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Five options for cutting hotel costs on your Europe vacation

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.

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.

There are many online resources for finding European B&Bs, including several with Europe-wide listings such as BedAndBreakfastInEurope.com, BedAndBreakfast.com, and the International Bed and Breakfast Pages. For country- and region-specific B&B websites, start with a Google search by entering the name of the area you’re visiting with the words “B&B” or “bed and breakfast” into the search box.

Farm stays

If you plan to travel outside of the big cities in Europe and are looking for a unique but affordable type of accommodation, a farm stay may be for you. Part of the growing trend of “agri-tourism” (any sort of tourism focused on farming and agriculture), farm stays involve staying overnight in a farmhouse or other building on a working farm, orchard, or vineyard. Staying at a farm is a great way to get a “hands-on” cultural experience, and you’ll pay a lot less on average than you would staying at a hotel.

Farmers supplement their income by inviting overnight guests to stay on their property, and travelers are often treated to fresh, home-cooked meals and may even be invited to participate in farm activities like harvesting. Cooking lessons and other demonstrations are also commonly offered. Farm stays can vary greatly in operation. Some work very much like B&Bs, charging a nightly per-person rate for a room and breakfast, while others work more like vacation rentals, with guests paying a flat weekly fee for a separate multi-roomed house or apartment on the farm. You can find farm stays all over Europe, but they are especially popular in Italy, Spain, and the U.K.

Travelers staying in a region for a week or more may find that a farm stay is one of the most economical choices for accommodation in the area. To illustrate this point, we compared prices of farm stays and hotels for weeklong vacations (six nights) for two people in Grenada, Spain:

Farm stay Farm stay rate
(per week)
Hotel Hotel rate
(per week)
Casa Delia $138 Los Angeles Hotel $362
L’Atelier Guesthouse $246 Luna Arabial Hotel $398
Cortijo de Montana $331 Corona de Granada Hotel $405

These prices are based on double occupancy for stays in October. Farm stay rates were found on OrganicHolidays.com, and hotel rates were found on GrenadaHotels-Discount.com.

The website OrganicHolidays.com has listings for farm stays on organic farms all over Europe, which are searchable by country. We found farm stay websites for individual countries as well, including Denmark, Germany, Italy, and the U.K.

Dormitories

Visit Europe during the peak tourist seasons (summer and the December holidays), and you’ll find hotel rates at their highest of the year and affordable rooms scarce. However, the peak tourist seasons also coincide with student breaks at universities. During these periods, colleges and universities open student housing to travelers, charging room rates that are lower than most hotels.

Universities in many European countries offer some type of traveler accommodations, but you’ll find the most offerings in the U.K., with scores of options in England, Scotland, and Wales. Each university’s offerings are different, and options range from fully-furnished single or double dorm rooms with shared bathrooms, to self-contained flats. Many universities offer breakfast and other meals, and access to facilities like gyms.

To see how the dorm rates stacked up against hotel rates, we compared the nightly rates for double rooms at London universities with hotel rooms in London during the summer:

Dorm Dorm rate Hotel Hotel rate
London School of Economics $63 Enterprise Hotel $110
King’s College $72 Barkston Gardens Hotel $132
City University $99 Park International Hotel $155

Rates do not include all taxes and fees. Dorm rates were found on Venuemasters.co.uk , and hotel rates were found on Expedia.

A company called Venuemasters represents 66 universities in England, Scotland, and Wales that offer accommodations for individuals and families. From its website, you can link directly to each university’s traveler accommodations page. For dorm accommodations in Dublin, Ireland, visit the accommodation website for Trinity College Dublin. For university rooms in other European countries, you’ll have to contact universities directly or visit their websites to see if rooms are available. Visit About.com for links to European university websites, listed by country.

Vacation Rentals

If you want to explore a certain region in Europe with your family or a group of four or more people for a week or longer, renting a vacation home, apartment, or condo may be the cheapest and most comfortable option. And, vacation rentals can be found pretty much anywhere you want to visit in Europe.

Rather than paying nightly rates for multiple hotel rooms, you can pay a flat fee for a multi-room home that will give your group more space and access to amenities like kitchens and laundry machines. You can save money by cooking your own meals and use the home as a base to explore the area.

To demonstrate how renting a vacation home can save a group of travelers money for an extended stay, we compared the cost of renting villas in Tuscany (with room for six people) with the cost of getting two hotel rooms near Siena, Tuscany, for a two week (13-day) stay:

Vacation Rental Rental rate Hotel Hotel rate
Villa in Molino del Piano $1,605 Best Western Hotel $2,146
Villa in Lucca $1,760 Hotel Moderno $4,472
Villa in Siena $2,132 Hotel Relais San Luigi $4,472

Prices do not include all taxes and fees. Rates were found for stays in October. Villa rates were found on Vacations-Abroad.com, and hotel rates were found on Orbitz.

Many websites exist for locating vacation rentals in Europe. A few we’d recommend include NoMoreHotels.com, HomeAbroad.com, Vacations-Abroad.com, and 10kVacationRentals.com.

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