Dear Deal Detective:
I'd like to travel to Europe this spring or summer but I'm on a tight budget. My schedule is fairly flexible and I could even wait until the fall. I don't have my heart set on one particular country over another, but I'm a little overwhelmed by the whole process of finding a good deal. Any suggestions on where and when to go?
Bear in mind Europe is an awfully big place. It does help to have some idea of where you want to go because that narrows your search criteria considerably.
The good news is you're looking for a Europe deal at the right time, so your options for a bargain are plentiful. Spring is shoulder season in Europe, which means it falls comfortably outside the reach of winter weather and just ahead of the high prices and pushy crowds of summer. Finding a spring deal isn't for the faint of heart, though. You'll need to be ready to travel soon, say April or May. And book even sooner—as early as today, in fact.
I shook down a few of my sources and uncovered some great deals for you. There's a good variety here, too, so you'll find plenty of destinations and price ranges to choose from.
First up, Prague. I've often heard it referred to as the "new Paris," but one thing's for certain: The Golden City is still a heckuva lot cheaper than the City of Light. That's why it doesn't surprise me that the best deals I found this week were for springtime vacations in Prague. Both go-today.com and EuropeASAP are offering six-night Prague packages that include daily breakfast.
Go-today's "Essential Prague" package starts at $829 per person for travel through May 17; that price includes airline fuel surcharges. EuropeASAP's package, which is also valid for travel through May 17, has a base price of $669, but that doesn't include the fuel surcharges. When I compared the two packages side by side for a May 15 departure from New York, go-today.com's per person price ($950) beat EuropeASAP's by about $13. In both cases, you need to book by May 5.
You may also want to consider Changes in L'Attitude's "no hidden fees" offers. These packages are five nights instead of six, but you can travel through May 30 if you book by April 30. The price also includes oft-hidden fuel surcharges excluded from most other offers. The bargains here are London from $833, Prague from $959, Venice from $1,057, and Dublin from $1,017. Call 800-780-2202 for details.
Speaking of Dublin, Aer Lingus recently announced three new routes between the U.S. and Ireland with correspondingly low introductory fares: $475 round-trip from San Francisco, including airfare taxes (wow!), $477 from Orlando, and $575 from Washington's Dulles airport. The best value here is clearly for travel from the West Coast. The downside is these routes don't kick off until the fall—September 3 for the D.C. route and October 28 for the other two. Good to keep them in mind if your plans call for fall travel, though.
British Airways is offering a "Fly, Drive & Save" deal that will get you $50 off any round-trip ticket to the U.K. or mainland Europe and $25 off an Alamo car rental. Before you can take advantage of this, though, free online registration is required. This deal is actually even a little better than it sounds, because the $25 Alamo discount is per person—which means two people traveling together will actually save $150. That's $100 on airfare, $50 on the car. The offer's good through April 23 for travel though May 27.
United Vacations, the vacation packaging wing of United Airlines, offers a $100 discount on sightseeing tours in Europe for qualifying trips booked through December 15. Just enter the promotional code TOUR when you book. I found New York-to-London packages with a "free" open-top bus sightseeing tour from $729, Madrid packages with an evening "Illuminations Tour" from $899, and Vienna packages with a city tour starting at $979. (Other departure cities than New York are also available.) The London and Madrid prices are for Wednesday and Thursday departures through May 10; Vienna departures are through May 3.
Luxury transatlantic carrier MaxJet, known for its spacious seats and budget-minded business-class prices, has launched a summer sale with the ridiculously low one-way price of $499 between Washington, D.C., and London (Stansted), and $599 between New York and London. This is the choice if you want to travel in style without paying hundreds or even thousands more on a major carrier.
Another all biz-class airline, Eos, has added a third flight to its peak travel days for U.S. departures (Sundays, Thursdays, and Fridays) between New York and London (Stansted). Eos is also pushing a free companion ticket offer until April 20, but with the lowest price starting at $5,200 it's hard to see it as a "bargain" so much as it is simply "less expensive" than it might otherwise be.
Last but not least, Expedia yesterday launched what it's calling the largest sale in its 10-year history. The online agency is discounting trips to more than 200 destinations—including many European cities—along with do-it-yourself elements such as rental cars, hotels, and activities. There's a nice long booking window, too: now through July 10 for travel from May 1 through September 4. As with the other sales mentioned here, look for the best prices on midweek departures at the very beginning of the travel window. This is also where I'd start if my plans called for summer travel to Europe.
That's it. I'm closing the file on this one. How about you? Got a destination on your mind? Email me your requests. If I take the case, I'll investigate all the options to help you find the right trip at the right price.
All prices, dates, and booking details listed here were valid at the time of publication. Some information may have changed since that time.