8 Tricks to a Cheap European Vacation
Europe has always been a popular vacation spot for Americans: There's something about the bright lights of London's theater district, the romantic allure of Paris' side streets, and the rich aromas of Rome's restaurants. While frequent overseas flights make Europe easier to reach than ever, the cost of getting and staying there stands as a major roadblock between Americans and a vacation across the pond.
Before you write off a trip to Europe as just a dream, U.S. News Travel would like to spotlight a shining sweet spot. This year, travel experts predict that prices on flights to and hotels in major European destinations will drop toward the end of summer and in early autumn. "Europe is a popular destination for travelers year-round and usually pretty expensive for Americans," says Clem Bason, president of the Hotwire Group. "But with a post-Olympic dip in demand and the temperamental European economy, there's a possibility that we could see great deals to many popular destinations across the continent."
On top of this fall's already decreased rates, knowing these eight tricks will ensure you get the best price on your European getaway.
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Remember the Rule of 21
While booking a month or two in advance will better your chances of scoring the best deals, Bason specifies that you should plan to book at least 21 days before you plan to travel. The "Rule of 21" has been around long before the days of online booking sites: Generally, airlines start drastically increasing airfare three weeks before a flight is scheduled to depart, and unless you've got a heavy dose of luck on your side, you won't find any good deals after day 21.
Perfect Your Timing
Booking and traveling on certain days can help you pocket some extra cash. If you're still in the planning phase, be sure to check airfare rates in the middle of the week. Because most people save travel research for the weekends, rates usually rise between Thursday and Sunday as airlines attempt to cash in on weekend Web traffic. Weekends are also the most popular times to fly, so traveling on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday can lead to lower ticket costs.
If you can, avoid deciding on specific dates and destinations until you're fully ready to book. "Many of us would agree that a vacation is about the experience versus a specific destination, and Europe has plenty cities to offer you an incredible getaway," Bason said. So rather than setting your heart on a trip to Madrid from August 15 to August 22, consider your vacation more broadly: For instance, you'd like to visit Spain for a week in August. This open approach will give you a better shot at nabbing a killer deal. Bason also recommends subscribing to deal sites like Travel-Ticker.com, which notify travelers as soon as deals are released.
Opt for Package Deals
Subscribers to deal sites like Travel-Ticker.com will notice that their notification messages contain a good number of package deals. While they may look too good to be true, Bason assures us that they're not. In fact, international carriers and hotels are more than willing to slash airfare rates for travelers who book their flight and room together. Package deals may look like a lot of money upfront, but the prices displayed can be up to 60 percent off what you would spend if you booked your flight and room separately.
Fly Into Less-Popular Hubs
Europe's major destinations—like London and Paris—see thousands of tourists pass through their entry points. Rather than battling for the best airfare, save some dough by taking the road less traveled. Flights to less-frequented airports, like Manchester International Airport (MAN) in northern England or Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport (AMS), are often cheaper. The key here is just to get across the pond. Once you're on that side of the world, you'll find that traveling within Europe is easy and affordable. Discount airlines like Ryanair and easyJet offer flights to all major European cities. Plus, you can always…
Take the Train
For many Americans, the thought of traveling anywhere by train induces labored groans. But in Europe, hitting the tracks is the norm. Trains connect every major city in Europe, and riding the rails is often cheaper than flying, as passengers don't have to pay for rising oil costs and extra baggage fees. "It's also a great way to see more of the country or meet locals who can give you money-saving tips like where to find the best cheap eats," Bason says. Just keep in mind that different trains have different reservation methods, so make sure to do some research before heading to the station.
Beware of Pesky Booking Fees
While American booking engines are required to show the full price of airfare upfront, European websites are under no such obligation. You may find a flight from Madrid to Berlin for 20 Euros (roughly $25 USD), but after you factor in taxes and fees, the fare could triple. However, that doesn't mean you should book your intra-European travels as extensions to your flights to and from the States. This can be costly. Instead, book your legs as separate trips, but do so while you're still on U.S. soil. You'll have an easier time finding the best prices.
Consider Alternatives to Hotels
Hotel prices are expected to drop from late August through October, but you're still guaranteed a better nightly fee if you skip the hotel in favor of a room share or an apartment rental. Websites like Airbnb connect travelers with locals looking to rent their extra space. Not only is this a great way for you to cut corners on lodging, you'll also be able to save on dining since you'll have access to a kitchen (an amenity not generally included in the average hotel room). Staying in an apartment or with a resident will also expose you to a more authentic side of Europe that most tourists never experience.