Weak dollar means more to deal with in travel abroad

Personal Finacne

May 13, 2007|By Eileen Ambrose | Eileen Ambrose,Sun Columnist

Maybe you've spent the past year envisioning yourself strolling down the Champs Elysees this summer or downing a pint in a London pub.

Now those daydreams are becoming frightfully expensive.

The dollar has been on a downward slide and sunk to an all-time low against the euro in late April. That means a hotel that cost $88 a night six years ago, when the euro was the weakling, now runs about $135.

And not since the early 1980s has the British pound been this strong against the dollar. In fact, the dollar is so anemic that some Londoners are flying to New York City for a long weekend of shopping, says Brice Gosnell of Lonely Planet, a travel guide publisher. (Maybe Queen Elizabeth II had the exchange rate on her mind when she timed last week's visit?)

Some travel experts predict that the weak dollar will dampen Americans' ardor for trips far from home - or at least to Europe.

"Maybe it's a good time to go to Disney World if you have been putting it off," says Ken Budd, travel editor at AARP The Magazine.

But many Americans aren't likely to let exchange rates stand between them and their pain au chocolat.

"As Americans, we have so few vacations," says Brad Tuttle, senior editor of Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel in New York. "It's only for a week or two weeks. A lot of people will go where they want to go."

Still, there's no reason to pay top dollar.

Here are travel tips to keep costs down:

Don't travel in peak times.

"If you can travel at the tail end or the beginning of the summer, that's a good way to save money," says Pauline Frommer, author of new series of guidebooks for budget travel in Europe. That means either traveling after Aug. 15 or before June 15, she says.

The difference in airfare alone can be hundreds of dollars per person.

For example, a round-trip ticket from Baltimore to London in mid-July is about $250 pricier than a flight in late August, according to fares posted last week at www.farecompare.com. Flying on the weekend rather than mid-week added another $20 to $30 to a ticket.

Seek alternative accommodations.

Hotels don't have to rate five stars to eat up your travel budget. Some of the best deals now can be found in other types of quarters.

Consider a bed and breakfast in a private home or renting an apartment for a week or two, Frommer says. You won't be in the center of the city, but could be near public transportation. On top of that, you might have access to a kitchen that can save money by not having to dine out for every meal.

B&Bs and apartments can be found through agencies in the cities you're visiting. Two agencies that Frommer recommends for London travelers: At Home In London at www.athomeinlondon.co.uk and Happy Homes at www.happy-homes.com.

Also, find people worldwide who are willing to lease their homes to vacationers at Vacation Rentals by Owner at www.vrbo.com.

Or check out major universities, such as the London School of Economics, that for a low price rent out dorm rooms that otherwise would be vacant in the summer, Frommer says.

Some convents and monasteries also lease rooms. "That's very inexpensive. It gives you a peek into a lifestyle you will never get close to otherwise," Frommer says.

Package deals.

Don't assume airfare and hotel packages are always cheaper.

"It's kind of all over the map," Tuttle says. "The big indication if it's a deal or not is what the flight alone would cost to Europe."

Compare the price of a round-trip ticket with the airfare-hotel package. If they're roughly the same, then you're essentially getting the room for free, Tuttle says.

Packages tend not to be a good deal when airlines are in a price war and slashing fares, Tuttle says. He doesn't expect that to happen this summer.

Forget Italy.

Or for that matter, London, Paris and all the other big tourist destinations that command the highest prices.

Travelers should consider venturing to countries in Europe that are less frequented by vacationers and, therefore, likely to be somewhat less expensive, including Poland, Slovakia, Albania, Croatia, Greece and Turkey, says Lonely Planet's Gosnell.

The good news for budget-conscious travelers is that flying from one European country to another is often cheap because there are so many low-cost carriers competing for business, Tuttle says. Check out flights at www.whichbudget.com.

Be aware that these carriers have stricter luggage regulations than U.S. airlines and you will be charged a stiff fee for going over the limit, he says.

Or, travelers might want to try a different continent.

Travel to Asia, particularly India and China, is up this year, says Amy Ziff , editor-at-large with Travelocity. More flights to Asia have been added in recent years to handle the increase in business travelers to the region. More available seats have translated into more favorable fares for leisure travelers, too, she says.

Similarly, travelers will find more flights and lower prices to popular destinations in Central and South America, Ziff says. Our summer will be winter in South America, so U.S. travelers also will save money by visiting there in the off-season, she says.

Prices to the Caribbean also are down from a year ago, partly because the winter season wasn't as strong as expected and deals have been extended into summer, Ziff says.

Of course, you'll need to do some homework and online travel search engines are a big help. Those recommended by travel editors include FareCompare.com, Kayak.com, Mobissimo.com and Sidestep.com.

And don't forget Priceline.com, the online site where travelers can negotiate prices on flights and hotels, Tuttle says.

"A lot of people forget Priceline works for a lot of locations in Europe as well," he says.

To suggest a topic, contact Eileen Ambrose at 410-332-6984 or by e-mail at eileen.ambrose@baltsun.com.

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