A cappuccino in Rome, admission to the Louvre in Paris, a night at a B&B in Munich -- whatever you want to do in Europe, it will cost you at least 20 percent more this year than last. The reason: the weak dollar. It now takes $1.22 to buy one euro, and the rate shows no signs of slipping. A year ago, the dollar and the euro were trading at about one to one. The dollar has lost similar ground to the British pound.
But it's possible to nip at the costs on a trip to the Continent or England, even during the peak summer season. In a scan of the Web last week, deals were still available:
A double room at the Rivoli Paris Hotel, a three-star property in the Marais district, was going for $107 a night in July on the Web site All-hotels.com.
A round-trip bus ticket between London and Oxford on Megabus, a new cut-rate intercity coach service in England (www.megabus.com), was $3.60, plus a booking fee of less than $1.
A package to Ireland available through mid-June, including round-trip airfare from Washington, lodging, breakfasts and a rental car for six nights, was $828 a person based on double occupancy through Brian Moore International Tours (800-982-2299, www.bmit.com).
The key to the best savings: advance planning. Most of the bargains sell out fast, especially in this market. "Airlines are seeing their capacity met much earlier than in previous years," said Paul Berry, CEO of Go-Today.com, a discount travel site. "Book early."
Other tips for cost-conscious European travelers:
Think package deals. Some of the best bargains are found in packages that bundle air, hotel, meals, car rentals and other costs. In addition to the Ireland package mentioned above, which must be booked by April 1, Brian Moore International Tours has other air-and-hotel combos to Britain and Ireland. Go-Today has some tempting offers, too, including a flight from D.C. to Frankfurt, Germany, plus a car for a week, that runs $809 for a solo traveler. It's available until April 1 for travel through June. The online booking site Expedia.com has four-night trips to Amsterdam, including airfare from New York and hotel, starting at $702 a person double. Travelers have until April 5 to book that or other European specials for travel between May 15 and July 31.
"Prepaying package deals as early as possible this year is a good idea," said Linda Maxwell, president of Destinations Inc., an Ellicott City, Md., travel agency specializing in European vacations. "That way if the dollar loses even more ground you already have a voucher that hotels and restaurants will honor."
Consider a cruise. One way Americans are beating the high euro rate is by pre-booking European cruises, according to several travel agents. Some deeply discounted excursions are still available for the spring and summer. Among those advertised on the popular Web site Cruise.com: a seven-day excursion in July on Costa Cruises, with stops at major northern European capitals, such as Copenhagen and Helsinki, starting at $1,184 per person double. In pricey Scandinavia, where a room for two and three meals a day can easily run more than $350 a day, the savings could be significant. Departures in July are still available. And a seven-night trip in August on Royal Caribbean, starting in Barcelona and stopping at several Mediterranean ports, including Naples and Pisa, is $806 per person. The same cruise would cost $204 more in June. Airfare is extra in both cases.
Check the chains. Some major chains have discounts on European lodging. Choice Hotels International has a great special of 25 to 50 percent off rooms at select properties throughout Western and Eastern Europe until the end of June. That includes doubles at the Comfort Hotel's Fruehling Am Zoo in Berlin, reduced from $120 to $90. In Lisbon, doubles with kitchenettes at the Clarion Suites are down from $125 to $93.75 a night. Early booking is recommended, as the discounted rooms sell out quickly.
Don't forget B&Bs. In an attempt to lure visitors from the United States, some B&Bs are featuring special deals for the American market. U.S. European Bed and Breakfast, a B&B service with upscale offerings all over London (800-872-2632, www.londonbandb.com), is charging Americans $160 per night for doubles that would usually go for $180. For London-bound travelers on a stricter budget, the London Bed & Breakfast Agency (www.londonbb.com) offers doubles as cheap as $80 per night. But remember that many of them are in outlying neighborhoods.