Booking a great fare to Europe has become increasingly difficult. Here’s how to bring down the cost of your next transatlantic flight.
First there is the question of timing. According to Kayak, the most-affordable airfares to Europe last year were booked eight to 10 weeks before departure—so you should start researching tickets at least three months out. You’ll find even better prices if your travel dates are flexible. As a general rule, European fares rise for travel beginning in the second week of May and don’t fall again until September. Expedia reports that the least expensive months to fly to Europe are February, March, and November. If you can, look for tickets that depart for Europe on either a Tuesday or Wednesday and return on a Tuesday; they tend to be lower, according to Kayak’s research. (See “Fare Finders,” below, for our favorite sites for finding European airfares.)
Q: Are there any foods that will help me fight jet lag? —George Frank, Brooklyn, N.Y.
A: Even more than foreign-transaction fees and data-roaming charges, jet lag is the bane of international travelers. Resetting your internal clock to a new time zone can be a days-long process. Fortunately, there are ways to ease yourself onto a new schedule—and what you eat and drink can play a key role.
A perennial favorite for American travelers, Europe can also be one of the most expensive places to travel. First and foremost, you need to find a good transatlantic ticket, which can be challenging, since taxes, fees, and carrier charges can easily tack an additional $600 onto the average fare. In “How to Find the Best Fares on European Flights,” I outline strategies for landing the best flights. Here are some other ways to find value in Europe.
Pick the right destination.
Your dollar goes further depending on where you are—and what currency you’re using. The best values usually lie outside the euro zone. According to Hotels.com’s annual Hotel Price Index, Warsaw had the most-affordable luxury hotels in Europe in 2013, with an average room rate of just $124 a night. Budapest, Istanbul, and Prague also all had top rooms for less than $250 a night. (By contrast, Paris’s luxury rooms went for $504, on average, and London’s for $430.) This squares with the Economist’s Big Mac Index, which offers a quick (and playful) look at the relative cost of countries by charting the price of the ubiquitous McDonald’s burger around the world. According to this metric, the Polish zloty is undervalued by a full 35 percent against the U.S. dollar; the Czech koruna (undervalued by 25 percent), Turkish lira (19 percent), and Hungarian forint (17 percent) also offer bargains for Americans.
Most good restaurants in the United States expect to turn over a table two to three times each night—that means they anticipate a party of two will stay for about an hour and 45 minutes (four-tops are usually allotted two hours). So once you’ve paid your bill, try not to spend the next hour nursing your final sip of wine. Internationally, diners enjoy a more leisurely pace. In Italy, for instance, experts say it’s virtually impossible to overstay your welcome. In countries from Australia and China to Argentina, meals typically run a full two to three hours. If you don’t know the protocol, look to the waitstaff for cues. They’ll let you know when your time’s up.
As a general rule, yes, as long as you keep your items in the sealed plastic bag from Duty Free. Some countries (South Africa and Argentina included) will confiscate liquids over 3.4 ounces in secondary, at-gate security checks; duty-free items, however, should be exempt. Until recently, if you had a connecting flight in the European Union or the U.S., you would have to either stow your purchases in your checked bag as you switched planes or toss them. But the introduction of new liquid scanners in the EU and the relaxing of such rules in the States (thank you, TSA) mean that you can now carry these items on board.
Another victory for passenger rights is in the works. The DOT is planning to strengthen its regulations regarding how airlines—and, for the first time, online search engines, such as Google—display the ancillary fees that count for an increasing portion of your overall ticket cost.
When it comes to hotel gratuities, even the most seasoned travelers admit to being stumped. That’s why we’ve put together this handy cheat sheet below, which you can take with you the next time you’re on the road.
Bellman: $1 to $2 per bag.
Concierge: $10 to $20 for performing a special service, such as scoring tickets to a sold-out event or wrangling lost luggage from your airline.
Doorman: $2 for hailing a cab in rush hour or in the rain; $1 for each bag.
Housekeeping: $5 to $10 per day. Leave it at the front desk if you want it divided equally among all your housekeepers.
Room Service: A service charge is almost always included in the bill. To personally thank your server, 5 percent will suffice.
Valet: $5 when your car is delivered.
Free Town-Car Service: Because they’re providing a complimentary amenity, drivers are instructed not to expect tips. However, it’s not uncommon for travelers to offer a gratuity. The minimum starts around $5 and goes up as the distance increases. While chauffeurs are generally making above-market wages, they still appreciate being recognized for going the extra mile—literally.
Note: Gratuities are often lower or not expected outside North America. Follow local tipping customs when traveling overseas.
Jennifer Flowers is the Travel News Editor at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @JennFlowers.
There’s a long tradition throughout Europe of statutes requiring hotels to collect information on guests—including name, nationality, and ID number—enabling law enforcement to cross-check for wanted individuals, criminals, or missing persons. The European Union has since made such data collection a requirement for hotels in member states. Most of this information is simply stored to be made available to authorities upon request, though in certain areas (notably Italy), it is regularly collected. In the past, some hotels would hold guests’ passports for hours or even overnight to manually complete the registration process. Today, you usually just have to show it at check-in.
A: Animal lovers take note: there is a cruise that accepts your pets. Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 takes up to 12 dogs and cats on certain transatlantic crossings (from $300). Pets are housed in a special kennel area, which includes outdoor space, a full-time kennel master, and ample visiting hours. The main reasons other cruise lines don’t allow animals on board: hygiene—ships have strict sanitation codes—and port regulations. Each country has its own entry requirements for animals, so navigating multiple-country cruises would be a headache for ships and pet owners alike.
A: Sure, flight attendants will pour you a drink, but they are safety professionals first and foremost—not service staff. To avoid any misunderstanding, airlines make it a company policy to refuse tips (unless a passenger may otherwise be offended). If your attendant went beyond the call of duty, let the airline know. Your good review will be used to evaluate performance and could ultimately lead to a pay raise.