Did I become a travel hacker lately?
Well, I have to admit that for the short time it takes me to manage my points, it doesn’t change my life, but using the points I’ve earned thanks to my American Express Platinum Card® and the Aeroplan program, as well as all the benefits associated with this card, greatly enhances the travel experience.
This stay in Vancouver is a great example:
- return flights (with a promo) in business class (A220) and Air Canada Signature (A330);
- upgrades at the Westin Greater Vancouver and the JW Marriott;
- credits offered by the American Express Fine Hotel and Resorts program;
- earning a total of 13,000 points with my expenses.
Discover more about my stay and the tricks I used!
My flights with Air Canada
Calgary - Vancouver: Air Canada - A220 - Business Class
Why I left from Calgary will be the subject of another article, but let’s just say that I made a wise decision to fly between the two cities: with completely clear skies, flyong over the Rocky Mountains was quite a sight.
See in my Instagram stories: @johnriverin
I was on board the Airbus A220, in business class: I took advantage of the MegaSummer promotion which offered a 40% discount on flight rewards.
In the end, this flight only cost me 7,500 points and $70 in taxes.
It was an amazing flight, thanks to the snow-covered mountains that stretch to infinity, but also because the plane is brand new.
Even though I don’t use it often, the touch-screen entertainment system responds very well to commands, and offers a wide range of movies, detailed (really!) flight information and even travel guides about the destination.
Personally, I also find that the cloth seats are much more comfortable than the cold, worn-out leather benches found in the A319.
Vancouver - Montreal: Air Canada - A330 - Signature Class
This was. Simply the best.
Offered only on a few routes in North America, the Signature Class offers check-in at reserved counters, a little out of the way of the crowd (yes, it was crowded in the middle of the pandemic!). And, of course, the checked baggage has an orange tag on it, which we like to see flashing on the conveyor belt when we arrive at our destination!
In terms of in-flight services, is there anything better at Air Canada? I don’t know, but it couldn’t have been any better for me.
Each passenger is seated in a small box with a fully reclining fabric seat. A few storage spaces allow you to settle in for a good flight. I must admit, I slept for 3 hours: the fitted sheet, the quilt and the pillow are quite comfortable… and I activated the massage function of the lumbar support, which certainly helped! For me, sleeping on a plane is a feat, so congratulations on the comfort. Of course, I could have enjoyed the entertainment system, and I wouldn’t even have had to move around thanks to the small, hyper-user-friendly remote control.
When I woke up… I had a big tray of food and bubbles waiting for me. The stewardess probably wanted to put me back to sleep, she kept offering me bubbles and bubbles until I landed! Because yes, it’s all-you-can-drink, and the service is impeccable. The lady was masked, but I could see her smile.
What a service, and especially what comfort this Signature class for only 15k points (with the promotion described above) and $80 in taxes. In addition to being cozy, these small individual pods offer a truly intimate space.
*No opinion on the lounges, because they were all closed when I was there.
My advice for great tables (or not) in Vancouver!
For those who don’t know me: imagine an avid food lover, with a hyper-sensitive sense of smell… so I exclaim “Mmm!” even before a bite has reached my taste buds. My nose is faster than them! And this guy is also curious and candid, so he always surrenders without pretension and tastes with amusement and delight all the best that the chosen restaurant has to offer. Because yes… I almost never open the menu, I want to be surprised, to be amazed… at what price?! I often don’t know until after dessert.
Joking aside, I’m particularly interested and attentive to the service and the atmosphere (I love it when a restaurant makes me feel like I’ve entered a bubble, isolated from the rest of the world), and of course to the tastes, the execution and the presentation of the dishes; without really knowing anything theoretical about it!
I had the great pleasure of visiting several restaurants that this year (2020), or in a previous year, were in the Top 100 restaurants in Canada; and I also went to a few places recommended by people I met during my stay. I like to follow local recommendations.
- To discover the top rated restaurants, I often visit Canada’s 100 Best. However, I do not only follow their advice!
- Moreover, I often reserve a table, when possible, through the application Open Table: a rewards system that allows you to earn exchangeable points, but above all, the application is super easy to use.
