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.)
Choose an agency. Large companies, such as Hertz and Enterprise or Europe-based Sixt, are best equipped to handle special requests (automatic transmission; GPS devices; children’s car seats). Local agencies often have lower prices but may not offer 24-hour service if something goes wrong.
Book in advance. When reserving online, check hours of operation for rental locations. Airports are usually open every day, but city-center sites may have limited hours, often closing for a few hours at midday and all day Sunday.
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.
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.
Booking a hotel these days can be overwhelming: new names are appearing alongside established ones, and they’re competing for your attention, your dollars, and, above all, your loyalty. T+L has the scoop on the latest trends to help you find the one that’s right for you.
Hotel Brand Trends
A closer look at the innovations that will shape your next hotel stay.
Tech-Friendly Retreats: Starwood’s Aloft is piloting Apple TV’s at its Cupertino, California, property and will soon offer remote mobile check-in at dozens of its hotels. Not to be outdone, Conrad is raising the bar with its Conrad Concierge app, which lets guests book hotel services remotely, be it airport pickup or the timing of their dinner. Mandarin Oriental will soon be rolling out DVR’s and HD Internet TV’s in its guest rooms. Peninsula, meanwhile, remains unmatched for its customized in-room tablets, introduced at the Hong Kong flagship, with everything from temperature controls to flight schedules.
Q: We are hotel-hopping through europe and we want to be prepared for mixed weather. any suggestions for lightweight outerwear? —Julia Stuopelis, via e-mail
A: Your best option for a fickle forecast: gear that packs into a pocket or pouch (see video below). Here, easy-to-stash coats and boots that offer protection from the elements or can be tossed into a tote or backpack during bouts of sunshine. Clockwise from left:
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.