Domestic airfares fluctuate significantly depending on season, day of the week, length of stay and flexibility of the ticket for changes and refunds. Still, nothing determines fares more than demand, and when business is slow, airlines drop fares to fill seats. Airlines are competitive and at any time any one of them could have the cheapest fare.
Most air travelers to the Pacific Northwest will arrive at one of the three main airports in the region:
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Known locally as 'Sea-Tac.'
All crossings are open 24 hours except Lynden/Aldergrove, which is open 8am to midnight. During the week, expect to wait five to 20 minutes, an hour or more on weekends and during holidays. For up-to-date wait times, check www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/bwt-taf/menu-eng.html; it has links to other US–Canada border crossings. Tips and directions can be found at www.vancouver.hm/border.html.
Many travelers also cross the border by ferry, principally on journeys from Anacortes to Sidney (near Victoria), BC, and from Port Angeles to Victoria.
Blaine/Douglas (aka Peace Arch) crossing The main overland point of entry from Washington to Vancouver, BC. It's at the northern end of I-5, which continues as Hwy 99 on the Canadian side. This crossing has the longest lines.
Pacific Highway crossing Commercial trucks (and regular vehicles) use this crossing, 3 miles (5km) east of Blaine/Douglas; from I-5, take exit 275 (the one before Blaine). If you're entering Canada with duty-free goods, you'll need to cross here.
Lynden/Aldergrove crossing A good choice during busy times is this little-known crossing about 30 miles (50km) east of Blaine/Douglas. Take exit 256 off I-5, just north of Bellingham, and follow Hwy 539.
Sumas/Huntingdon crossing Best for heading to BC's interior is this crossing 62 miles (100km) east of Blaine/Douglas. Take exit 255 off I-5, just north of Bellingham, and follow Hwy 542 and then Hwy 9.
In car-oriented societies like the USA and Canada, bus travel takes second place. Service is infrequent or inconvenient, networks are sparse and fares can be relatively high. Air travel is often cheaper on long-distance routes, and it can even be cheaper to rent a car than take the bus, especially for shorter routes. However, very long-distance bus trips can be available at decent prices if you purchase or reserve tickets in advance.
The largest nationwide bus company in the USA and Canada, Greyhound (www.greyhound.com) operates to major and minor cities throughout the Pacific Northwest; check its website for destinations and schedules. Tickets can be purchased by phone or online with a major credit card and mailed to you if purchased in advance, or picked up at the terminal with proper identification. Buying tickets in advance will save you money, as will traveling on weekdays and during non-holiday times. Children, students, military personnel, veterans and seniors are eligible for discounts as well; check Greyhound's website for specifics.
Car & Motorcycle
Although the quickest way to get to the Pacific Northwest is usually by plane, the best way to get around is by car. If you have the time, it can be less expensive to drive to the Pacific Northwest than to fly and rent a car. And the region is blessed with many scenic highways that make driving long distances a feasible alternative.
Note that driving regulations, such as speed limits and the permissibility of right turns on red lights or making U-turns, can vary somewhat from state to state.
There are over two dozen car-sharing programs in the US. These programs usually require a membership fee (one-time and/or annual), plus a per-hour car-rental charge. Two of the biggest are Zipcar and Car2go, but there are many that operate only within a city or a few cities. They can be an economical way to rent (or share) a car if you only need wheels for an hour or two at a time.
The Pacific Northwest is well served by Amtrak (www.amtrak.com) in the USA and VIA Rail in Canada. Trains are comfortable, if slow, and equipped with dining and lounge cars on long-distance routes.
Amtrak's Coast Starlight links Los Angeles, CA, to Portland and Seattle via Oakland, CA, and other West Coast cities. The Empire Builder runs from Chicago, IL, to the Pacific Northwest via Minneapolis, MN, and Spokane, WA, where it separates to reach Portland and Seattle. VIA Rail's Canadian runs between Vancouver and Toronto. Schedules can be very fluid: arrival and departure times become less reliable the further you are from the starting point.
Fares on Amtrak vary greatly, depending on the season and what promotions are going. You can beat the rather stiff full-price fares by purchasing in advance – the further ahead you buy, the better the fare. Round trips are the best deal, but even these can be more expensive than airfares. Children, students, veterans, military personnel, seniors and even AAA members are eligible for discounts; check Amtrak's website for details, and for rail passes, which are a good option for longer travel periods.