If you're one of millions of Americans considering a visit to Europe this summer, the outlook has some bright and dim sides. Here's a rundown of some developments you should know, plus a few ideas for getting the most for your money.
The Euro—about the same. The Euro ended last week $1.33, just a bit higher than the $1.30 it was the same time last year. During the winter, it rose as high as $1.50, but it's down again now. Obviously, it could go either way between now and midsummer, but I don't expect enough change to alter your travel plans.
What you can do: You can't affect the currency rate, but you can minimize losses by using a credit card that doesn't add a surcharge to foreign transactions, such as Capital One, and use an ATM card with a minimum charge for local currency.
Airfares—the big question. As usual, the toughest part of looking ahead is in trying to outguess the airfares. For most of the winter and spring, posted airfares have been sharply higher than last summer. Currently, for example, the round-trip fare from Boston to London, around $750, has been running about $150 above the first quarter of last year; the current fare from Los Angeles to Paris is also up about $150. Is that gap big enough to deter travel—and will the airlines then reduce fares to more reasonable levels—or will enough people pay it to keep the planes full? Your guess is as good as mine.
What you can do: Watch the sales carefully for short-term promotions on European routes, and pounce on anything that looks good.
Hotels—up. A recent report from the UK-based Trivago Hotel Price Index showed average European hotel prices up 12 percent just from March to April, with even bigger hikes in many key tourist destination cities. Currently, the most expensive cities are Venice, Geneva, Rome, Lisbon, and Paris, where the average "standard" double room is going for more than $200 a night. At the other end, prices this month dropped a little in Bulgaria, Ireland, Finland, and Norway, but those last two countries were already very expensive. Another European Website, Hotel.info, has computed a "global top 20" in hotel value for the money, based on a compilation of traveler ratings of more than 200,000 hotels worldwide. Among the European cities, Lisbon was tops, followed by Prague, Warsaw, Athens, Berlin, Madrid, Vienna, Dublin, Helsinki, Paris, Brussels, London, Berne, and Stockholm, with Amsterdam at the bottom. (As a matter of possible interest, non-European Tokyo and Ottawa were among the leaders, and New York was dead last.)
What you can do: Head for low-cost countries, minimize your time in the expensive cities, and head instead for some of the smaller cities or tour the countryside.
Rental cars—up big. Yet another European-based site, Holidaycars.com, reported sharply higher rental car rates. Customers who rent last minute, says a spokesperson, can look for price increases as high as 65 percent. As in the United States, European rental companies have sharply reduced the sizes of their fleets, thus shifting the usual supply/demand/price balance.
What you can do: Shop carefully among lots of suppliers, and lock in any good deal you find. Include AutoEurope.com in your search, as well as Priceline and a few European discounters such as Novacarhire and Tigercarrental. But be careful with offshore discount sites: Many quote low-ball supposedly "inclusive" prices that include minimal CDW but with a huge deductible, and charge a fortune for full CDW.
Hotels—look for some discounts. As in the United States, European hotels are discounting to fill slow periods, not to give broad, anytime discounts to seniors and other large groups. Also, European hotels discount extensively through such third-party outlets as Hotwire and Booking.com (Priceline's European affiliate).
What you can do: Book early if you need to lock in an itinerary, but don't pay in advance, then keep checking for better deals until close to departure time.
Do you plan to travel to Europe this summer and where have you found deals? Share your thoughts and advice by submitting a comment below!
(Editor's Note: SmarterTravel is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Hotwire.)