- Finally, sometimes, when places are very limited, I use the concierge service of my Amex Platinum card.
- Otherwise, improvisation and discovery can always do the trick.
Here are a few suggestions (with prices suitable for a traveller) and opinions (in all honesty)!
Café Médina (≈$30): opened in 2008, it’s an institution in Vancouver.
High ceilings, open-plan kitchen and dining room flooded with natural light. The waitress recommends the fricassée (a kind of stew in a pan) which is the most popular dish on the Mediterranean-inspired menu.
And I recommend the tasty espresso! Because “life is too short for bad coffee”.
Chambar (≈$25): Liège waffles are a must try in Vancouver.
It’s when I ran into a long line at the Jam Café (which many people said I should try!), that I decided to open the door next to it. And this charming restaurant and wine bar offered exactly what I wanted: soft waffles spread with fig marmalade and salted butterscotch caramel.
- Cactus Club Coal Harbor (≈$50): this is a local restaurant chain, which no longer has to prove itself. With more than 30 branches in Canada, it was time to try it! Chef Rob Feenie’s signature dish that I was introduced to is the butternut squash and shrimp ravioli. I’m not a big fan of shrimp… and it’s won me over! In addition, the view of the harbour and Stanley Park is quite soothing. For a cocktail, the English Bay branch also offers a breathtaking view of the boardwalk, the beach and the sea.
Hydra (≈$15): New restaurant in Vancouver.
Very hip, very chic. Situated in the middle of the city centre, the terrace is like an island of peace in the heart of the tumult.
When I went there in the afternoon, I was alone in this large, beautifully decorated space, and the owner was very friendly: he chatted with me, offered me a glass of bubbles and recommended a fresh watermelon salad. Simple, but perfect on a hot day.
I settled there for a few hours with my reading light, but the evening atmosphere is much more hectic, he told me.
Miku (≈$200, unless you find hair!…): I was told that it was a must for a Japanese gastronomic meal. And I wasn’t disappointed.
BUT here’s the little story… Basically, there are three menu choices. I took the basic one. When I received my appetizer, I found a white hair: I immediately sent the plate back. Once is fine. The new plate comes back, without hair, well no… it was still served with hair! That’s it, I got all anxious, and I told myself that they wouldn’t believe me… but the restaurant manager felt so bad that he offered to let me have the most expensive menu ($135) and all the cocktails I wanted. On the house.
So what I saw in front of me: aburi style sushi (torched on the top and raw underneath, it’s the specialty), braised beef, tataki, cocktails and A-MA-ZING matcha tea dessert.
In spite of the terrible start, I left more than satisfied and with no bill!
Bao Bei (≈$70): the “or not” in the title of this chapter was unfortunately aimed at this restaurant located in the heart of Chinatown which disappointed me a lot.
Despite all the recommendations, very trendy, the place certainly offers a good menu (they are not the best dumplings!), a nice decor, good cocktails, but I had the feeling that I was not welcome. As if I was bothering the small group of waiters, all dressed up but not very welcoming. It happens. Perhaps it was the effect of COVID-19, because in their words, “they are the place to be”!
St. Lawrence (≈$120): Ranked #2 among the top 100 restaurants in Canada this year, this little French bistro has frankly managed to please me in terms of atmosphere and service; as for the food, it serves revisited Quebec dishes, certainly well executed and tasty, but that didn’t blow my mind.
What impressed me the most was to see Chef J-C Poirier and his team working in the kitchen to the rhythm of a completely organic choreography; like a show where every gesture seems to be calculated to deliver impeccably presented plates.
I had a great time!
Savio Volpe (≈$150): the hostess at the St. Lawrence recommended it to me. Definitely my favourite. I do have a weakness for Italian food!
On the one hand, Nathan’s service was extraordinary. He knew how to choose the dishes so that I could taste a nuanced range of their cuisine: tuna crudo drizzled with chives oil and creamy salad with gorgonzola and walnuts, plate of pork snacks, cannoli and pistachio gelato. Luscious!
And the pairing with a chardonnay from the Tantalus vineyards in the Okanagan: yummy.
