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Bargain Hunting in Europe

 The dollar’s slide and rising hotel prices have sent the cost of a European vacation soaring in recent years. But the greenback’s rally, combined with rare deals on room rates and airfares, has finally made a trip to Britain and the Continent affordable again—at least for now. Sallie Brady reports on where to find the best bargains and why there’s no time to waste

After nearly seven years of steadily rising hotel rates and a steadily declining dollar across the United Kingdom and the Continent, American travelers are finally getting a break. “Everyone who calls me wants to go to Europe,” says Howard Lewis, a travel agent with Protravel International in Beverly Hills. “People who haven’t gone in years are now booking long weekends in London or a week in France or Italy. I’m seeing top European hotels that haven’t offered deals in my 40 years of business now giving three nights for the price of two.” There hasn’t been a better time to go to Europe in recent memory. Think of it as the perfect storm: The U.S. dollar is gaining strength against the euro and the pound at the same time that airlines and hotels are dropping rates in a bid to stem losses from the global economic downturn. But time is of the essence, experts say, because this window of opportunity won’t stay open for long.

THE STRONG DOLLAR
We all might feel poorer for it, but the credit crunch has actually beefed up the buying power of the greenback overseas. “The global economic crisis has bolstered the U.S. dollar,” says Sacha Tihanyi, a currency strategist with Scotia Capital in Toronto. “It’s seen as a safe currency now, both for Americans who are pulling back from investing abroad and for foreigners who see the dollar as a stable investment.” For Americans headed to Europe, this means that every hotel room, taxi, drink, and meal is cheaper than it was last year—by about 15 percent in euro-zone countries and as much as 25 percent in Britain, where the dollar is even stronger against the pound. According to currency strategists, the euro could dip as low as $1.25 this fall but will strengthen going into 2010 to $1.50. The British pound could linger at a $1.50 low, but look for it to grow stronger into 2010, gaining to about $1.70. Both will improve as the economies of Europe and Britain recover and investors take their money out of dollars and put it back into those currencies. “We’re soon going to see normalization in the global currency markets,” says Tihanyi. “The U.S. dollar will gradually start to weaken next year.”

SAVINGS STRATEGIES
• For the safest bet in a volatile market, look for hotels that offer rates in U.S. dollars.
• Given the current exchange rate, it might be tempting to stockpile pounds and euros, but experts say it really only makes sense for a frequent traveler.

AFFORDABLE FLIGHTS
Airlines have seen a drop-off in both business and leisure travel due to the downturn. To cut losses, they have trimmed their flights to Europe by almost 10 percent and are keeping fares low to fill the remaining seats. The result: “This is a once-in-a-decade—or even a once-in-a-lifetime—opportunity to get a super-discounted fare,” says Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com, an airfare comparison Web site. How low will fares go? Summer and fall ticket prices on nonstop flights from New York to Europe’s most popular destinations—including London, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, and Madrid—are down by 20 to 30 percent on average, according to Bing Travel, which tracks airline pricing. Even premium-class seats are on sale, as carriers try to make up for the nearly 20 percent drop in business travel. In May, Seaney flew business class on British Airways from Houston to London for $1,400 round-trip, a fare that normally runs as high as $8,000. Business-class fares from Los Angeles to several European capitals can be had for as little as $2,500 round-trip.

by Sallie Brady

Entire Article: Conde Nast Traveler

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