It’s common knowledge that traveling to Europe in the summer is more expensive than at any other time of the year. However, despite prohibitively expensive airfare and tourists flooding the streets, many Americans still fly across the pond during the busy season. We talked to several travel experts and have compiled several tips to help you cut costs on your summer trip.
Know the rules for finding low fares
Unfortunately, increased demand for seats drives airfares up. With most airlines in financial straits, big summer fare sales aren’t as likely this year. However, by following some general cost-cutting guidelines, you can save on airfare. Flying midweek (particularly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays) is often less expensive than flying on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays. Booking well in advance (at least three weeks before departure) will save money on most routes this summer. If your dates are flexible, it’s smart to fly in early June, because prices will jump to their summer highs by June 12 or 15. Another option is to wait until after Labor Day, as prices tend to fall in early autumn.
According to Nigel Osborne, president of package tour company 1-800-Fly-Europe, flying a European carrier though its hub (e.g., British Airways through London, or Air France through Paris) can be a good way to find lower fares. And, lesser-known airlines such as Kuwait Airways sometimes have cheaper fares to Europe.
For rock-bottom prices on airfare, research consolidator fares. Consolidators are ticket brokers that buy air tickets directly from airlines and sell them to travelers at discounted prices. If you decide to book with a consolidator, be sure to pay with a credit card, and keep in mind that the fares are non-refundable, cannot be changed, and may not earn frequent flyer miles.
Expedia‘s travel expert Kari Swartz advises travelers to visit off-beat, less-visited cities in Eastern Europe. Although cities such as Prague and Budapest are becoming more popular among Americans, there are many other cities that are relatively untouched by tourists. Airfare to cities in Croatia, Poland, Slovenia, the Baltic States, and others will likely be more expensive than airfare to Western Europe cities such as London and Paris, but travelers can expect the in-country costs to be significantly less, particularly because most Eastern Europe countries are not yet using the euro. Another option is to fly into Dublin, London, or Paris and fly a low-fare carrier such as Ryanair or easyJet to your final destination.
If you plan on visiting Greece, Poland, or Russia, be aware of Lufthansa’s new WeFlyHome fares. According to Jennifer Urbaniak, a Lufthansa communications manager, WeFlyHome is designed for travelers in the U.S. visiting friends or family abroad, but are available to all travelers. The fares have a five-day advance purchase requirement, and a maximum stay of six months.
Book a vacation package
Osborne recommends booking an air-and-hotel or air-and-car vacation package as one of the best ways to save, particularly when airfare prices are high. By bundling the costs of air and hotel, prices tend to be cheaper than booking each item separately.
To check the latest vacation packages, see SmarterTravel.com’s Europe vacation deals page. Reputable Europe vacation providers include Go-today, Gate1Travel , and EuropeASAP, as well as Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity.
Consider a cruise
Europe cruises are particularly hot this year, with more Mediterranean, Baltic, and Northern Europe sailings. Swartz says that cruises can be great deals, allowing travelers to visit several different European ports. By paying for a cruise that includes lodging, food, and some entertainment, you only have to contend with the euro when off the ship.
Another option for relatively inexpensive accommodations in Europe is the brand-new, no-frills cruise line easyCruise (from the founder of easyJet). Unlike traditional cruises, easyCruises stay in port through the evening and sail during the early morning, maximizing time in port. Passengers are required to spend at least two nights onboard.
EasyCruise’s one-week summer itineraries set sail in Nice, and call in several cities along the French and Italian Riverias, including Cannes, St. Tropez, Monaco, Imperia (San Remo), Genoa, and Portofino. Fares start at about $55 per cabin.
Check the latest cruise deals on SmarterTravel.com’s Europe cruise page.