How To Travel With VIA Rail On A Budget

Travelling in Canada with VIA Rail

Travelling in Canada with VIA Rail

While I have many posts and articles to write about my trip across Canada with VIA Rail I’ve decided to put those aside for now and write a post on HOW to travel in Canada with VIA Rail on a budget – and hopefully answer some of the questions you guys have been asking on facebook, Twitter, and through email.

Travelling in Canada by train is a dream trips for many Canadians (and international travellers), but as Canada is not the cheapest country in terms of transportation costs, many travellers hold back and wait for retirement thinking that there is no way they can possibly afford such a trip.

Oh, silly, silly people.

Believe it or not travelling in Canada by train CAN be done on a budget. The trick is to do a little research (which I’m doing to do for you in this post), and be ready to pounce when a deal comes along! I’ve spent HOURS on the VIA Rail Canada website looking for all the information I wanted to include in this post, and thanks to my penchant for being too detailed this post is rather long. Oops!!

You’ll probably want to bookmark this post, and then share it as well. Just a wee suggestion. ;)

VIA Rail Routes

Polar Bear swimming in Churchill

Polar Bear swimming in Churchill

Depending on your goals for travelling across Canada, you may need to travel on more than one route offered by VIA Rail – which is a fab idea if you ask me! Here is a breakdown of the routes:

The Ocean – This line runs from Halifax to Montréal with stops in places like Moncton and Québec City. The Ocean offers economy and sleeper classes, and a panoramic car. The train runs on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday from Montréal and Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday from Halifax. There is FREE wi-fi available in the service cars.

Montréal – Gaspé – This line has both economy and sleeper class, and meals are available for purchase from the service car. This is an overnight train which runs Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday from Montréal and Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday from Gaspé.

Montréal – Jonquière  – This line is a great option for a short getaway into the Saguney region and do a little wildlife and whale watching. The trip is about nine hours long and the train runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday from Montréal and Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday from Jonquière.

Montréal – Senneterre – This line is for those who go goo-goo for gorgeous scenery as you’ll travel into Northern Québec

Québec – Windsor Corridor – This is a great way to travel between Québec City to Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, and further down to Windsor. The trips are shorter, which means you have a choice between business and economy class, and there are often fare deals called Escape Fares which will over extremely cheap fares – economy from Ottawa to Québec City for $49 one way?! Yes, please!! Also? There is FREE wi-fi available throughout the train.

The Canadian – This is by far VIA Rail’s most popular long distance line. This is where they truly shine and if you’re travelling across Canada, you will be on the Canadian line.  This line has economy and sleeper plus class, which means that if you’re in a sleeper, your meals are included. The Canadian offers dome cars, as well as activity cars and a panoramic car (after Edmonton) for guests in sleeper plus class.  The Canadian runs twice a week during low season and three times a week during high season. It’s best to go to the website to find out which days they travel through cities in between Toronto and Vancouver. If you’re travelling straight through from Toronto to Vancouver the trip is four nights, five days.

Winnipeg – Churchill – This line is THE only cheap way to travel to Churchill, Manitoba to see Beluga Whales (July – Aug), and Polar Bears (Oct – Nov). It is an absolute MUST, and it’s long. The trip will take two and a half days. This line has both economy and sleeper class, and food is available for purchase in the service cars.

Jasper – Prince Rupert – This line is on my list for 2014. Prince Rupert is the jumping off point for exploring Haida Gwaii which is a drop-dead gorgeous archipelago in Northern British Columbia. If you have the time. GO! This train runs Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.

Sample Itineraries

The following itineraries are merely ideas. You can do pretty much anything you want. It all depends on time and what you’d like to do on your trip. In an effort to show how cheap is CAN be, these itineraries for for economy class travel. That being said, if you have the time and flexibility then I HIGHLY suggest you also shop for last minute deals on the Express Deals page of the website as well (I talk about that in a little bit).

**Note: These are sample itineraries that I have personally researched and created, you will not find these on the VIA Rail website!

The ULTIMATE Across Canada Adventure

The Ultimate Across Canada Adventure Route using VIA Rail

The Ultimate Across Canada Adventure Route using VIA Rail

This economy class trip encompasses The Ocean, a little of the Québec – Windsor Corridor, Churchill, The Canadian, and Prince Rupert. It’s going across Canada and taking some amazing side trips along the way! Prices based on high season and are subject to change. 

The route is: Halifax – Québec City – Montréal – Ottawa – Toronto – Niagara Falls – Toronto – Winnipeg – Churchill – Winnipeg – Saskatoon – Edmonton – Jasper – Prince Rupert – Jasper – Vancouver.

