The Queen of England and I have something in common. We both have anniversaries coming up: She's put in 60 years on that throne of hers, while I've been analyzing airfares and travel trends for something like a decade.
The difference is, you probably aren't planning to visit me in Dallas to help celebrate, whereas a trip to London sure would be nice. Plus, they've got the Olympics.
They've also got really expensive airfares this summer. Solution: Try our European backup plan.
Airfares to Europe will be high this summer. Correction: the airfare itself is next to nothing. It's all the other stuff that will be added to your ticket that you have to worry about.
- Tips and tricks to make a summer vacation in Europe affordable.
Right now the average fuel surcharge to Europe is just under $450 round-trip, while taxes to airports like London's Heathrow are running about $200 round-trip. So you're looking at paying about $650 before they even add in the cost of the flight! And when it comes to summer versus winter airfare prices to Europe, add an extra $250 to $350 each way for travel in the warmer months.
Bottom line: Some European destinations will set you back $1,400 per ticket this summer. Time for a backup plan, and I have four of them.
Europe Backup Plan #1 - Alternate Destinations
If you have your heart set on London, or Paris, or wherever, go. There's nothing I can say that will dissuade you no matter how much it costs (but do check out backup plan #2).
For the rest of you, consider alternate destinations. True, it's a little early to shop for July departures (you can wait until the end of March) but our data shows that the cheapest countries to fly to this summer are Switzerland, Ireland, Spain and Germany. A quick check of midsummer round-trip airfares on non-stops to Europe late last week from New York showed these prices:
London: $1,200 Brussels: $795 Dublin: $1,000 Frankfurt: $1,045 Copenhagen: $1,110 Istanbul: $1,170 Paris: $1,310 Prague: $1,340
By the way, adding a single stop to your itinerary can save you hundreds on airfare, so do consider that. Or consider an alternate destination like one of the cheaper venues above: Brussels is absolutely stunning, and I need hardly sing the praises of Dublin with St. Patrick's Day just around the corner.
Also remember that leaving midweek is typically $40 to $80 cheaper round-trip than weekends.
And you can assuage your angst over swapping out Paris for London with the knowledge that a ticket on the 'chunnel' is just $50 each way. Or get on a particular airline and head to your heart's true destination, which leads us to backup plan #2.
Europe Backup Plan #2 - Alternate Airlines
If you don't know the discount airlines of Europe, it's time you were introduced to them. (But be sure and see the warnings at the end of this section.) These airlines can take you from a transatlantic hub to the city (or cities) you're most interested in seeing, sometimes for absolutely dirt cheap prices. Here is a quick sampling:
EasyJet - Visit scores of cities in over 30 countries on this London-based airline. Last week, EasyJet advertised London-to-Salzburg flights for just $34 each way.
Ryanair - Reviled and beloved, Ryanair takes no-frills to a whole new level; the CEO of the Ireland-based discounter once spoke longingly of installing pay toilets on his planes. Recent Ryanair ads featured round-trip flights between Dublin and Barcelona for $90.
Wizz Air - The Budapest-based airline flies all over the continent with an accent on Eastern Europe. A recent Wizz Air offering: London to Prague for $22 each-way.
Warning: These airlines can offer cheap fares because of numerous expensive fees. For example, Ryanair doesn't charge a "carry-on fee" but only allows one carry-on of up to 22 pounds and your purse, camera, laptop and everything else must go in that bag. If you are carrying anything extra or exceed the weight limit, your bag goes into the cargo hold and you are out $95. Study up on the fees of these discount carriers before you fly.
Europe Backup Plan #3 - Alternate Seasons
It's like the song says, What a difference a day makes, especially when flying to Europe. Prices rise at the very end of May and into early June and drop off again at the tail end of August. If you can fly in late spring or early fall, you can save a lot of money. Or save super big bucks by flying in winter. You'll miss the Olympics, but you won't miss the crowds.
Europe Backup Plan #4 - Alternate Hotel, Packing Tips
You may be sick of hearing this, but you can go to Europe with nothing more than a carry-on bag; I know, I've done it and so did my wife (10-day trip to Italy, and yes, we had plenty to wear).
To be honest, the reason we did this wasn't because we were trying to be cheapskates, it was a matter of saving time plus peace of mind. I wish I had a dime for every horror story about European trips ruined when checked bags were lost.
Ask yourself these questions: 1.) How much of my wardrobe can I wear on the plane? 2.) How many pairs of shoes do I really need? 3.) Will they have drug stores in the UK so I can purchase toiletries there?
Answers: 1.) A lot. And if you're bringing a jacket, wear it and stuff the pockets. 2.) One good nice-looking pair of walking shoes should do it, but if women must have another pair, make it something light and sandal-ish. 3.) Ever hear of Boots?
Finally, consider staying at a hotel chain featuring in-room kitchens (yes, they have these in Europe). You can save a lot by not having all your meals out, especially if you'll be staying put for a while.