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Will Europe be less expensive this summer?

SmarterTravel

The days of Arthur Frommer’s Europe on $5 a day guidebook are gone. Europe has become increasingly accessible, popular, and expensive—so much that the most recent edition of Frommer’s book is Europe on $85 a day.

Prices this summer will be as high as ever, and Europe will be as crowded, if not more crowded, than last summer. Germany in particular will experience a huge influx of visitors in June and July for the World Cup soccer championships.

Although Europe will be more expensive and crowded this summer, you can use our tips to save on everything from airfare to hotels and rental cars.

How’s the dollar faring against the euro?

Unfortunately for American travelers, the dollar has fallen against the euro. According to data provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the dollar has been getting below 80 cents per euro since October. Last summer, the dollar got about 81 cents for every euro. Due to the poor exchange rate, in-country costs will be somewhat higher this summer, so you’ll have to budget accordingly.

Is airfare more expensive?

According to Barbara Messing, Vice President of Retailing and Special Projects at Hotwire, prices for airfare are up about 10 percent over summer Europe fares from last year. Our research shows that a summer flight from London to New York started at $499 round-trip from discounter 1-800-Fly-Europe; this year, the fare is up to $519 (not including taxes and fees).

Additionally, Expedia’s recent Travel Trendwatch report notes that “Airfare tracking firm Harrell Associates said that [the] average round-trip economy fare between the U.S. and Europe, booked in February 2006 for summer travel, was $910 compared to $856 in February 2005.”

Fares in 2006 have jumped as well. Kirsten Ott, a spokeswoman for Kayak, notes that in March, a summer flight from Chicago to London went for $632 round-trip on Kayak.com, yet in late April the same route starts at $817. The same is true in almost a dozen other instances.

The reasons for the price increases are two-fold. Prices for jet fuel have continued to soar, with U.S. airlines instituting no fewer than four fare hikes in 2006 alone. Nora Brossard, spokeswoman for the European Travel Commission notes that a recently increased fuel surcharge from American has raised transatlantic fares by $130 round-trip. She also notes that “the demand for Europe is back big time,” driving competition for a limited number of seats. This summer, you can expect to find higher fares and fuller planes.

How can I save?

Despite the increase in prices, millions of visitors will head to Europe this summer. While summertime will never be an economical period to visit the Continent, there are ways to cut costs. Ott notes that June is the most affordable summer month to visit Europe, and prices tend to jump at least $200 in July.

At SmarterTravel.com, we’ve long been believers of traveling in the [% 329222 | | off-season %], and the same advice holds true for Europe. Messing says that travelers can save about 20 percent by traveling in May or September instead of June, July, or August. She notes that historically there have been post-Labor Day price drops, with fares getting cheaper after the second week in September. If you wait until late October or November to travel, you’ll find more pleasant weather and much less expensive airfare.

However, if you have to travel during summer, there are ways to stay under budget.

  • If you’re visiting more than one city, book an open-jaw flight that lands in one city and departs from another.
  • Fly into a European hub such as London. From there, you can travel to your final destination via car, train, or plane.
  • Consider flights from low-cost carriers within Europe. Ryanair and easyJet are the most popular, but there are many others. Major airlines like British Airways and Lufthansa have recently lowered prices on intra-Europe flights, so be sure to check those fares, too.
  • Compare airlines’ prices with fares from airfare consolidators. Options include
    1-800-Fly-Europe, CheapTickets, Discountfares.com, Economy Travel, and OneTravel.com.
  • Shop around using our fare-comparison tool.
  • Head to [% 332877 | | off-the-beaten-path destinations %] in Eastern Europe. While flights may not be cheaper, in-country costs are likely to be less expensive, and there will be fewer tourists.

What about hotels and rental cars?

While we focused our report on airfare, you can use similar tips for saving on accommodations and rental cars.

  • Don’t book the first hotel rate or car rental offer you see. The major online travel agencies Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity are also helpful for comparing prices.
  • Compare hotel rates with vacation rental prices, since vacation rentals often sleep more people for less money than hotels. Plus, the convenience of a kitchen can cut food costs.
  • Messing notes that booking hotels on U.S.-based discount websites like Hotwire will allow you to pay in U.S. dollars instead of paying in euros at the hotel.
  • For car rentals, Messing recommends booking a car with manual transmission, which are typically less expensive than automatics.

For additional cost-cutting tips, read our recent story, [% 332870 | | Fifteen ways to cut your Europe travel costs %].

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