Thinking of heading to Europe this year? A tough economy makes it all the more important to plan your trip wisely. Not to worry—I'm here to help! Follow these common-sense strategies, and you'll be heading overseas with a little extra money in your pocket, too.
Know Which Destinations Are in Demand
I spoke with representatives from three major Europe vacation providers to find out which destinations are attracting the crowds this year. If your preferred destination is on the hot list, you'll want to start bargain hunting now (if you haven't already).
"London, Paris, and the cities of Italy—Rome, Florence, and Venice—are always in high demand," says Paula McKay, president of Go-today.com. "We are also seeing a lot of interest in Barcelona this year."
"Italy and Spain, [particularly] Venice, Florence, Rome, Madrid, Barcelona, and Andalucia, are where we're seeing the biggest growth," says Marty Seslow, VP of marketing, Gate 1 Travel. "Those are not necessarily the destinations that have the best prices or overall value, but they've definitely had the best demand."
"Business to Britain is up 30 percent so far, year over year," says Nigel Osborne, president, Virgin Vacations. "U.K. is number one, Italy number two, then France number three."
Every supplier I spoke with said the royal wedding in London is not showing the increased interest initially expected—most likely as a result of inflated prices. "I think if anything the [U.K.] destinations will get a bump from the publicity, but I just don't think it's going to be around that date," says Seslow.
If you're planning a vacation to Britain, France, Italy, or Spain, the bargains do exist, but only for the most dedicated of sleuths.
Track Down the Best Deals
"If the deal is right, people will travel," says Osborne. Take this as your own personal mantra, and let the deals be your guide.
The earlier you get started, the better—Osborne recommends booking your vacation three to five months in advance; Seslow suggested five to eight months' lead time. The main reason? Oil. With fluctuating fuel prices, it's a good idea to lock in your airfare once you've found a price that fits your budget, as it's likely only to go up as summer approaches. Last-minute deals will be scarce this year, as there's been no diminished interest in travel, and thus no incentive to move unsold inventory.
When planning, consider the following:
Seasonality trumps all: "It's all about season," says Seslow. "If someone is willing to travel during a shoulder or low season, they're definitely going to get a much better price. You can still be in Europe in November and in March, which is considered low season, and the weather is still good and the crowds are lower." Summer will always be the busiest, and subsequently the most expensive time to travel. If you have flexibility in your schedule, take your vacation during a different season and take advantage of the savings.
Look for new routes: "London fares are all over the place at the moment because Delta announced expansion [there] from Boston, New York City, and Washington," says Osborne. "Continental has increased capacity as well with the new United merger. Travelers will be able to get some fairly good deals across the pond."
Check your preferred airline to see if new service is being offered in the coming months, as expanded routes tend to be coupled with affordable introductory fares to drum up new business.