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Knowing when to book Europe travel is more important than ever

Depending on when you plan to depart, you should book spring travel to Europe now, or at least soon. Europe travel has steadily increased among Americans over the last few years, so competition among travelers for low fares on limited-capacity planes has also increased.

According to Nigel Osborne, president of airfare wholesaler 1-800-Fly-Europe, spring airfares are already selling briskly. While it’s true you can sometimes find great deals at the last minute, you’ll be better off if you book in advance.

Whenever you decide to book, you have a better chance of finding that low fare by following one of the most important travel rules: fly midweek. By traveling midweek (Monday through Thursday on most airlines; however, on British Airways, midweek is Monday through Wednesday), you will avoid paying a weekend surcharge.

Knowing when to go is a key factor in finding that low fare. According to Liz Meggison of budget travel agency Travel CUTS, airlines have started to move away from traditionally well-defined low, shoulder, and high seasons, so high-season pricing can creep up sooner than you expect. Because prices are beginning to vary between April and June, Meggison reports that traveling even five to 10 days earlier than your ideal departure date can result in a savings of as much as $75 (depending on dates and route). If your travel dates are flexible, it’s smart to price several dates in the month you plan to depart to see if and how prices vary.

Keep in mind that your departure date will determine your fare, rather than your return date. Even if you depart in the spring shoulder season and return in the summer peak season, you will pay shoulder-season prices. The absolute last day to depart and still get shoulder-season prices is June 14. On June 15, prices skyrocket, and usually don’t fall until after Labor Day in September.

When planning spring travel anywhere, it’s important to note where on the calendar Easter falls (ranging from March to late April). Easter is a popular travel week, and airfares tend to be significantly higher than during other spring dates. This year, Easter falls on March 27. Booking in early April rather than late March this year is likely to save you money. Also, avoid booking travel on or around Memorial Day (May 30), as airfares spike for that holiday as well.

Amy Bohutinsky of Hotwire suggests that flying to popular cities like Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, or Paris (cities serviced directly from the U.S.), is a good way to find a low (or lower) fare. If youÃ?Ã?’re planning to visit a smaller city with few or no direct flights from the U.S. (for example, Budapest, Geneva, Rome), be prepared to pay more. If you can’t find a good price on a flight to a small city, consider flying to a major city and connecting on an intra-Europe airline like EasyJet or Ryanair.

And, if you can’t find a low enough airfare, consider booking an air-and-hotel vacation package. SmarterTravel.comÃ?Ã?’s Europe vacation deals section covers the best vacation deals from a wide variety of providers, including Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz.

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