‘Tis the season to take a European vacation, but with both international airfare and hotel rates up 16 and six percent, respectively, as compared to last summer, what’s a world wanderer on a budget to do? Here are my five top tips for booking a cheap vacation to Europe this summer.
1. Travel during the shoulder season. This is May, early June and September. If you have the flexibility to avoid July and August, do so. Prices are lower in shoulder season months, crowds are fewer and the weather is just as nice — if not nicer. It’s too late for May or June of 2011, but consider taking a trip in September. If you want really rock bottom prices, go over Thanksgiving weekend. It will be on the chilly side in many locations, but may not matter if you’re planning on a city vacation.
2. Book your flight and hotel together. The easiest and most overlooked way to save. Hotels and airlines are more likely to lower their rates when the customer only sees one total price and doesn’t know where the savings are coming from. Plus, having all your travel booked in one place makes things easier if something should go wrong on your trip. A Travelocity study found the savings of purchasing a vacation package is up to $525 as compared to booking the exact same trip elements separately.
3. Fly on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. If you can incorporate one — or preferably more — of these days of the week into your flight plans, you’re likely to save big bucks. These are the least-traveled days of the week and tend to command the lowest prices.
4. Consider a cruise. Cruising can be a great way to control costs, after all, cruises include your accommodations, meals and transportation between ports. Cruising is also a great way to see several cities on one trip. Don’t forget to factor in shore excursions as they can add up fast; if you’re the adventurous type, you’ll save by exploring on your own rather than booking excursions through the cruise line. Just be sure you’re back at the ship in plenty of time to set sail for the next port.
5. Book hotels offering added value. Hotels aren’t keen on slashing prices, but this summer they’re all about added value. Look out for free nights, free room upgrades and free breakfast deals to sweeten the deal. A free breakfast goes a long way when trying to control food costs abroad.