Never Been to Europe? Go Now, and See More for Less

If you’ve never been to Spain but you kinda like the music, or you love Paris in the summer when it sizzles, this could be your year to climb aboard a big ol’ jet airliner.

Dozens of European destinations are suddenly cheaper to visit for Americans because of a strong dollar and a weakened euro, the continental currency.

Hotels, food and souvenirs cost 30 to 50 percent less than in recent years. And, though airfare hasn’t fallen as much as we could hope (especially given lower fuel costs), you can get reasonable airfare if you put in place a down-to-earth ticket strategy.

US Dollar to Euro Exchange Rate
Chart shows how the euro has dropped in value over the past year.

Dollar vs. euro favors U.S. travelers

In March, the euro cost $1.05, and Goldman Sachs even predicted parity with the dollar in six months, a rate not seen since 2002. However, the euro started climbing again, recently reaching $1.09. Still, that’s 22 percent less than a year ago, when it was close to $1.40.

That means you can land deals for popular destinations in the 19-nation eurozone, including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Austria, plus some countries that use the euro but have their own currencies.

“From London to Paris, Dublin, Rome or Barcelona, even the most in-demand destinations are offering discounts, and the dollar is stretching so much further,” says Orbitz Senior Editor Jeanenne Tornatore.

Where the best deals are

PriceofTravel.com’s 3-Star traveler index rates 56 European cities by estimated cost per day for tourists based on per person, double occupancy in well-reviewed three-star hotels plus daily sightseeing, meals and drinks, or other entertainment.

Among Europe’s cheapest cities this year where the euro is used are Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, at $50 a day; Belgrade, Serbia, $53.52; and Vilnius, Lithuania, $65.88. Madrid and Ibiza, Spain, are less than $100 each, but Barcelona, the index says, will cost you $120.14. Paris rings up about $165.44 a day according to the index — not cheap, but then, it is Paris.

Europe’s most expensive city to visit, the index says, is outside the eurozone: Zurich, Switzerland, at $216.59, where the local currency is the Swiss franc. That’s followed by Bergen, Norway, $211.45, with the local currency the Norwegian kroner; Stockholm, Sweden, $183.27, home of the Swedish kroner; and London, $179.58, where the British pound reigns.

Even Britain’s a bargain compared with last year, as a pound recently cost less than $1.50, down about 9 percent from $1.65 last summer. And don’t neglect Norway, where $1 recently bought nearly 8 Norwegian kroner, about a third more than the 6 kroner it bought last year.

Flight searches for New York to Paris are rising, and hotel reservations are up in Italy, Spain and Germany, CNN reports.

Savvy savings on airfares

The increased demand may keep airline ticket prices aloft, says SmarterTravel.com, but there are ways to bring ticket prices back down to earth if you pay attention.

Combine the favorable exchange rate with low fares offered by discount airlines that take payments in euros, advises George Hobica, president of Airfarewatchdog.com.

“One of the biggest mistakes that Americans make while planning a trip to Europe, in summer or any season, is myopically focusing on a specific route,” he writes in his blog.

“You want to visit Glasgow, so you neglect to look at a map and consider, maybe, Inverness,” which is three hours away by train. “Or you only look at a particular airline and ignore some of the under-the-radar discounters such as XL Airways, Condor, Wow, Norwegian and Thomson.”

Norwegian Air Shuttle, for example, flies from four U.S. cities — Oakland, Los Angeles, Orlando and New York — and has “amazingly low fares,” Hobica told MoneyTalksNews.com. “If you buy their fares in euros — there is an option to pay in euros — you’re going to save about 20 percent.”

More cost-cutting tips from Hobica, SmarterTravel and others:

  • Sign up for airfare and hotel alerts by email, and follow airlines and travel sites on Twitter.
  • Concentrate on crossing the pond as cheaply as possible, then look at discount European airlines for onward flights. Just leave plenty of time for connections.
  • Pay in euros at AirBnB. If you’re staying for a longer period, AirBnB, Flipkey and VRBO are great for apartment and home rentals.
  • Before you leave, make sure your bank won’t charge a fee for foreign ATM transactions (consider bringing two ATM cards in case one becomes defective or gets eaten by an ATM on a Sunday when banks are closed). Also, make sure your credit card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees when you buy something overseas.
  • If a merchant or restaurant offers to let you pay by credit card in dollars or euros, always choose euros because the merchant can set his own exchange rate if you pay in dollars.

Take advantage of all these saving tips, and you may soon tell your significant other, “Come fly with me.”

Are you thinking of traveling abroad to take advantage of the strong dollar? Share your trip tips and favorite destinations in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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