Other suggestions (if you have more time): Elisa; Ask for Luigi; Torafuku; PiDGin; AnnaLena
My Hotels in Vancouver
For me, a hotel isn’t just a hotel. So, yes, I know, it’s sometimes expensive, but when the experience is great, why not!
Staying in a hotel can be compared to staying at a friend’s house: and let me tell you that I often become friends with the hosts and the head concierge! Visiting different hotels is for me an opportunity to discover settings, ambiences, services and ways of receiving guests, which have been designed to make their stay a great one.
For this stay, I first wanted to get a room with a view on the sea and the mountain, so I chose to book at the Pan Pacific.
Then, I wanted to take advantage of my Gold status at Marriott Bonvoy (which I get every year with my Amex Platinum), so I split the remaining days between the Westin Greater Vancouver and the JW Marriott Parq.
So here’s what I thought:
Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel
One night at the Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel costs $410 for a Premier Room, 1 king size bed, with mountain and city views.
Located in downtown directly on Canada Place, the hotel is imposing at first sight. I had the impression of boarding a large cruise ship: the chiquely decorated interior is immense, even though the atmosphere is a bit cold given the lack of tourists in this time of pandemic.
Everything is done very easily during the check-in, the concierge is very kind.
And the bedroom! Excuse me, the view from the bedroom. Wow.
Slanted view of the skyline, Stanley Park in the distance and the bay, with the mountains in the background. Imagine the beauty of sunrises and sunsets: simply magical. That’s why I liked this hotel.
And then… the swimming pool was nice, the room too (nothing else to say for this price). Breakfast was excellent and hearty. My only concern was the carpet in the room: an old smell (subtle, but I have a very fine nose!) that goes back to the time when smoking was allowed (probably)!
The Westin Grand, Vancouver
At The Westin Grand – Vancouver, I got a room with upgrade, a Premium suite, 1 king size bed, corner room, balcony, high floor for $285 per night.
At first glance, I didn’t find anything exceptional about the building, and the lobby was nice. However, the hotel slowly got to me. On the one hand, the service is excellent: both through the chat feature on the application (where I asked for a upgrade), and at the reception. When a custmer has a Marriott status, the hotel takes good care of them.
And it was when I opened the door to my room that I was won over: a well-lit, super-clean, spacious room with a magnificent view of Vancouver. Furniture that’s right up my alley!
For several hours I enjoyed the swimming pool: I felt like I was in the Carribbean with this Floridian vibe the terrace creates!
And when I got back to the room, a basket full of beer, sweets, soft drinks, and snacks was waiting for me. Well, thank you!
JW Marriott Parq Vancouver
A night at the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver costs $450. I got an upgrade to a Suite-studio, 1 king size bed, view over the water, high floor.
Opened in 2017, the PARQ complex is located between the trendy neighbourhoods of Yaletown and Gastown, directly adjacent to BC Place Stadium. The establishment, designed by the Montreal architectural firm ACDF is home to 2 luxury hotels, a casino, restaurants, a gym and a spa.
No matter from what angle you look at this major project ($400 million) for the first time, it impresses! It has clearly been designed in perfect harmony with the stadium that surrounds it, following its shape. But PARQ is also reminiscent of the natural environment that surrounds Vancouver: the curved lines and the very shape of the complex make it look like a mountain; the glass façade reflects the sky and the buildings in an impressive way.
I don’t know much about architecture, but it looks like a jewel to me!
You enter a spacious hall, under imposing chandeliers, and thanks to the booking that I made with the Fine Hotels and Resorts of American Express program, the check-in is done at noon.
Before arriving at the room, I received a most courteous and attentive service (velvet seat to wait + bottle of water).
As soon as you step out of the elevator on floor 18, you can already feel the attention to detail in the elegant carpet and the warm, muffled lighting.
What about my Studio-suite? Beautiful. The lounge is very spacious, furnished with a large and very comfortable velvet sofa. A party wall rises up at the studio’s center to give a more intimate side to the sleeping space, which includes a television, a very large and cozy bed, a closet, a table and two stylish pink armchairs overlooking False Creek Bay.
