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Europe on Sale
by Rudy Maxa for Marketplace

Considering visiting the Continent this summer? Our Savvy Traveler, Rudy Maxa, tells us that not even the usually higher summer airfares should stop you - Europe is on sale.

OK, you won't find any of those $200, NY-London winter specials when the weather is warm, but you WILL pay less this summer than you have the last few years. Blame it on the foot-and-mouth scare, the down Dow, and a growing number of airline seats crisscrossing the Atlantic.

And while the euro - whose rate determines the value of 12 European currencies - has come back from it's all-time low, the US dollar is doing just fine, thank you. A few years ago, a buck fetched only five French francs; today, you'll get almost seven-and-a-half. Instead of 18 hundred Italian lire per dollar, you'll get nearly 22 hundred today. Even the British pound, which is not linked to the euro, is down against the dollar.

How cheap can travel be? Well, for $100 a day-and only if you book by tomorrow [midnight tonight] - tour company called Untours will fly you on British Airways from New York City to Portugal, put you up in your own apartment and provide a rental car for two weeks. Add $260 if you're flying from Los Angeles. Now, that's cheap. [http://www.untours.com; 888-868-6871]

In London, big-name luxury hotels including the Dorchester, Ritz, and Savoy Group are offering a third off normal rates-that's how badly the UK is feeling the loss of tourism since the outbreak there of foot-and-mouth. Visit both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways' web sites to see how low airfares can go-then check with American, Continental and others to see if they're matching.

Want to save money flying AROUND Europe? Ask the airline you're flying overseas if you can pre-purchase coupons good for flight segments just about anywhere around the continent. Usually you have to buy at least three coupons before you leave the US, though you usually don't have to specify your itinerary. Air France and Lufthansa, for example, charge about $120 for each of three coupons.

And nearly every European country offers low-cost lodging if you know where to look. And these options are usually more attractive than ones you'd find stateside at the same price. For example, in France, a small hotel association called Logis de France has 3,600 family-owned and operated hotels and restaurants that meet exacting standards. I've visited a couple, and they're rated on a scale of hearths. One hearth means simple furnishings, exceptional value, and pleasant surroundings; three means extremely comfortable and special atmosphere. Here's a sample rate: In Burgundy, you can stay at the three-hearth Le Relais Fleuri in Pouilly-sur-Loire for as little as $41 a night. [http://www.logis-de-france.fr; (33) 45 84 83 84]

I'm guessing you already know about Eurail passes, but remember you must buy them before you get to Europe. And you should book ahead to get cheaper fares on the Eurostar train between London and Brussels or Paris. As far as I'm concerned, that beats flying.

Now, before you hit the road, do me a favor: Photocopy the front two pages of your passport and keep the copy separate from your passport while traveling. If your passport is lost or stolen, it'll make replacing it at an American embassy or consulate much, much easier.

I'm Rudy Maxa, from the Savvy Traveler, for Marketplace.


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