  • Gap Year Students (18-25, or 26+ with ISIC): $1,383 (High season Canrail system pass, and high season Canrail Québec corridor pass, plus a separate one way fare) Buy a one way ticket from Halifax to Québec City. The cost is roughly $151.
    • Book Canrail Québec Corridor in trips 1.) Québec City to Montréal, 2.) Montréal to Ottawa, 3.) Ottawa to Toronto, 4.) Toronto to Niagara Falls, 5.) Niagara Falls to Toronto. The cost of the Canrailpass Québec City to Windsor Corridor is $325
    • Book Canrail system pass in trips: 1.) Toronto to Saskatoon and use Winnipeg as a FREE stopover, 2.) Winnipeg to Churchill, 3.) Churchill to Winnipeg, 4.) Saskatoon to Jasper and use Edmonton as a FREE stopover, 5.) Jasper to Prince Rupert, 6.) Prince Rupert to Jasper, 7.) Jasper to Vancouver. The cost for the Canrailpass system is $907.
  • Adult fare using Canrailpass: $1,520 (High season Canrail system pass, and high season Canrail Québec corridor pass, plus a separate one way fare)
    • Buy a one way ticket from Halifax to Québec City. The cost is roughly $151.
    • Book Canrail Québec Corridor in trips 1.) Québec City to Montréal, 2.) Montréal to Ottawa, 3.) Ottawa to Toronto, 4.) Toronto to Niagara Falls, 5.) Niagara Falls to Toronto. The cost of the Canrailpass Québec City to Windsor Corridor is $361
    • Book Canrail system pass in trips: 1.) Toronto to Saskatoon and use Winnipeg as a FREE stopover, 2.) Winnipeg to Churchill, 3.) Churchill to Winnipeg, 4.) Saskatoon to Jasper and use Edmonton as a FREE stopover, 5.) Jasper to Prince Rupert, 6.) Prince Rupert to Jasper, 7.) Jasper to Vancouver. The cost for the Canrailpass system is $1,008.
  • Senior fare using Canrailpass: $1,383 (High season Canrail system pass, and high season Canrail Québec corridor pass, plus a separate one way fare)
  • Buy a one way ticket from Halifax to Québec City. The cost is roughly $151.
  • Book Canrail Québec Corridor in trips 1.) Québec City to Montréal, 2.) Montréal to Ottawa, 3.) Ottawa to Toronto, 4.) Toronto to Niagara Falls, 5.) Niagara Falls to Toronto. The cost of the Canrailpass Québec City to Windsor Corridor is $325
  • Book Canrail system pass in trips: 1.) Toronto to Saskatoon and use Winnipeg as a FREE stopover, 2.) Winnipeg to Churchill, 3.) Churchill to Winnipeg, 4.) Saskatoon to Jasper and use Edmonton as a FREE stopover, 5.) Jasper to Prince Rupert, 6.) Prince Rupert to Jasper, 7.) Jasper to Vancouver. The cost for the Canrailpass system is $907.

That is 16 city stops for UNDER $1,600! You cannot do that when you fly!! Note, it’s a FAST PACED route. To slow down and enjoy, take off Churchill and expand your time elsewhere.

Rocky Mountain Lovin’ a.k.a Toronto to Vancouver

Rocky Mountain Lovin Route with VIA Rail

Rocky Mountain Lovin Route with VIA Rail

This route is for those who want to travel from Toronto to Vancouver (The Canadian line), with side trips to Churchill and Prince Rupert!

The route is: Toronto –  Winnipeg – Churchill – Winnipeg – Saskatoon – Edmonton – Jasper – Prince Rupert – Jasper – Vancouver

  • Gap Year Students (18-25, or 26+ with ISIC): $907 (High season Canrail system pass)
    • Book in trips: 1.) Toronto to Saskatoon, using Winnipeg as a FREE stopover, 2.) Winnipeg to Churchill, 3.) Churchill to Winnipeg, 4.) Winnipeg to Edmonton, using Saskatoon as a FREE stopover, 5.) Edmonton to Vancouver, using Jasper as a FREE stopover, 6.) Jasper to Prince Rupert, 7.) Prince Rupert to Jasper
  • Adult fare using Canrail system pass: $1,008 (High season Canrail system pass)
    • Book in trips: 1.) Toronto to Saskatoon, using Winnipeg as a FREE stopover, 2.) Winnipeg to Churchill, 3.) Churchill to Winnipeg, 4.) Winnipeg to Edmonton, using Saskatoon as a FREE stopover, 5.) Edmonton to Vancouver, using Jasper as a FREE stopover, 6.) Jasper to Prince Rupert, 7.) Prince Rupert to Jasper
  • Senior Fare: $907 (High season Canrail system pass)
  • Book in trips: 1.) Toronto to Saskatoon, using Winnipeg as a FREE stopover, 2.) Winnipeg to Churchill, 3.) Churchill to Winnipeg, 4.) Winnipeg to Edmonton, using Saskatoon as a FREE stopover, 5.) Edmonton to Vancouver, using Jasper as a FREE stopover, 6.) Jasper to Prince Rupert, 7.) Prince Rupert to Jasper

