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Spring is the ideal time to visit Europe: The weather is pleasant, the summer crowds haven't yet arrived, and best of all, everything's affordable. I've compiled 10 of the best Europe vacation deals for travel in the upcoming months, with accompanying photos that will leave you daydreaming about your spring vacation.

<h2>Paris in the Springtime (and Fall)</h2>

Air France Holidays' <a href="http://www.airfrance-holidays.com/site_afh/pub_detail.asp?id=12996&iType=0" target="_blank">Presenting Paris</a> vacation package is an affordable option for exploring the City of Lights. Round-trip airfare on <a href="http://www.airfrance.us" target="_blank">Air France</a> and six nights' accommodations at the <a href="http://www.choicehotels.fr/hotels/hotel?hotel=FR295" target="_blank">Comfort Gare de L'Est Hotel</a> are included, with extras such as a <a href="http://www.airfrance-holidays.com/site_afh/sightseeing-tours/paris-1057.asp" target="_blank">Bateaux Mouches river cruise</a>, a city map of Paris, continental breakfast, and hotel taxes and service charges. 

The base price of $799 is based on spring departures from New York City between April 1 and May 15, and again from September 8 through October 25. You can customize this package based on your departure city. For example, Philadelphia departures are an extra $30, and Washington, D.C., departures are an extra $70. 

(Photo: iStockPhoto/urbandevill)

Enter American Airlines' "Check It Out. Check It Off" sweepstakes by March 19 for a chance to win one of three grand prizes: a trip for two to Napa Valley, including air, three nights' hotel, winery tour, some meals, a home wine center, $2,500 gift card; a trip for two to New York, including air, three nights' hotel, tickets to a baseball game, city tour, some meals, $2,500 gift card; or a trip for two to Paris, including air, three nights' hotel, city tour, some meals, and $1,500 gift card.

The email promoting the sweepstakes reads thusly: "Ready to decide which one to check off your list? Simply register now at www.aa.com/experience, and when you book a trip on AA.com with your MasterCard card through March 19, 2012, you'll be entered for a chance to win an experience of a lifetime!"

But the fine print promises "No purchase necessary to enter or win." So, which is correct?...read more»

Airport: Man Looking at Watch (Photo: Thinkstock/Comstock)

Some airlines are as dependable as a broken clock. But there are other carriers that consistently get their planes to the gate on time—and FlightStats, which tracks flight performance data across the airline industry, is honoring them for their punctuality.

On Sunday FlightStats announced the winners of its annual On-Time Performance Service (OPS) Awards for airlines and airports. We know you're dying to find out if your favorite airline prevailed, so we'll get right to it: Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways, which maintained a 90 percent on-time flight arrival record, won the trophy for Best Arrival Performance Among Major International Airlines. ...read more»

Online Shopping (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

The sale of frequent flyer miles and hotel points is big business for travel suppliers. Need points? The airlines and hotels will be happy to sell them to you.

But typically, the prices for the miles or points are too high to deliver decent value—they're highly profitable for the seller, and a bad deal for the buyer. Occasionally, however, limited-time promotions tilt the value equation back in favor of the consumer, as with US Airways' recurring 100 percent bonus on purchased miles.

Sometimes the deals are positioned as bonuses—more miles for the same price. Other times, they're price reductions. But in the end, by whatever name, they all amount to discounts....read more»

Australia: Sydney Harbour Bridge (Photo: Thinkstock/AbleStock.com)

The best views in Sydney await you from the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. With the help of guides, you can latch on to a safety line and scale the bridge, all the way up, until you're 400 feet above the city. Choose the express climb to summit through the inner arch, or wind your way to the top via the catwalks, giving you a full picture of the bridge's engineering. At the peak, views of the city and the famous Opera House await.

The climb takes anywhere from two hours and 15 minutes to three and a half hours, which is a lot of time to panic, if you're afraid of heights. Luckily, the bridge guides are well trained in dealing with acrophobia, and can help even the most terrified to the top. Be warned though, climbs go in all weather (even rain)!

...read more»

AirTran aircraft tail close up (Photo: AirTran)

Southwest Airlines has cut six gateways from AirTran Airways' route map. In a press release issued Friday, the airline announced that AirTran will serve 22 gateways in the U.S., Mexico, and the Caribbean. However, AirTran will no longer operate in the following cities: Allentown, PA; Lexington, KY; Harrisburg, PA; Huntsville, AL; Sarasota, FL; and White Plains, NY. Service will cease August 11.

As is to be expected, not everyone is happy about these new changes—especially those who work at or fly from the aforementioned gateways. ...read more»

Globe Passport Plane Ticket (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

If it was a good deal (or a notably bad one) from an airline, hotel, or car rental loyalty program, you can read all about it here, and plan your travel accordingly....read more»

Train: Man working on laptop (Photo: iStockphoto/Tomas Bercic)

VIA Rail Canada is running another half-price sale: Buy tickets by January 26 for travel January 23 through May 31. The deal is 50 percent off the regular high-season adult fares and applies to all classes of service on all trains. The usual limitations apply—there are no refunds, seats are limited, and a three-day advance purchase restriction applies.

Amtrak, too, is running promotions:

England: London, Greenwich, Royal Naval College (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

Did you miss the ball dropping this New Year's Eve? Reenact the magic in Greenwich, England, where a ball drops every day at exactly 1:00 p.m. You may recognize the district's name, after hearing about Greenwich Mean Time and the Greenwich Meridian. This district in London is at zero degrees longitude and is generally used as the reference point for telling time. Visit the Royal Observatory and stand on the well-marked Greenwich Meridian Line for a cheesy photo op.

Once you've spent enough time learning about time, visit the preserved Cutty Sark clipper ship. Or, do some shopping at the eccentric Greenwich Market, which sells different specialties on different days of the week.

The best (and free) part of Greenwich is the park, which offers magnificent views of the River Thames and downtown London....read more»

Air: Man with no legroom (Photo: iStockphoto/Gene Chutka)

Is Southwest trading legroom for fashion? The airline is redecorating its cabin interiors with a stylish new color scheme, lightweight seats made from environmentally friendly materials, and low-profile seat cushions (read: thinner cushions), according to a press release issued by Southwest. When the low-cost carrier rolls out its new fleet-wide cabin redo, officially dubbed "Evolve: The New Southwest Interior," in March, it will also squeeze an extra six seats onto each of its planes.

Moreover, there'll be additional space for storing carry-on luggage under the spiffy new seats. But there will be less room for storing something that doesn't fit neatly into the overhead bin ... your legs....read more»

(Photo: Southwest)

Southwest Airlines and British Airways announced new and improved economy class seats, featuring better ergonomic design and lighter weight:

  • Southwest will install new-design seats in all of its 737-700s, starting in March. The line will add six seats to each plane, gaining the needed space by cutting the pitch (front-to-rear spacing of seat rows) on all seats from the current 32 inches down to 31 inches. But, claims Southwest, the new seat designs will actually give passengers just as much “personal space” as the old ones. And the new seatbacks will recline only two inches rather than three, decreasing the intrusion into the space of travelers in the row behind when the seat is at maximum recline. Southwest says it will use the same seats in its new 737-800s but will retain the previously standard 32-inch pitch. And it hasn’t decided what to do on its obsolescent first-generation 737s, which it will presumably phase out in a few years as it takes delivery on the more efficient new models....read more»
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