All Is Fare In Europe Travel

Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Travel Writer

If you enjoy mystery novels, you’ll love planning a trip this summer.

Prices are on a rollercoaster, the euro is diving and the Icelandic volcano periodically throws a little entertainment into the mundane business of flying. There are terrific bargains out there, but the rapidly shifting travel scene is a bit disorienting.

I trolled the Web for months for my summer flight to Europe, scanning ridiculous four-figure numbers, wondering all the while how this tortuous story would end. Last June, with fares insanely cheap, I paid $650 to fly from New York to Spain.

But this year, fares were already running over $1,000 for the same routes and the same dates. So I procrastinated. Why were fares so high this year? Was it reduced demand in a recession, or was airline consolidation responsible? Did the butler do it? It was all very mysterious, and expensive.

Then the volcano erupted in Iceland. Don’t ask me to spell it — that’s another mystery. But suddenly, $800 fares started drifting, like so many clouds of ash, across my Kayak search screen. Aer Lingus was having a fare sale. So was British Airways.

Clues began to emerge. A friend’s brother was stranded in London for five days after a business trip, waiting for airports to open. A Yiddish professor missed a conference in New York as he cooled his heels in Dublin for a week, waiting for the same volcano to quiet down.

Clearly, the fare sales were no coincidence. I wasn’t the only one calculating the cost of an unanticipated weeklong vacation in the British Isles, and opting to pay more to avoid a Northern European connection (Iberian airports have been among the few in Europe that have remained unaffected by the ash cloud).

Then the euro plummeted to $1.19, and transatlantic fares dropped about $100. Delta had a nonstop flight to Barcelona for $960, and I bought it. I put this in perspective by reminding myself that in 1955, my dad paid $200 more for the same flight.

So what’s the moral of this particular story? International airfares are going up overall; coast-to-coast fares are down, and planes everywhere are packed to capacity. But there are still travel bargains this summer. Those who benefit will be carefully following the news.

While it no longer makes headlines, that Icelandic volcano is predicted to erupt over the next two years, likely closing airports all over Northern Europe when it blows. Transatlantic fares are so high this summer that any fare sale might look tempting, but consider the cost of an unexpected weeklong layover before booking a cheap connection through pricey London.

Interestingly, when I started thinking about fall travel, I found some fabulous transatlantic rates for November and beyond ($550 roundtrip to Western Europe, even less to Britain). Nervous European carriers, contemplating a bleak winter of empty planes, are dangling bargains for those able to plan ahead.

This summer’s biggest headline is the euro, whose value has plunged against the U.S. dollar. If you’ve been putting off a European jaunt, now is the time to go.

At around $1.20, the euro costs roughly 20 percent less than it did the last few summers, when the exchange rate was around $1.50. That additional 30 cents makes a huge difference in everyday purchasing power.

For the best deals, consider vacationing in the areas of Europe whose economies are suffering the most. Greece, ground zero for the European economic crisis, will be more affordable this year than anytime in recent memory, with hotel bookings plummeting and European vacations on hold.

Ireland, whose economy is teetering, and Britain, in the grip of austerity talk, are also far cheaper this summer than in recent memory. Add in the volcano, and deals are everywhere. If Dublin or London is your desired destination, rather than a flight connection, this is worth considering — but be prepared, in terms of both time and finances, to have your trip postponed or extended.

Throughout Europe, which is roiling in economic upheaval and contemplating the possibility of bankrupt member states, hotel rates are not only substantially lower, but also highly negotiable this year. Call the hotel of your choice and make a cash offer, and there’s a good chance it’ll be accepted.

And remember that even outside of the euro zone, many currencies are pegged to the euro: when the euro falls, the Bulgarian lev buys you more Zagorka beers on the Black Sea coast.

Outside of Europe, several other countries are newly cheaper for Americans. In South America, as the dollar is rising, winter temperatures are falling, a great opportunity for Americans seeking winter sports fun in the Andes.

Peru and Argentina are especially good deals for Americans in 2010, particularly if you avoid the major tourist spots and explore the secondary cities, such as colonial Arequipa in Peru or the Argentine ski resort of Bariloche. Mexico has plenty of bargains as well, for those willing to overlook dire headlines and head further south: Mexico City is relatively secure and has lovely spring-like weather throughout July and August, and cities like Merida and Veracruz offer low-key charm worlds apart from the border violence.

But as for me, I’m Europe-bound. After years of suffering $8 sandwiches and $3 metro fares, I’m taking my Visa card and my American dollars, and I’m going shopping.

 

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With the plunging euro, London, top, and Dublin, above, are far cheaper to visit this summer than in recent memory.

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