For those of us lucky enough to live in Southern Ontario, border hopping has become a great way to save a few bucks when the Canada-US exchange rate smiles favourably on our shopping dollar.
But even when the loonie is at less than par, driving a little further can make your travel and shopping dollars go a lot further. Here’s how you could save a bundle with some Buffalo Bargains, courtesy of our friendly neighbour less than 90 minutes drive from Toronto:
FLY OUT OF BUFFALO AIRPORT
Whoo-hoo! Vacation time! Whether it’s cityscapes, sun-soaked beaches or slot machines that gets your heart racing, the initial high that comes with planning a trip can quickly sink to a new low when the options are more limited than your imagination or budget. With only two airports in Toronto that service the U.S. and beyond, there aren’t always a lot of choices when it comes to cost, time or flexibility. So consider another option, and instead of using YYZ as your departure airport, think BUF and use Buffalo Niagara International Airport instead.
But does it really save money? Yes. And here’s why:
1. Flying out of Buffalo gives you access to lower-cost carriers that do not fly into Canada like Southwest Airlines or JetBlue.
2. Buffalo has less expensive airport fees for airlines – fees which are passed along to you in your fare. Buffalo is ranked 16th most affordable airport in the US – compared to Toronto’s Pearson Airport which is internationally ranked as THE MOST EXPENSIVE airport for fees in the Western Hemisphere! And we pay for that in all those add-ons that sometimes cost almost as much as the base fare!
With more competition and less airport fees, a family of 4 flying to Orlando could save $500 or more, for example. (I’ve personally found great fares out of Buffalo enroute to Florida for a cruise – and I’m not alone.) Even Canadian tour operators are seeing the opportunity for their border clients, and are building vacation packages that leave from Buffalo.
3. Airport Parking. It typically costs around $50 USD per week to park at Buffalo’s airport, versus $70 CDN at Pearson, and if you surf around to find an online promotion or deal, it can be even cheaper. Or better yet, start the holiday one day sooner, by spending a night at a hotel near the airport before flying out – many offer room deals that allow you to leave your car for up to 30 days at the hotel FOR FREE.
4. Gas money. Wait, how does paying for gas to get to Buffalo save me money? Even with the cost of the gas you’ll need for the return trip, you will still save much more on airfare, multiplied if you are travelling with a partner or group. And don’t forget this tip: fill up the car with cheaper U.S. gas before driving home – because no one checks the gas in your tank at Canadian customs!
5. Time is money, too. Pearson recommends you allow 3 hours before any international flight – and for good reason. Not only do you have to clear security (along with every other passenger leaving near your departure time) but you also have to pre-clear US customs, along with every other passenger going to the States. Even with the 90 minute drive from Toronto, border crossings enroute to Buffalo typically take less than 30 minutes, and even peak wait times at Buffalo airport are only 12 minutes. Just be sure to allow extra time if you are travelling on Canadian or U.S. long weekends, because holiday traffic could extend wait times at border crossings, just like they will at busy airports. Check out this Canada Border Services planning tool that helps you forecast your wait times at the bridge crossings during peak travel times throughout the year.
THINK BORDER SHIPPING, NOT JUST BORDER SHOPPING
When it comes to shopping for deals south of the border, we all think about physically hopping across the border to look for deals at an outlet mall – but border dwellers should think about online shopping, too. The internet allows me to purchase items that simply aren’t sold in Canada, everything from shoes to the proverbial kitchen sink (I needed a specific size I could only get by special order). But getting it home affordably can be a problem.
Although many U.S. companies DO ship directly to Canada, their shipping and delivery costs can be exorbitant, especially when they include a brokerage fee which may not be calculated until after your package arrives. This can be quite a shocker when the UPS man tells you that final cost, especially if your package is heavy or oversized. But I found a way to lower my shipping costs significantly through a company called CBI USA.
Shipping costs within the US are much cheaper, with many places shipping absolutely FREE to anywhere in the States. As a Canadian, here’s how you can take advantage of this, even if you don’t have an American address:Have your special items shipped to a receiving company in a U.S. border town, and then make the trip down to collect your packages in person. I use CBI, a company in Niagara Falls, NY, which does not require me to pay any membership or storage fees (unless my item is so large it needs to be shipped on a skid). The handling fee is only $5.95 per package (oversized packages cost $11.95). I bought a 9′ by 12′ wool rug for $200 from overstock.com that was shipped to me for a total cost of $13.95 ($2.95 shipping plus oversized pickup fee of $11.95). Even with gas money of say, $50, and the 13% taxes I paid at Canada Customs after declaring the rug, I still saved tons of money, as I have no doubt the shipping alone would have cost me as much as the carpet.
Of course it doesn’t make sense to go to all this effort for a $10 pair of earrings, but for those special purchases, it’s been a definite money-saver.
SHOP, FLY, AND THEN BRING HOME THE DEALS TAX-FREE!
Do your online shopping several weeks before your vacation, so that you will have your items waiting for you at that U.S. warehouse when you return from your holiday. Then pick them up on your way home, and as long as you’ve been away for 24 hours or more, you can claim them as part of your allowable limit, and not even have to pay tax on them!
And that’s what I call border bargain hunting.
TIP: If you are looking for shopping beyond the usual mall fare (outlet or otherwise), check out this post from dreamtravelmag.com.