By Joe Brancatelli
March 18, 2008 -- As it has done every summer and fall since 9/11, Continental Airlines has unleashed a huge and deeply discounted sale for business-class travel to Europe this summer.

One-way prices start at $799 for nonstops from Continental's Newark hub to several British cities and reach $999 one-way for most of the other destinations on the airline's route map. A few cities (notably Lisbon at $1,099 one-way and Athens at $1,249 one-way) are slightly higher. Nonstops to Europe from the airline's Cleveland and Houston/Intercontinental hubs are appropriately higher. Connecting flights, primarily through Newark, are also priced at very low sale levels.

The restrictions on this year's prices are also as expected: Outbound travel permitted from June 29 through August 29; return flights must be completed by September 5. (Travel to Paris is valid July 12-September 5.) A Saturday-night stay is required; travel that begins on Saturday requires a seven-night stay. There are no blackout dates, but, not surprisingly, seats at these prices are extremely limited on many days. Roundtrip travel is required and flights are available only on Continental and Continental Express flights, not code-shares to Europe. Tickets are nonrefundable, but changes to the return flight are permitted for $300 if done before departure.

You can view this information at Continental's BusinessFirst Summer Sale page.

And now some analysis. The fares are surprisingly good for the Newark-originating nonstop flights compared to previous Continental Summer Sales, especially considering the skyrocketing price of fuel. However, while connecting-flight fares via Newark are still excellent, they seem notably higher than in previous years.

If you feel less excitement about this sale than in previous years, it's probably for two reasons: First, Continental has trained us to expect these fare levels, so they are no longer shocking, just pleasantly surprising when they do arrive. And, second, the plunging dollar (currently $1.58 to the euro, $2 to the British pound and below parity with the Swiss franc) makes the rest of European travel a miserable bargain. Even well-to-do folks can't help but note how expensive it is to travel in Europe for business or pleasure.

Will other carriers match Continental's fares? Well, SAS and Swiss have already launched more limited summer sales, albeit at higher levels. If history is any guide, Continental's European competitors will match selectively, also at higher levels. In the coming days, other U.S. carriers may match on some of their international routes, but, remember: Continental is virtually the only U.S. airline offering flights to Europe from Newark, Cleveland and Houston, so exact comparisons will be difficult.

That said, shop away. As I say every year, this is the Fred Sanford of business-class sales: The BIG one.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

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This column is Copyright 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.