How to Save on a Summer Vacation to Europe
Use these strategies to keep costs down when traveling overseas during the peak season.
It might seem like a good time to plan a trip to Europe since Americans can quite literally get more bang for their buck today than they could last year. Be warned, though: Even with the favorable exchange rate, summer still is the most expensive time to visit most European hotspots. So the benefit of a strong dollar versus the euro can quickly be erased by higher airfares and hotel rates.
But if a summer vacation to Europe best fits your schedule, there are several ways to keep costs down during the peak travel season. Here are a few.
Fly in August, not June or July. A recent study by Hopper, an airfare search site and app, found that travelers can save as much as $250 roundtrip by flying to Europe toward the end of August rather than during peak travel times in June and July. You may save even more by waiting until September, when shoulder season begins. Plus, if you book a flight for August now, you’ll benefit from buying tickets at least 60 days in advance of departure, which can save you more than $125 per ticket, according to the Hopper study. “Since most people wait until less than two months out before booking, there’s definitely still time to find a deal in late August and on into September when everyone is going back to school,” says Patrick Surry, chief data scientist for Hopper. Given that May also is a cheaper month to fly to Europe, you still can find some last-minute deals for flights this month if you’re flexible about your dates and destinations, Surry says.
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Depart and return on a weekday. The Hopper study found that you can save about $60 per ticket, on average, by flying out on a Tuesday and returning on a Monday. Weekend days, especially Saturday, are often pricey because of demand from both business and leisure travelers, Surry says. However, he cautions that it’s not always cheapest to fly early in the week, so you should check a range of departure and return dates to find the best deal. Hopper has a tool that can help you pinpoint the best time to fly.
Opt for bargain destinations. In general, airfare to tourist hotspots such as London and Paris is more expensive. You can often save up to $400 on a roundtrip ticket by picking a less-popular destination, Surry says. For example, Milan is often a cheap option from New York, and there are some great deals to Scandinavia from Los Angeles, he says. In general, you’ll find deals on flights to Copenhagen, Naples, Oslo, Reykjavik and Vienna, all of which have seen declines in ticket prices of 20% to 30% over the past year, says Priceline.com Travel Editor Brian Ek. See 10 International Travel Bargains for more ideas.
Take advantage of cheap flights and trains within Europe. You don’t have to skip pricier destinations altogether. You can save by flying to cheaper hubs (as mentioned above), enjoying a day or two there, and then flying to other cities on low-cost European carriers such as Air Berlin, EasyJet, Norwegian Air Shuttle and RyanAir. All have English-language Web sites. You can get roundtrip flights between almost all major European cities for $200 or less, Surry says.
The European rail systems also are inexpensive and an efficient means of transportation, Ek says. You can buy a Eurail train pass that provides unlimited transportation in up to 28 countries.
Keep accommodation costs under control. Because the dollar is stronger than the euro now, you could take advantage of the situation to stay at a higher-end hotel without paying as big of a premium. Otherwise, to save money, you can use the Priceline “Name Your Own Price” or Hotwire "Secret Hot Rates" option cut up to 60% off regular hotel rates. With either site, you specify your length of stay, preferred neighborhood and a guaranteed minimum star class, but you won't know the exact hotel or location until after you pay.
Another option is to stay in a vacation rental property, which tend to cost less than hotels and typically have a kitchen where you can cook meals. According to VacationHomeRentals.com, prices for the properties listed on its site are 15% to 50% lower than hotels or resorts. Other vacation rental sites include Airbnb.com, HomeAway.com and VRBO.com. See How to Save on Vacation Rental Properties for more information. If your travel dates are flexible and you live in a desirable U.S. location, you might be able to benefit from a house swap. Learn more about cutting travel costs with a house exchange.
Check for package deals. Travelers sometimes can save hundreds of dollars by buying a vacation package with hotel and flight costs bundled together, Ek says. The airlines and hotels will set lower prices for packages because airfare and room rates aren’t broken out separately, he says. Check vacation package providers such as Go-today.com, which shows month-by-month pricing of its vacation packages so you’ll know when to book to get the best deal.
Consider cruising. If you want to visit several European cities, a cruise might be a more cost-effective way to do so. A typical European vacation to major cities averages $500 to $700 per person per day – when you factor in airfare, modest hotels, meals, entertainment and activities – but an all-inclusive cruise typically costs $250 to $350 per person per day, says Stewart Chiron of cruise deal site The Cruise Guy. In general, Mediterranean cruises are cheaper than those in Northern Europe. Although you usually need to book nine months to a year in advance to get the best price on a desirable room, you can find last-minute deals if you’re not picky about the cabin you get, he says. And some cruise lines, such as Oceania Cruises' Riviera, will subsidize airfare to European departure cities, he says.
Use the right credit card. Not only should you consider how much you pay for travel to Europe but also how you pay. Credit cards tend to offer the most favorable currency exchanges rates, which will help you stretch your dollar further. However, you need to make sure you have a card that doesn’t charge a foreign-transaction fee, which can add up to between 1% and 3% of purchases. See Save Money on Your Money While Traveling Abroad to learn more.
Award-winning journalist, speaker, family finance expert, and author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk.
Cameron Huddleston wrote the daily "Kip Tips" column for Kiplinger.com. She joined Kiplinger in 2001 after graduating from American University with an MA in economic journalism.