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Europe for Less

Guy Billout Europe for Less

Photo: Europe for Less

This summer, traveling in Europe could wind up costing you more than you’d bargained for. At press time, the dollar had plummeted to an all-time low of $1.52 against the euro, and $1.98 against the British pound. Fortunately, even in the most expensive countries, it’s possible to avoid feeling the pinch.

1. Choose a Cruise

“Cruises are still the best value for your money,” says Mary Jean Tully, CEO of the Toronto, Ontario–based Cruise Professionals. “To stay at a top hotel in many countries in Europe right now, you’re looking at—and this is no exaggeration—a minimum of about 550 euros, or $800, a night.” Cruises, however, are immune to seesawing exchange rates, as they’re priced in U.S. dollars and set a year or more in advance, which means there are no surprises. “You know up front what you’re spending, and you pay before you go,” Tully adds, noting that all-inclusive daily rates can range from $250 to $600 per person and often cover everything from onboard entertainment to meals and cocktails. Fortunately for travelers, the competition is strong among cruise lines in Europe—so despite inflation in recent years, cruise rates have remained stable.

Cruise vs. Land-Based Trip

By Sea Part of the luxury line’s Value Collection, Crystal Cruises’ 13-day Epicurean Odyssey sails from Athens to London, with stops in Sicily, Málaga, Seville, Lisbon, Oporto, and Bordeaux.

Cost $4,995 per person for a 202-square-foot Deluxe Stateroom E, which includes meals, onboard entertainment, and nonalcoholic beverages (888/722-0021; crystalcruises.com).

By Land Creating a comparable 13-day itinerary would mean booking seven hotels, each offering the same five-star luxury as Crystal Cruises.

Cost Luxury hotels in the region covered by Crystal’s Epicurean Odyssey start in the $400-a-night range and can easily cost twice that. You would also need to pay for food, air between cities, and ground transportation, thus far exceeding Crystal’s average price of $385 a day, all-inclusive.

2. Fly Without Frills

The number of flights in Europe hit an all-time high last year—nearly 10 million—with the growth driven mainly by the 60 low-cost carriers operating in the region. “You can fly at ridiculously low prices if you’re willing to make a few modifications to your itinerary,” says F. Peter Herff II, chairman of the San Antonio, Texas–based Herff Travel, a T+L A-List travel agent. There are a few drawbacks to no-frills flights: Travelers need to factor in more time when flying into and out of secondary airports, where many of these airlines are located. Baggage allowances are often skimpy, so check the fine print for any extra luggage surcharges, which can significantly inflate the total fare. Most budget carriers sell directly to travelers online; check Flycheapo.com for a comprehensive list of airlines and routes. And keep an eye on airline Web sites for sales, when ticket prices can be reduced by up to 90 percent. Earlier this year, one-way Ryanair tickets from London Stansted to 21 European cities, including Barcelona and St.-Tropez, started at just 5 pounds ($10)—including taxes and fees.

Low-Cost Carrier vs. Traditional Airline

Ryanair From London Stansted to Montpellier, France, departing May 20 and returning May 27.

Cost $168 for one round-trip seat, including taxes and fees.

Air France From London Heathrow to Montpellier (via Paris), departing May 20 and returning May 27.

Cost $408 for one round-trip economy seat, including taxes and fees.

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