Dude, 10 city stops for UNDER $1,010!!

East Coast Bliss a.k.a Halifax to Toronto

East Coast Bliss Route with VIA Rail

East Coast Bliss Route with VIA Rail

This route is for those who are DYING to explore a part of the Maritimes, Québec, and Southern Ontario. It’s an amazing route, and pretty pretty much any time of year (although it’s f-ing cold in winter).

The route is: Halifax – Moncton – Québec City – Montréal – Jonquière – Montréal – Ottawa – Niagara Falls – Toronto

  • Gap Year Students (18-25, or 26+ with ISIC): $605 (High season Canrail Québec City – Windsor Corridor pass)
    • Book online using the Multi-city tool, Halifax to Moncton to Québec City, this gives you Moncton as a stopover for FREE!! The cost is about $151
    • Book in trips: 1.) Québec City to Montréal, 2.) Montréal to Ottawa , 3.) Ottawa to Niagara Falls, 4.) Niagara Falls to Toronto – Use remaining three tickets for day trips within the Québec City – Windsor Corridor line. The cost for the pass is $325
    • Book Montréal to Jonquière online as a return trip, the cost is about $129
  • Adult fare using Canrail Québec City – Windsor Corridor pass: $641 (High season Canrail Québec City – Windsor Corridor pass)
    • Book online using the Multi-city tool, Halifax to Moncton to Québec City, this gives you Moncton as a stopover for FREE!! The cost is about $151
    • Book in trips: 1.) Québec City to Montréal, 2.) Montréal to Ottawa , 3.) Ottawa to Niagara Falls, 4.) Niagara Falls to Toronto – Use remaining three tickets for day trips within the Québec City – Windsor Corridor line. The cost for the pass is $361
    • Book Montréal to Jonquière online as a return trip, the cost is about $129
  • Senior Fare: $605 (High season Canrail Québec City – Windsor Corridor pass)
    • Book online using the Multi-city tool, Halifax to Moncton to Québec City, this gives you Moncton as a stopover for FREE!! The cost is about $151
    • Book in trips: 1.) Québec City to Montréal, 2.) Montréal to Ottawa , 3.) Ottawa to Niagara Falls, 4.) Niagara Falls to Toronto – Use remaining three tickets for day trips within the Québec City – Windsor Corridor line. The cost for the pass is $325
    • Book Montréal to Jonquière online as a return trip, the cost is about $129

That is 9 city stops for UNDER $700!! Again, you cannot do that when you fly. Just sayin’!

Classes

Before I talk about fares, deals, and passes, let’s talk about classes (rhyme not intended) so you know which is best for you and your travel style.

Economy

VIA Rail Business Class

VIA Rail Economy & Business Class look very similar!

Seats in economy are generally very comfortable, come equipped with outlets, and recline for comfort. On trains within the Québec – Windsor Corridor the seats are a little older and may feel more cramped, but on the long distance trains there is more leg room.

Tip: if you’re sitting in four seat section (two seats that face two seats) and nobody is sitting across from you recline both seats and you can lay down flat for overnight sleeping.

Business / Touring Class

Business class is available on trains that travel through the Québec – Windsor Corridor and includes FREE wi-fi, meals, alcoholic beverages, soda, snacks, and has spacious seats with outlets for using laptops and charging devices. Business class passengers have full access to the Panoramic Lounges.

Sleeper Class & Sleeper Plus Class

Cabin for One with VIA Rail

Cabin for One with VIA Rail

There are several different types which vary depending on the line you are travelling on. All passengers travelling in a sleeper class have access to Panoramic Lounges at various VIA Rail stations across Canada. Here is a breakdown:

Berth – This is ideal for a solo traveller and the most economical option. Berths are beds during the day (separated by a curtain), and a bench during the day. This is not a cabin. People will be walking by on their way to their room or another train car. Note: This type of sleeper is only available on the Canadian line, and the trains from Winnipeg – Churchill, and Montréal – Gaspé. 

