Following my work experiences in the Great North of Quebec and chasing penguins in Antarctica, I developed a strong interest in polar travel. Unlike Antarctica, the Arctic is much more easily accessible with points!
In addition, this year, the low number of foreign tourists in Canada means that there are still rooms to rent and premium airline tickets available! If you have the opportunity in the next few weeks or next summer, now is the time!
Churchill, Manitoba, is the polar bear capital and polar bears can be seen from July to November. On the other hand, the high season for polar bears on ice is in October and November – read here, very lovely pictures!
The temperatures during this period allow a good layer of ice to form over Hudson Bay. The polar bears, therefore, migrate to the bay to hunt. The chances of seeing them on a Churchill day trip are very high.
Well-known companies, such as Churchill Wild, offer polar bear safaris where their encounters are wilder. Churchill Wild takes us to look for bears on foot, from their cabins, both in summer and winter.
Don’t worry about safety; the guides are equipped with weapons to scare the bears away if they get too close to the group.
Although I would favour such an experience, the price difference with the tundra buggy tours is significant. However, the experience will be a little more authentic. Tundra buggies are large, elevated vehicles that can go just about anywhere. It is comparable to a jeep in the Serengeti for safaris in Africa!
In addition to the polar bears, the Northern Lights can be seen from August to March, but the best chance of clear, bright skies over the bay is in February and March. If it’s only the auroras you’re interested in, there are also some in Nunavik, Quebec!
For passport stamp collectors, it is possible to get one at the post office!
The price for a day trip in a tundra buggy is around $500, taxes included. The day starts around 7 am and ends around 4 pm. Like any safari, there is no guarantee of seeing animals.
Great White Bear Tours and Frontiers North, a massive player in Churchill, only offer to book the day trip.
The options are flight-lodging-tour combinations. These packages are attractive because the total cost is less than if you book separately. Frontiers North offers day trips from Winnipeg for $1,800, including flight and tundra buggy tour or a three day stay with charter flights directly from Montreal for… $5,000!
This can be a good option for people who don’t want to break the bank or are short on time. In this case, charge the expense to the credit card as travel to use your travel points. However, to save money and optimize this trip with points, it is better to go a la carte.
How to get there
Churchill Airport is served primarily by Calm Air from Winnipeg. The cash cost for this 2.5-hour flight ranges from $1,530 to $1,800, depending on the fare option chosen.
There are four different rates. The cheapest fare allows only one carry-on bag, and the most expensive allows up to three checked bags and free changes/cancellation.
You can book Winnipeg-Churchill round-trip travel with Aeroplan points for 15,000 points and $230 tax. Using points, in this case, leads us to a valuation of $0.09 per point, which is excellent!
I checked with the company, and the cost in points is still fixed for now. Moreover, you have to be prepared in advance because there are not many Aeroplan tickets available as they are small planes of 60-70 passengers.
For reservations with Aeroplan points, call Calm Air directly at 1-800-839-2256.
There are several hotels in Churchill, but it is essential to book in advance as they are often fully booked during the peak season. The cost for a night in double occupancy is between $100 and $350 per night, depending on the time of year.
These hotels can be booked on Booking.com or directly with the accommodation. Choose the travel points, if possible, for accommodation in Churchill. Most hotels also have a restaurant service.
Although this type of safari is expensive, the costs can be covered mainly by the points, especially for flights with Calm Air.
This trip is on my bucket list, but since children under eight years old cannot participate in the buggy tours, this project will remain on ice for a few years on our side. The total costs of such an escapade?
- Flight Montreal – Winnipeg ~ 20,000 Aeroplan points + $137 taxes
- Two nights in Winnipeg ~ 12,500 – 20,000 Bonvoy points per night
- Flight Winnipeg – Churchill 15,000 Aeroplan points + $230 taxes
- Two nights in Churchill ~ $100 – $350 per night based on double occupancy
- Tundra buggy tour ~ $500 per person.