The Deal Detective is SmarterTravel 's resident bargain hunter, Kate Hamman. She's always on the lookout for new travel deals and invites you, dear reader, to submit your own questions.
Maureen writes, "I'm from Orange County. I've always wanted to visit Austria & Prague. What is the best deal for transportation and hotel from Orange County to Vienna, Salzburg, and Prague? I'm on a limited budget since I'm not working."
I remember spending days dreaming about my first trip to Paris, and how thrilled I was when I finally was able to turn it into a reality. I want the same for you, so I have busted out my very best sleuthing gear, complete with Sherlock Holmes-style pipe, and I'm ready to take the case.
There are two possible routes you can take when planning this trip. The first is to rely on a vacation provider like go-today.com and purchase a package deal that closely resembles your travel needs. You may have to sacrifice a few things such as a particular destination or travel time, but it may be a fair trade for convenience. For instance, I priced a six-night package to Budapest and Vienna starting at $1,169 per person (without taxes and fees) for travel in November. The deal includes round-trip airfare from Orange County, three-nights' accommodations in both Budapest and Vienna, second-class rail between the two cities, daily continental breakfast, hotel taxes and service charges, and airline fuel surcharges. Other travel dates and departure cities are available at varying prices. Book by August 31. Though this package includes Budapest instead of Prague, it may be worth it to you because of the ease of booking everything in one place.
If you don't want to sacrifice a visit to Prague, and are willing to spend a little extra money, go-today also offers a six-night Budapest, Vienna, and Prague package starting at $1,299 per person (without taxes and fees) for travel in November. The deal includes round-trip airfare from Orange County; two-nights' accommodations in Budapest, Prague, and Vienna; second-class rail between cities; daily continental breakfast; hotel taxes and service charges; and airline fuel surcharges. Other travel dates and departure cities are available at different prices. Book by August 31.
The other option for planning your trip is to take on all the legwork and book everything individually. This may prove to be more expensive, but it allows you the freedom to get exactly what you want out of your vacation. First, I priced round-trip flights from Orange County to Prague starting at $867 per person (with taxes and fees) in November. Airfare from the West Coast to Europe typically costs more than travel from the East Coast, but promotions are offered through the airlines on a regular basis, so it pays to compare prices.
Next, a second-class train ticket with Eurail costs $259 per adult. The ticket allows up to four days of travel throughout Austria and Czech Republic within two months.
Now that we have transportation covered, the next step is lodging. I typically begin a search for places to stay by reading other travelers' reviews on SmarterTravel's sister site TripAdvisor. I then compare these reviews with hotels that fit within my budget. Hotels in November start at as little as $34 per night in Prague, and $40 per night in Vienna. You'll have to decide if this type of hotel is right for you, because sometimes comfort trumps budget. Let's say for the sake of comparison, however, that these hotels are a good fit. If you were to spend three nights in both places, your hotels would cost about $222.
The grand total for your trip when booking each item individually comes to about $1,348.
As for my other readers: Do you have a suggestion for Maureen on other ways to save on a trip to Austria? Tell us what you think by filling out the form below.
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All prices, dates, and booking details listed here were valid at the time of publication. Some information may have changed since that time.