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Europe This Summer Will Be Lots Cheaper
April 7, 1994 -- Peak season to Europe is almost here and there's fabulous news: Travel this summer will be at least 10 percent cheaper--maybe as much as 30 percent cheaper--than the last few years.

"This is the summer that will convince people that Europe is affordable again," predicts John Martinen, president of Globus & Cosmos Tourama, a respected tour operator.

The primary reason Europe is a better bargain than usual is the relative strength of the U.S. dollar. As the accompanying chart shows, the greenback buys substantially more British pounds, Italian lira, and Spanish pesetas than it did just two years ago. And there's no trick to understanding the intricacies of exchange rates. The more of a nation's currency a U.S. dollar buys, the cheaper it is for Americans to travel to that country.

WHAT A DOLLAR BUYS IN EUROPE

Country

Spring 1992

Spring 1994

Gain

Italy

1169 lira

1530 lira

30.8%

Spain

97.83 pesetas

128.27 pesetas

30.0%

Portugal

129.63 escudos

157.93 escudos

21.8%

Finland

4.24 markkas

5.16 markkas

21.6%

Britain

54.91 pence

64.20 pence

16.9%

France

5.31 francs

5.39 francs

1.5%

Germany

1.56 marks

1.58 marks

0.8%

Switzerland

1.41 francs

1.33 francs

-5.6%

Source: Thomas Cook Currency Services

"There might be a few pockets where prices haven't declined much, but Americans will find exceptional values almost anywhere in Western Europe," says Jack Foley, director of leisure programs for British Airways.

But it's not just monetary machinations that make Europe a bargain this year. The European travel industry has learned a lesson: Americans stay home if prices are too high.

"The good operators now realize they can't increase their prices every summer if they expect Americans to come," explains Suzanne Hall, vice president of marketing for Jet Vacations, a tour operator owned by Air France.

The strong dollar and a chastened European travel community means a buyer's market for Americans this summer. Here are some tips on how to maximize your savings.

Check out the package deals The prices of tour packages to Europe are down substantially this year. Globus (800-851-0728), which operates in 29 countries, says the prices of its packages--budget and first class, escorted and independent, cruises and land deals--have been reduced by as much as 26 percent compared to last year. At British Airways Holidays (800-359-8722), the lowest priced summer package to London--including airfare, six nights accommodations, daily continental breakfast and theater tickets--is now $799, about $100 less than last year. A new Jet Vacations (800-538-0999) budget trip to Paris--airfare, six nights accommodations, and other amenities--is priced at $679. Hall believes similar arrangements last year probably would have cost "20 or 25 percent more."

Look for airfare extras Airline pricing experts say that a repeat of last year's summer fare wars isn't likely. But that shouldn't discourage independent travelers since many airlines now offer valuable amenities with their European tickets. SAS Scandinavian Airlines (800-221-2350), for example, sells Copenhagen-bound travelers a half-price admission ticket to Tivoli Garden.

Ask for summer hotel rates Hotels all over Europe have concocted special summer rates for Americans. Holiday Inn (800-465-1329), for example, has the Europe for Less deal: a $79 summer rate at more than 100 of its European hotels The Heart of the City Summer Spectacular at Inter-Continental and Forum hotels (800-327-0200) features prices as much as 60 percent below normal rates. And more than 50 Hotel Sofitel (800-763-4835) properties in Europe offer Summer Sale prices. For $110 or $130 per night, the rate includes an American breakfast and most taxes.

Lessen the tax bite Speaking of taxes, Europe's so-called value added taxes make domestic sales taxes seem insignificant. The VAT can run as high as 20 percent on purchases. It's also levied on food, drink, lodging and transportation. The silver lining? The VAT on merchandise purchases can often be refunded for visiting Americans. The easiest way to reclaim VAT levies is via the service operated by Europe Tax-free Shopping (312-246-6211). The company handles refunds for more than 70,000 shops in 17 European nations.

Buy before you fly Pay for as much of your travel before you head to Europe. That includes prepaying your hotel room, car rental, rail passes and intra-Europe flights. "If you want to keep your costs down, buy here," says Foley of British Airways. "Even though prices have come down, buying locally in Europe is still more expensive than buying here."

This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.

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