Also, behind two large sliding doors, we discover the luxurious bathroom. A marble shower, a decoration in golden colours, fine bath products. Everything was perfect.
In order to make my experience “profitable”, but most of all very soothing, I decided to treat myself to a massage as well as to room service for dinner using the credits offered.
Although the massage was only 50 minutes, the therapist was so effective that it seemed longer to me. And whoa, whoa, whoa… She offered to use David Beckham’s favourite massage oil?! Even though I was wearing the mask, this Beckham oil relaxed me a lot.
A tea and snacksservice is also offered after the massage, in a relaxing lounge overlooking the bay.
To finish off, the access to the spa on the terrace offers a 360-degree view (somewhat obstructed by the imposing stadium): on a clear day, you can see the town of Bernaby and Mount Baker… magnificent!
After a very relaxing spa service, I made the most of this relaxing area, which I had to myself, in the bright sunshine.
Living the good life.
Finally, the room service is – how can I put it? – Delicious!
I was expecting cafeteria food, but the JW Signature chicken fried rice dish with strawberry shortcake and half a litre of wine: it was beyond my expectations… and free, with my credits!
In closing, it would be unfortunate not to take some time to enjoy the imposing PARQ complex after dark. The shadows and lights, the reflections and the colourful stadium in the background: all this, from the street corner, to the rhythm of the car headlights, is mesmerizing.
What to do in Vancouver?
In terms of entertainment, it’s clear that I’ve essentially taken advantage of the culinary scene in the metropolis. If you know me, I’m used to visiting and exploring more. Yes, yes. But since I could really feel the 200km of walking I had just done (Crossing of Charlevoix and several summits in Alberta), I stuck to the major attractions downtown… here they are.
English Bay and Stanley Park
In spite of the pandemic, the locals, gathered by the dozens, come to admire the sunset on the beach of English Bay; a long sandy moor bordered by tall grass, large stones, condo towers (!) and, above all, next to Stanley Park.
It is the third largest urban park in North America and welcomes more than 8 million visitors a year…! It’s definitely worth getting around, and getting lost; on foot or by bike.
But one thing is certain: the sunset at the end of the peninsula of downtown Vancouver is a must-see. And why not take the opportunity to watch the full moon over the city centre at night?
There’s not so much to say about Canada Place, but it remains a great place to watch the skyline at sunset. During the day, you can watch many seaplanes take off and land. In addition, several emblematic sculptures can be found nearby on the promenade along the harbour.
Granville Island Public Market
If you like public markets, it’s a must! The food is very good, and above all it is possible to taste many local products. It’s the ideal place to buy souvenirs, gifts, or simply local handicrafts.
Outside, a public square has been created to enjoy the view of the bridges and False Creek Bay. Well, I can’t stand panpipes, so I didn’t dwell on it. But that’s just me!
A walk in this beautiful park will allow you to enjoy the view of downtown and the various marinas of False Creek Bay. The (protected!) view of the mountains is soothing and if you are lucky (like me!) you can see seals basking on the docks.
This park is a real oasis by the sea!
Looking for a getaway 15 minutes drive from downtown? Grouse Mountain is a ski and hiking area that rises to 1200 meters: it’s the top of Vancouver!
Very steep, the 3km trail to reach the panoramic view is quite physical: it is called the Grouse Grind. But beware, this is a one-way ride: you will have to come back by cable car and it will cost you $15. So all you have to do is climb the mountain and you will be rewarded with a magnificent view of Vancouver and its islands, a coffee and a lumberjack show (not my thing…).
Also, you will be able to observe two grizzly bears that have been saved from certain death, and that now live in captivity.
I’ll end on a LGBTQ+ note! Although it is very small, the “gay village” consists of one street: Davie Street. All colourful, very lively. The area seems to be in full expansion: beautiful condo towers are being erected, and many restaurants and cafés seem to have just opened their doors.
Finally, a few perpendicular streets are pedestrianized and host artistic installations that are worth a linger. It’s just nice to stroll down this street that looks like Castro in San Francisco.