You know the saying, your money's no good here? Well, it has taken on a whole new (and depressing) meaning in Europe.
Example: You're in London, feeling a little homesick. You stroll into a Planet Hollywood, just to grab a taste of home: a burger. No cheese, no fries, no drink. Just a plain old hamburger.
Unfortunately, that little exercise in nostalgia just cost you $20.
Welcome to Shrinking Dollarland and be careful, or you really will be taken for a ride on the current U.S.-European economic theme park.
But hear me out: It's not all doom and gloom.
There are ways to make your dollar stretch (and places where it will stretch further). What about the all-important airfare? You can stretch that with deals to Europe (they are out there). And that's my cue to tell you all about the ins and outs of Open Skies.
Open Skies, which was inaugurated just this past Sunday, is the name for the landmark agreement between the United States and European nations that effectively loosens antiquated regulations for trans-Atlantic flights. Before Open Skies, there were a lot of limitations on which airlines could fly to which countries or airports.
Now all that has changed: Essentially, the free market has taken over, so now, for the first time, folks in Washington, D.C., can fly nonstop to Dublin, and people in Dallas can fly direct to London's major hub, Heathrow, which provides easy connections to the rest of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
What does Open Skies mean for you? Choice. And good airfare deals. Having a wider choice spurs competition and competition, of course, means lower prices. And I think that's a wonderful thing.
Some disagree with me; they see Open Skies as a benefit mostly to the "road warriors" among us. They cite plans by British Airways to push ahead with a new, mostly business-class airline called OpenSkies (kind of catchy, isn't it?); look for OpenSkies to join the ranks of likeminded airlines such as Silverjet and eos.
I say, baloney. You see, business class is only part of the picture (after all, Maxjet wouldn't have gone bankrupt if business class was all people wanted); there are still plenty of economy passengers looking for trans-Atlantic flights.
No airline knows that better than Delta, which is cutting U.S. routes while putting more and more of its resources into international flights. Hey, the more the merrier. In my six years of tracking airfares, I have not once seen domestic or international routes get under way without price drops. So look for airfare specials. It'll happen.
And look for the real price choppers to jump in; I can't wait to see what kind of airfares a trans-Atlantic Ryanair might be willing to charge. Let's hope the Dublin-based carrier and others such as EasyJet are listening.
You may not realize this, but there are well-defined seasons when it comes to European travel, and prices change significantly from season to season.
You can determine when seasonal changes occur by checking out monthly price calendars of the cheapest possible airfare (our site has this information); you'll see for yourself when prices drop off, and rise again. You can save $500 or more by flying to Europe just before the high summer season begins (a season that typically runs from the end of May through early September).