Five options for cutting hotel costs on your Europe vacation

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Trinity College, Dublin (Photo: Tourism Ireland)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on September 25, 2003. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: Europe, hotel, Italy, London, Molly Feltner, Spain.

With the present flurry of Europe airfare sales, you can plan a real bargain vacation to the Continent this fall or winter. However, with the euro still trumping the dollar, you'll need to watch how much you spend on your next biggest travel expense after airfare: accommodation.

Trying to find affordable, comfortable lodging can be a challenge. The cost for staying in a hotel room can quickly rival the amount you paid for your flight, but going for the cheapest option by staying at a hostel or camping might be too basic. Luckily, Europe has many alternative accommodation options for those who want to cut the price and keep the comfort. You may have to give up some amenities, but you'll often find you can get better service and a more personal experience in return.

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Some alternative lodging options in Europe worth a closer look include: Pensions, B&Bs, Farm Stays, Dormitories, and Vacation Rentals.

Pensions

If you're willing to stay in a room that's as well appointed and private as a standard hotel room but lacks a private bathroom, staying at a pension can be a good choice. You can often save 50 percent or more on accommodation costs by staying at a pension rather than a hotel. You may also save on food costs, as free breakfast (and sometimes dinner) is often included.

Pensions are often converted apartments or other building types that lack individual plumbing for each room, so several rooms share a common bath. Sometimes, however, a room may have a private toilet, shower, or sink. Aside from the lack of private bathrooms, you'll find that most pensions are as comfortable as hotels, even luxurious.

You can find pensions throughout Europe, though there seems to be more in Central and Eastern European cities like Berlin, Prague, and Vienna. To illustrate the price differences you can expect between pensions and hotels, here are some sample rates we found for double rooms in Vienna:

Pension Pension rate Hotel Hotel rate
Hotel Pension Madara $57 Dorint Am Europaplatz $110
Hotel Pension Astra $63 Holiday Inn City $120
Hotel Pension Mozart $70 Haydn Hotel $125

These prices are based on nightly rates in October and do not include taxes. Pension rates were found on Hotels-in-Vienna-Online.com and HotelPensionAstra, and hotel rates were found on TravelNow.com.

Finding pension listings online can be problematic because most pensions are small, privately-owned establishments that do not have websites. Also, hotel search websites tend not to include pensions in their listings. One city that does have a single online resource devoted to pension accommodations is Prague, which you can view at Pension.cz. To find online listings for other European cities, we'd recommend using a search engine like Google, and entering the name of the city you're visiting along with the words "pension hotel" into the search box. Travel guidebooks may also have contact information for local pensions that are not listed online.

B&Bs

B&Bs are commonly associated with stays in the English and Irish countryside, but you can find them all over Europe, even in the middle of cities. And, you'll usually find that the average B&B rates in a given area are lower than the average hotel rates. The amount you will save by staying at a B&B can vary greatly depending on the location and quality of the property.

B&B accommodations can range from a single room to let in a farmhouse, to many deluxe rooms in a converted castle. The common components shared by all B&Bs are full home-cooked breakfasts and highly personal service. Innkeepers can make sightseeing recommendations and book tours for you, and may even help you with travel arrangements for no extra cost. Many travelers prefer B&Bs to hotels simply because they have a chance to interact with locals on an individual basis. While the difference between B&B and hotel rates is sometimes not that big when compared to rates for other types of accommodation, you get a lot of value for the price.

However, if you shop around, you can save quite a bit with B&Bs. For example, sample per-night rates for B&B and hotel rooms in Killarney, Ireland, include:

B&B B&B rate Hotel Hotel rate
Kylemore B&B $61 Dromhall Hotel $103
Dunn Court House $62 McSweeney Arms Hotel $115
The Grotto B&B $64 International Hotel $149

These prices are based on double occupancy for stays in October and do not include taxes. B&B rates were found on TownAndCountry.ie, and hotel rates were found on StayAtOurHotel.com.

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