Cabin for One – This is a great option for a solo traveller who wants the luxury of a private space. All cabin classes come with a fan, air-conditioning, a sink, a private toilet (which is covered by the bed at night, meaning you need to use a public one), drinking water, pillows and bedding, and outlets (I was impressed with the quality of the duvet covers in sleeping class). Cabins for One are small, so during the day your bed is a chair, and at night you bed is either lowered down, or pulled out from the wall. At night you are able to lock your door from the inside. Note: This type of sleeper is only available on the Canadian line, and the trains from Winnipeg – Churchill, and Montréal – Gaspé. 

Cabin for Two – A cabin for two consists of upper and lower beds which are replaced with chairs during the day. The cabin comes with a bathroom with a toilet, and everything else that is included in a cabin for one. The room is cozy, and the beds are quite comfortable. Note: the beds on the Canadian line are bigger than those on the Ocean line. Ask for an ‘F’ cabin on the Canadian line if you want a little more space.

Cabin for Two with Shower – Basically this is the same as a cabin for two, but the bathroom has a shower head. If you’ve travelled to Asia you’ll be fine, if not… you’ll be fine too, just embrace the fact that you’re going to shower beside the toilet. Note: This type of cabin is only available on the Ocean line.

Cabin for Three – If you’re a family with small children then a cabin for three is a great choice. The cabin is very spacious during the day, and comes complete with three beds for during the night. The amenities are exactly the same as a cabin for two. Note: This type of sleeper is only available on the Canadian line, and the trains from Winnipeg – Churchill, and Montréal – Gaspé. 

Cabin for Four – A cabin for four is basically two cabins for two where the wall between the cabins has been removed. The amenities are exactly the same as a cabin for two. Note: This type of sleeper is only available on the Canadian line, and the trains from Winnipeg – Churchill, and Montréal – Gaspé. 

Fares, Deals, and Passes

There are a couple of pricing options available and it’s worth looking into each of them when you’re doing your initial planning.

Youth Fares

VIA Rail Canada offers special fares for youth passengers ages 12 to 25, or 26 and older with an ISIC card. Yay for being young and traveling across Canada! Escape fares are even lower than those of the adult escape fares. I’m talking $30 fares for trips from Ottawa to Montréal.

Child Fares

With VIA Rail children 2 years old and under travel for FREE! Children 2-11 travel for 50% off in economy class. If you’re traveling across Canada in sleeper class child fares are discounted.

Escape Fares

If you’re planning to travel in the Québec – Windsor Corridor than look into VIA’s escape fares is definitely a must. This is where you’ll find fares as low as $20 at times. That is a fabulous deal. Express fares is the best place to look when you’re wanting a little getaway.

Express Deals

Express deals are for trains servicing the Canadian line (Toronto – Vancouver). This is THE place to go first when you’re planning a trip across Canada as the fares listed will be at least 50% off. The trick to booking these deals is that you needed to be flexible and able to travel within a couple days in order to take advantage of the deals. I’ve seen sleeper class fares from Toronto to Jasper as low as $480. That is a mind-blowing deal. This is the BEST way to find deals for SLEEPER CLASS FARES!

 

Food

Let’s talk about train food. The food available varies depending on which line and class you’re travelling. Anyone travelling in economy or sleeper class can purchase food in a service car, but the food is a little pricey ($2 for a can of soda, or small bag of chips, $7 for a heated meal). This is standard across all trains. If you’re travelling on The Ocean in sleeper plus your meals are included, and fairly good. The best is the Canadian line which offers gourmet meals cooked by a trained Chef, which is available for sleeper plus passengers (that’s everyone with a sleeper).

My advice? If you’re travelling in economy or sleeper class (Ocean, Montréal to Gaspé, Winnipeg to Churchill), bring non-perishable snacks and some beverages. Here are some ideas:

  • Nuts & granola bars
  • Cured meats
  • Crackers
  • Fruit like apples, oranges, plums, etc (things that keep well)
  • Water, juice, or soda

Basically budget $10 – $15 per day for snacks and food if you plan to bring your own. Cheaper and more filling that way.

Travelling with Pets

VIA Rail has a fairly strict pets policy in that cats, dogs, and small rodents must travel in the baggage car (unless you’re traveling with a guide dog) and have appropriate cages as well. I know that for animal-lovers this will be an atrocious revelation, but for those who have pet allergies is kind of a good one as ventilation on trains is such that smells and dander can carry easily throughout the train.

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