Journey to Whistler: Fairmont Vancouver Airport, Rental Car Strategy, and Maple Leaf Lounge

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Our last ski trip of the year was to a place that has been on my travel “wish list” for well over a decade…Whistler in British Columbia.  I’ve heard great things about the mountain, the village, the snow, and it was finally our turn to check it out for ourselves.  Naturally, miles and points had to play a big role in this adventure as nothing about skiing in Whistler sounded particularly inexpensive, but it was totally doable when some cash was leveraged with a pile of miles and points.

Flying to Vancouver to Spend the Night:

To get to Whistler, we flew into Vancouver on a direct flight from Houston operated by United.  They only have one flight per day from Houston to Vancouver that doesn’t require connections, so we opted for that in order to limit our travel time as much as possible.  The late evening flight time also allowed us to work a normal day, which was great heading into a vacation.  Flying on what was essentially a red-eye was interesting with our four year old, especially when she had to wake-up at around 1AM her time to go through passport control in Canada!  We didn’t have NEXUS at the time, but got it secured for our next visit She did great overall, and I’m glad we selected that flight option.  We used miles for that leg of the journey as part of a “free one-way” for myself, and via United miles for my husband and daughter due to pretty high revenue prices.


Ready for a late night take-off

Fairmont Vancouver Airport:

If you are flying in late/out early with your kid(s) and there is a hotel option that does not require a shuttle transfer, you should always take it.  I have points I could have used at a ton of nearby properties, but there is no way I was going to add any extra time to our late night journey.  We eventually got the Fairmont Vancouver for a very, very good rate thanks to TravelPony (my link) and it was more than worth every penny.  You can read a bit about the stay and booking through TravelPony here, but I’ll add some details.

It was located up an escalator from the US Departures area of the airport.  There was a very nice bellman who helped with our luggage, but ultimately that proved to be a mistake on our part as we were still waiting for our bags 30 minutes after checking into our room.  We couldn’t get ready for bed until they arrived, and they were delayed due to lots of guests checking in just after midnight.



The room was nice enough, though not spectacular.  It could probably stand to undergo some updating in the not so distance future, but there were no problems that impaired a good night’s sleep.  It had a separate shower and bath tub that could overlook the room, if desired.  I had no complaints about the bed, didn’t hear any noise from the halls, and didn’t even hear significant noise from the arriving and departing planes.



Speaking of, the view was my favorite part of the room since you could just stare out at the airport operations if you so desired.


Since I was a member of the Fairmont President’s Circle, internet was free (a $13 savings).  They even gave me a stay credit despite being on a TravelPony third party booking.  You can walk out of the hotel into the airport to access many affordable food court options, including Starbucks.  I had assumed we would do that for breakfast, but apparently my husband has gotten spoiled with the Hyatt Diamond Style breakfasts, and he talked us into the more expensive room service option.  Given how tired we were the next morning, it wasn’t a hard sell, but be aware you can easily save some cash on breakfast by simply walking into the pre-security food court in the airport.


Indulgent, but delicious way to start the day


Everyone enjoyed their breakfast and my daughter was obsessed with her kid’s pancakes saying they tasted like cookies – which they very much did.  My fruit and yogurt was also good, and my husband seemed to enjoy his heaping pile of mouth watering cholesterol pictured above.

After breakfast, my daughter and I finished packing up while my husband went to go get our rental car from Hertz (picking it up the morning we left saved a night’s rental charges + parking fees).  You can pull right up to the front of the hotel where valet is located to load up and easily be on your way to start your journey in Canada!  Overall, this was probably not the cheapest way to spend our first night/morning in Canada, but it was by far the most convenient!

Saving Money on SUV Rental:

We wanted an SUV for this trip both for the extra room and to give us a bit more power than a smaller car might have driving on the potentially snowy and winding roads from Vancouver to Whistler.  As usual, SUV rentals can be pricey, so we opted to use a combo of a couple weekend night awards + cash via Hertz Gold Plus Rewards.  They let us combine award days plus paid days on the same reservation to bring the price down to a much more reasonable level.  We were also able to use the Amex Platinum code to give us four extra free hours since we were turning the car back in later on the last day than the time when we picked it up on the first day.

If you are interested, I wrote in more detail about this process here.  We brought our own car seat so that we didn’t have to worry about getting one from the car rental agency.  She had no problem passing right out in the car seat, which was great for us, but resulted in her missing much of one of the most scenic drives I have been on in a long time from Vancouver to Whistler.  It was a little over 1.5 hours to get to Whistler, but I didn’t really want it to end as the mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and more were just breathtaking!


She opted for a nap over sightseeing

Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge:

On our return to the Vancouver airport before we flew home we visited the Maple Leaf Lounge thanks to my Star Alliance Gold status via United.  I had heard relatively good things about the Maple Leaf Lounges, so we went in for a quick snack.  The food selection was certainly more plentiful and varied than in a United Club, but wasn’t something I would want to make a meal of.  I have heard that the food at the nearby Plaza Premium lounge could potentially be made into a meal a bit easier if you were so inclined.  You can access that lounge via Priority Pass Select (complimentary with Amex Platinum), but we didn’t have time for both on this trip.


If you were in the mood for a stiff drink I think this lounge would have some real appeal since there was liquor and mixers in relative abundance compared to the complimentary options in many US domestic lounges.  The soft drinks and juices were hidden in the refrigerator, but don’t be shy about opening it even though it is a bit out of sight.


We did not stay long at the lounge, but found it to be a decent place for a quick snack, and an even better place to stop at if you wanted a drink, assuming you had complimentary access of some sort as I don’t think it is really good enough to pay for out of pocket.

On this trip the flights, lounges, and rental cars were very much not the focus of the trip.  The focus of the trip was on the destination, and I was beyond excited when we finally arrived to the Westin Whistler, and I can’t wait to share those details very soon!


Westin Whistler Driveway!

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  1. Glad you had a great time. We stayed at the Fairmont in Whistler actually on our trip there in January. YVR has an awesome airport…wouldn’t mind getting stuck there for a couple hours. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the Maple Leaf Lounge, but I’ll definitely have to check out the spirits next time I’m out there. 🙂

  2. Yes!! Westin Whistler. I’ve almost stayed there twice. One of these days. Right next to the Gondola and in the Village. Plenty of details and pics!!

  3. Jon, it is pretty great and def stop by Maple Leaf Lounge if you want a drink!
    Patrick, do it for sure. Plenty of details coming soon!

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