How to Travel More and Pay Less: Canada to Europe

Canadians love visiting Europe, but the weak Canadian dollar can make it a very expensive vacation indeed - especially in the summer!

However, if you're armed with the right deals, credit cards, loyalty programs and insider tips, you might find yourself traveling to Europe sooner than you think. Here are my tips on how to maximize your trip budget in Europe!

For the purposes of this article, I will be focusing mostly on Western Europe and the United Kingdom as there are many more direct flights to major cities in these destinations, which are great connections to the rest of Europe.

Last Update: September 24, 2021

Disclaimer: Some of the links below are referral links, which means I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Referral links are marked with an asterisk (*). This post is not sponsored by any of the companies mentioned. All opinions are my own.


Given the frequency of flights from major hubs in Canada (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver) to major hubs in Europe (London, Paris, Rome, Lisbon), you can often find great deals if you're willing to travel off-peak or last minute.

You can regularly find deals with Air Transat, Air Canada, and Westjet (London Gatwick only), though July to August tend to be quite expensive ($1000+ non-stop). Keep in mind that Air Transat has very specific cabin luggage restrictions that don't fit most carry-on suitcases.

If you're flexible with layovers and stops, be on the lookout for frequent flight deals via Dublin or Lisbon, which have great connections to the rest of Europe.

Business class deals are harder to come by than regular economy class, but do happen every once in a blue moon.


In order to use points to reduce the cost of your flight, you'll need to be flexible with dates and layovers.

Program: Aeroplan

Miles Required: See Aeroplan flight reward chart below:

How to Book:

How to Maximize Your Points: Air Canada has gotten rid of a lot of their pesky fuel surcharges (yay!), but has moved to a more dynamic pricing model that could result in an Economy class flight costing 100,000 points one-way! As a result, the best way to maximize your points is to book off-peak flights with Air Canada, or to find a flight with a Partner airline. Partner airlines are not subject to dynamic pricing, but it is best to pick one that doesn't charge high fuel surcharges. This includes:
  • United (usually means a layover in the States)
  • Turkish Airlines (usually means a layover in Istanbul)
  • SWISS Air (usually means a layover in Zurich)
  • Brussels Airlines (usually means a layover in Brussels)
  • Scandinavian Airlines or SAS (usually means a layover in Stockholm)
  • LOT Polish (usually means a layover in Warsaw)
The earlier you search the better the availability, as this is a pretty well-known workaround. That said, you can sometimes find award seats 2-3 weeks out that the airlines are trying to get rid of as well.

How to Earn Points:

Program: British Airways or Iberia Plus Avios

Miles Required (Off Peak): As low as 22,000 one-way (44,000 roundtrip) in Economy; as low as 34,000 one-way (68,000 roundtrip) in Business Class

Miles Required (Peak): As low as 27,250 one-way (55,000 roundtrip) in Economy; as low as 50,000 (100,000 roundtrip) in Business Class

How to Maximize Points: In order to maximize points, the first thing you need to do is be flexible with your trip itinerary, in that you may need to have a connection in Chicago, New York or Boston, as well as in London, Madrid or Dublin.

The reason for this is that British Airways and Iberia don't have much of a presence in Canada. British Airways only has regular flights from Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver to London, with seasonal Calgary service. Iberia has terminated all Canadian routes, but does service Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami with seasonal service from San Francisco.

Why is Avios a good program despite these inconveniences? Because it requires WAY fewer points than Aeroplan, and doesn't have nearly as many blackout dates. In particular, ORD-MAD, JFK-MAD and BOS-MAD only require 34,000 Iberia Avios one-way during off-peak and 50,000 Iberia Avios one-way during peak dates.

So how do you earn and redeem Iberia Avios? Read my detailed step-by-step guide here as the website and program can be tricky to navigate.

How to Earn Points:
2. Create an Iberia Plus account.

3. Generate activity in your Iberia Plus account. You can do this by:
  • Shopping through the IberiaPluStore
  • Converting 3,000 Marriott points to 1,000 Iberia Avios
  • Converting 5,000 Best Western Rewards points to 1,000 Iberia Avios
  • Complete a survey (Spanish)
4. Create a British Airways Executive Club account. Go to Manage my account, and click on Combine my Avios. You will be able to link your Iberia Plus account here and convert your British Airways Avios into Iberia Avios.

5. Transfer your credit card points to British Airways Avios points, and then to Iberia Avios points.


Europe has fantastic train networks for the most part. Here is a detailed post by The Points Guy on train travel in Europe, when it would make sense to do so vs. flying, and how to score discounts.

Keep in mind the post linked above is mainly targeted at Americans. Some of the advice would be the same for Canadians, e.g. there are discounts for youths and seniors, but most of the advice around loyalty programs aren't really applicable.

One method I did find to save money on train tickets was to use Ouigo, a low-cost train service operated by France's SNCF network. Think of it as Air Canada Rouge, but for French trains. There's just one catch - it doesn't accept Canadian credit cards as payment. To get around that, you can use a U.S. based credit card, or borrow a friend's credit card from one of these countries (which is what I ended up doing).


As with all my other posts, you can choose to AirBnB and experience Europe as a local, or stay in a fancy hotel for free with a hotel loyalty program such as Marriott.

Program: Marriott / Starwood Preferred Guest

Points Required: From 17,500 points/night - 85,000 points/night to stay in a central location

How to Maximize Your Points: Use them on expensive cities such as Paris, London, Rome, Amsterdam, etc.  Here are examples of Marriott hotels in Europe that you can leverage with points:
How to Earn Points:
  • Stay with Marriott hotels
  • Sign up for the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card (Personal* and/or Business) and earn Marriott points directly
  • Sign up for the American Express Cobalt Card and convert points to Marriott points
  • Sign up for the American Express Platinum Card (Personal and/or Business) and convert points to Marriott points
  • Sign up for the American Express Gold Rewards Card (Personal and/or Business) and convert points to Marriott points

Other Trip Costs

Foreign Transaction Fees

My usual tips on getting the best foreign exchange rate apply, especially as it relates to credit cards without foreign exchange fees, withdrawing from ATMs, and exchanging cash beforehand.

For ATMs specifically, Scotiabank and Tangerine are partnered with several European banks, including Barclays, BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank. This means you can withdraw fee-free cash at these banks' ATMs while in Europe.

Dining In vs. Dining Out

As with any trip, if you choose to stay in an AirBnB or a suite with a kitchenette, you can likely save quite a bit of money by preparing your own food instead of eating out.

Don't Get Scammed

Another way to save money is to avoid unplanned costs resulting from pickpockets and tourist scams. These are more frequently encountered in popular tourist destinations such as Paris, Rome and Barcleona. To avoid them, my tips are:
  • Pay attention in crowded areas, especially subways or markets where pickpockets will push up against you to grab your valuables
  • Store cash in a secure place on your person
  • Don't go to any restaurants where a promoter beckons you to visit
  • Don't donate to any "charities" that are asking for money at popular tourist sites
  • Run away from people who try to tie a bracelet around your wrist
  • Don't let someone in a costume offer to take pictures with you before telling you how much it costs
That concludes my post on maximizing your trip budget as a Canadian tourist in Europe. Let me know if you have any other tips!