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[READER QUESTION] What Method of Transportation Should I Take for Last Minute Trip?

A few days ago, a friend had asked me which type of transportation she should take from Ottawa to Guelph, Ontario as an emergency trip occurred and she would need to leave within the next couple of days. For last minute travel, it will be an extremely difficult task to get the best deal, but at least you can try to make the best out of it. She had originally decided to take the Greyhound bus. Below is a list of recommendations:

1) Last-minute bus ticket

You can see that a one-way ticket would cost her $40.50 for a discount Web Only Fare price and $61.00 for the Standard Fare price if she were to buy it at the ticket counter vs. online. Since Greyhound does not offer a loyalty program for frequent travelers, you can only benefit from this if you own a credit card that gives a travel multiplier, such as:

American Express Gold Rewards Card

  • You will earn 2 points per dollar spent on travel expenses.

Capital One Aspire Travel World Elite MasterCard

  • You will earn 2 reward miles per dollar spent on all purchases.

BMO World Elite MasterCard

  • You will earn 1 Airmile per $10 dollars spent on all purchases.

MBNA World Elite MasterCard

  • You will earn 2 MBNA Rewards points per dollar spent on all eligible purchases.

Before making a final decision, it is important to analyze various options (afterall, why would anyone want to pay more if they don’t have to). So I created a quick spreadsheet to lay out the options for her.

2) VIA Rail

As a VIA Preference member, you can earn 500 bonus points at sign-up when you spend $250 dollars within the first six months of registration. You will then earn 1 point per dollar spent on discounted tickets and up to 1.5 points per dollar for higher class tickets.

Since my friend currently isn’t a VIA Preference member, she will not earn 500 bonus points in time to use for this trip. However, as a member, she will earn points for the paid travel by train. At the same time, she can opt in on the double dipping business by also collecting credit card loyalty points. If there are future plans to travel by train, this option is convincingly rewarding. A trip from Ottawa to Toronto will cost approximately 1,125 points for a one way ticket.

Having a lot of VIA Rail points gives a lot of flexibility in your travels. They do not penalize for cancellations and you can change your reservation on time. Sometimes you can purchase tickets from Ottawa to Toronto for as low as $44. With the VIA Rail as like the Greyhound bus, you have a guarantee of time and space. You will arrive at the specified time and be guaranteed the specific seat assigned to you at the time of purchase.

Unfortunately, for a last minute ticket, the prices increase quite a bit. This is a normal business marketing tactic, especially for desperate travelers. You will also not have access to Escape class tickets, which are discounted tickets provided by Via Rail. However, the economy ticket we see below is exchangeable and refundable, you will have complimentary Wi-fi the whole way there, power outlets and access to a small menu of food and beverages. As a traveler, we will need to determine how important these services are to us for this particular trip in order to justify a $143 train ticket.

3) RideShare

This isn’t normally an option that I would look into, as I have always had an uneasy impression of rideshare services; possibly the fact that you will always have an uncertainty of the background and history of drivers. There isn’t a strict legal procedure to become a member of this service, so you will not get the type of guarantees you will receive when travelling by bus or train.

Above is an example of a Rideshare ad I found on Craigslist:

Although the one-way ride there is only $30, the whole description of the driver doesn’t exceed two typed lines. I’m not sure if there are any regulations on Rideshare programs, but I am very skeptical of the idea of having a stranger drive me to my destination despite the cheap price. But hey, if you’re okay with that, then I’d say go for it.

4) Car Rental Service

Rent a car and go where you need to go. I would love to try this one out myself since I’ve heard many good things about car rental loyalty programs. This depends on how often you plan to use this specific service in the future. In previous posts, I mentioned that National’s Car Rental loyalty program has a lot of flexibility and elite status perks.

Let’s say we go with the Midsize car. For one weekend, it would cost us approximately $64 a day and $192 dollars for the weekend (Friday to Sunday). On top of that, you’d be looking at about $45 to fill up the tank before returning the vehicle for a total of $237 the entire trip.

This is an option I would recommend if you’re travelling with a few friends as they can help scale down the large travel expense. Four travellers would cost each person $59.25 (That’s only $30 one way)! If you don’t plan on renting a car in the future, earnings from this trip can be transferred to National’s travel partners such as Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines or even hotel programs such as Hilton’s HHonors. The leeway with this one is you can go wherever you like, from start to finish of the trip.

In the end, you need to weigh out your options. If price is your main priority, then all you really need to consider is which method of travel provides you with the cheapest ticket home. If comfort is your main priority, VIA Rail may be a better choice as it provides a more luxurious voyage, especially if it’s going to be five hours long. If flexibility is most significant this trip, then you may want to consider the car rental option; if you can’t even reach your final destination because the bus or train won’t take you there, then it defeats the purpose of even going there, right?


  1. I do realize that your post is directed to Canadian travelers but, particularly since I am sure you have a readership in the US (like me), I thought I should point out a couple of things about the Greyhound option:

    1. Here in the US at least, a Greyhound ticket does NOT mean “you have a guarantee of time and space” as you mention in the VIA Rail section. If more riders turn up, even with reservations, for a specific bus than Greyhound has seats, you can be bumped to the next bus without compensation. The ‘rules’ may be different in Canada but my student son knows this from personal experience at New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal a few months ago.

    2. Here in the US Greyhound does have a rewards program called “Road Rewards”. Just signing up can, I think, get you a discount and you can earn free trips.

    1. Hi Nigel,

      It’s too bad we don’t have that here in Canada, but thanks for letting us know! I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for it in case it comes!

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