We broke some basic travel rules and learned our lesson the expensive way.
Say hello to the Four Points by Sheraton hotel by the Calgary airport. This was our home for less than seven hours when we were cobbling together a series of inexpensive flights to make our way across Canada and eventually to Hawaii. Without enough time to visit friends or see the city, we nevertheless embraced our short stopover as an opportunity to get some much needed sleep on what was a very long voyage.
A quick look at a map told us that local hotels were so close to the airport, they were practically touching it and, even better, there were dozens of properties to chose from. That gave us an advantage when it came to online booking. We knew we were spoiled for choice and the Four Points won thanks to a combination of its price (under $100!) and its star rating (it was less expensive than some adjacent three star properties.) This was a chance for us to treat ourselves to some sweet stop-over sleep and we were very smug for being such savvy spenders.
Little did we realize we were about to make a big, BIG mistake!
Before I go any further, I should point out that the Four Points was indeed everything we were looking for and everything we wanted it to be. It was not our big mistake! The beds were clean, soft, and comfortable. The room had plugs galore and great Wi-Fi (a key requirement for airport hotels). We were able to enjoy a solid dose of both work and sleep.
Like most Sheraton properties, there was a coffee station prepped so we could take freshly brewed coffee with us in the morning, and they also included complimentary bottles of water. Such a nice touch! We were thrilled with this change from our usual airport accommodations (aka: the floor!) and we couldn't have asked for a better hotel at that price point.
But when it came to actually getting to the hotel.... well, talk about making some mistakes!
Our big, BIG mistake wasn't our choice of hotel but rather our plan on how to get there. With just one quick glance at the map, we made the hasty judgement that the hotel's incredibly close proximity to the airport meant it wasn't necessary to purchase the $5 tickets for the airport-to-hotel shuttle. We could walk!
Now why in the world did we ever think we'd WALK to the hotel!? I have no idea what we were thinking! We were either insane (likely) or we perhaps had vague memories of an earlier trip to Europe where encountered airport terminals so oddly configured that it was often less frustrating and much quicker to walk to our destination than to wait for a shuttle. Did I mention this was March, this was Calgary, and we were arriving near midnight?
But no, our plan was to walk. To walk in the middle of the night, in winter, without a map or direction. Or jackets. Because: HAWAII!
Of course, as soon as we landed, we decided we didn't want to walk. Because the truth is that we're lazy sometimes. Or maybe it's a lot of the time! Either way, we were lazy that night and that's probably a good thing, given how woefully unprepared we were. The taxi was sounding pretty good.
And, as expected, there was no waiting around. Our friendly driver helped load our backpacks and we were off! See ya, shuttle suckers! We'll be asleep in bed and you'll still be waiting by Pillar 16!
It wasn't long before we noticed something was wrong. We had only been driving a few minutes but already the meter showed almost a $20 fare. What was going on!? Were we being charged extra for our luggage? Maybe the fare was more expensive because we were in a van? Nope. Welcome to Calgary. Vancouver might be called Canada's most expensive city but that night I believed Calgary could give it a run for it's money.
Ready for a good dose of irony? In Calgary, it costs $3.80 for the first 120 meters of a cab ride - but when you're picked up at the airport it costs $8.30. It's all due to an airport levy tax. It's the same tax that necessitates a ticket price for the hotel shuttle. So you're paying that airport levy one way or another.
We looked at each other in horror as the meter kept creeping higher and higher. Ryan frantically did a GPS search on his phone to make sure the driver was indeed taking us the shortest possible route. Turns out, like every other airport in the world, the roads around Calgary airport are a bit of a tangle and you have to basically loop around the airport (and halfway around the city, and a few mountains, and backtrack on a few highways) to arrive at the cluster of airport hotels that are so tantalizingly close to the tarmac.
That ride goes down as the saddest $40 we've ever spent on travel and we wallowed in shame for a good hour or two. Thank goodness we had a nice room as compensation!
While our hotel choice was a winner, our overall plan was a huge fail and we had no one to blame but ourselves. We let ourselves get cocky and assumed it would all work out for crafty, experienced travelers such as ourselves. On some subconscious level we probably thought "How complicated can a Canadian airport be"? Hadn't we navigated every airport from Athens to Yangon with ease? Lesson learned. The travel world will always find a way to humble you and a bit of extra preparation is never a waste of time.
We also broke one of the key rules of value travel and focused on the price tag and not the value. Booking the airport shuttle in advance, no matter the cost, would have brought peace of mind and that's something worth paying for. And, frankly, the more expensive hotel located directly on the airport property might have been a worthy investment, given the time and money we wasted on transportation. Miscalculating the hotel's distance from the airport didn't just cost us money; it also cost us a lot of extra sleep considering how much time we spent in transit.
Humble pie is my least favorite kind of travel food and I felt foolish for a very long time that I hadn't looked up proper directions, that I was so naive to think we could walk from the airport to the hotel, and that I ever thought a taxi would be an economical choice.
We're fortunate that this travel disaster was relatively minor in the grand scheme of things and the only thing that was wounded was our pride (and pocketbook!)
Happily, our return trip to the airport was far less problematic. The shuttle is free for those being dropped off at the airport. By the time we boarded our flight to Honolulu, our moods began to match the sunny weather and we could take our Calgary travel memories with a grain of salt.