for some resort newsletters to receive alerts about special deals, like discounted tickets if you buy before a certain date.
What to keep in mind
After booking so many trips, Beaulieu has learned a thing or two. Along with Sunday to Thursdays being cheaper than weekends and prices tending to drop the longer you book (say a second week at a discount), contracts are a must read.
- Look at the deposit and when it’s due
- Learn the rules of the house (no smoking, no pets?)
- Find out how the security payment is to be covered (cheque, credit card?) and when it’s due
- Check the cancellation policy (full refund, partial refund?)
- Read up on what’s provided and what’s not (sheets, toilet paper?)
- See if there are any hidden charges (a booking fee, extra tax?)
Where to look and book
One other thing Beaulieu suggests is researching and booking through reputable sites only. “Apparently there are some companies that will take pictures from other sites and post them on theirs. Then you send the money and find out it’s a scam.”
Some sites to consider:
- Vacation Rentals By Owner
- Resort sites
- Ski hill sites
- Tourism sites
Now sharpen those skis and look out for trees.
First published December 3, 2010, on WorkLivePlayCafe.com.