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Europe Invites: Best Season to Take a Europe trip

Desperate to make up for a global travel slump, even the most popular European destinations are trying to lure visitors with sales. There may be no better time to take a European vacation than now.

Fall in Europe normally draws fewer crowds, brings milder weather and offers significant savings for travelers who waited out the summer months. Combine that with a global travel slump and you’ve got a bargain hunter’s dream. Desperate to make up the drop in tourists, even the most popular European destinations like Britain and Italy are trying to lure visitors with sales.

Another factor: Americans can still take advantage of a relatively solid dollar. Though the dollar weakened at the start of fall, it was about as strong in late September against the euro as the same time last year, at about $1.50, and even stronger against the pound at $1.60 instead of $1.80 or so.

Among the best deals are hotel and airfare packages to Amsterdam and London, down more than 30 percent on Expedia compared with last fall. Deals to Rome and Barcelona are down 26 and 17 percent respectively. And though it might be dreary this time of year, Dublin is offering a significant bang for your buck. With hotels averaging $92.40 a night, a year-over-year savings of 44 percent, Orbitz listed the city as its top fall “shoulder season” destination.

Airfare to Europe has dropped, too. Overall, fall fares to Europe are tracking 13 percent below last year, said Joel Grus, the so-called fareologist at Bing Travel, the new Microsoft search engine that predicts airfare prices. If all you care about is scoring a cheap flight, he recommends Madrid, where the average round trip from Kennedy Airport in New York has dropped more than 30 percent this fall compared with a year ago, to $561. “Some trips are as cheap as $524,” Mr. Grus said, though seats at those prices are scarce. The next best deals are to Paris and Rome, where flights are down about 15 percent from a year ago.

There are also plenty of hotel bargains for travelers who prefer to piece together their own trips, as properties try to lure guests with attractive rates and extra perks. Concorde Hotels & Resorts, which has 22 hotels in Europe, is offering rates from about 80 euros ($120) a night with buffet breakfast and a gift, starting Nov. 1. The One More Night promotion of Small Luxury Hotels of the World offers three nights for two, four nights for three and so on when paying with an American Express card through November.

While there are many last-minute hotel deals to be found on sites like and, hotels are also offering incentives to book early. In London, for example, the Metropolitan and the Halkin, part of the high-end COMO Hotels and Resorts, have rooms starting at £199 and £229 ($318.40 and $366.40) a night respectively, for two-night stays booked seven days in advance.

Package deals are plentiful, in part because of packagers’ ability to negotiate favorable rates with hotels, and offer some of the best bargains. “Our European partners want Americans to come, allowing us to lock in up to 25 percent discounts — extraordinary rates not only with hotels but with air carriers too,” said Steve Perillo, president of Perillo Tours, a specialist in Italian tours, based in Woodcliff, N.J. For example, it is offering a four-night Rome Rendezvous package, including flights from New York, hotel and daily breakfast, starting at $1,395 a person.

In Ireland, Sceptre Tours has a seven-day Emerald Luxury package for $659 a person, including rental car, down from $999 last year. Azores Express, which operates charter flights to the Azores from the United States, has packages from Boston to Madeira Island in Portugal starting at $849 a person for a six-night trip, including air and hotel with breakfast, down about $300 from last year. (Kids under 6 stay free and pay a discounted airfare.) And Contiki Holidays is offering $200 off its summer Europe trips of eight days or longer if booked by Oct. 29.

Spain or Portugal continue to offer great value. Petrabax, a 25-year-old tour operator, specializes in those regions and is the sole United States representative of Talonotel, a voucher-based hotel discount program that is well-known in Spain. With the vouchers, travelers can save up to 65 percent on thousands of hotels, mostly in Western Europe. Each Talonotel voucher offered through is currently $90, and buys one night in a double room for one or two people including tax. Fancier hotels can require two or three vouchers per night.

The Hotel Meliá Avenida de América in Madrid was listed for just one voucher or $90 on Nov. 29, according to Petrabax. That’s a savings of almost 25 percent off the lowest rate (79 euros) found on the hotel’s site., a similar voucher-based system, also offers hotel discounts.

France and Britain, which some United States tourists had written off as too expensive, are now scrambling to woo visitors back with savings. Liberty Travel, the travel agency chain based in Ramsey, N.J., said many hotels in popular French destinations are offering fourth nights free. They include the Palais de la Méditerranée in Nice, the Hôtel Martinez in Cannes and the Waldorf Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Meanwhile, VisitBritain has been running a Get More Britain for Your Buck campaign at since the summer. Deals, which extend through the fall, include rooms from £59.90 a night at Jurys Inns, a budget hotel chain, and a third night free at the Chesterfield Mayfair Hotel, where a recent online search showed rooms from £175 a night.

And don’t forget Iceland, which is still recovering from a financial collapse last fall. Until recently, it was considered among the most expensive countries in Europe, but now at roughly 124 krona to the dollar (it was about 100 to the dollar a year ago), it’s a pretty good deal for travelers who don’t mind the cold.

“This makes everything less expensive than people are accustomed to paying,” said Einar Gustavsson, director, North America, at the Icelandic Tourist Board. “It may never again be this economical to visit Iceland.”

Icelandair, its national airline, seems to have an endless supply of low rates and incentives. It’s currently offering a two-night Iceland Budget Getaway from $469 a person from Boston and New York, including lodging Nov. 1 to Dec. 31.

But don’t wait too long to book your trip.

While visitor numbers are still down, there are signs that travel to Europe is beginning to recover, as the economy picks up and airlines bring capacity more in line with demand. And as bargain hunters well know, once business returns, prices will rise and deals will dry up.

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