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BUDGET BUNKING IN EUROPE

How to Sleep Cheap, From Cruises to Convents

This cottage in Lungern, Switzerland, is available through Untours' Swiss Heartland-Swiss Ticino Sampler, which includes transportation.
This cottage in Lungern, Switzerland, is available through Untours' Swiss Heartland-Swiss Ticino Sampler, which includes transportation. (Untours)
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By Sue Kovach Shuman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 6, 2008

Dismayed by the high cost of hotel rooms in Europe? Don't cancel your trip just yet. Here are some ways to save on lodgings. Prices were accurate when the Travel section went to press last week but are subject to availability and change. Unless otherwise noted, rates quoted are per person double.

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Buy a Package

If you don't want to spent hours shopping for bargains, Mary Peters of Alexandria's Friendly Travel has this advice: "This year is the year to take a tour." Whether escorted or independent, you'll get better prices on accommodations and won't have to worry about taxes and service fees when air, hotel and (sometimes) meals and guide costs are bundled. By prepaying, you know the cost upfront.

To avoid sticker shock in the United Kingdom, for example, Affordable Tours (800-935-2620, http://www.affordabletours.com) offers $200 discounts per couple on land-plus-airfare escorted tours; it also discounts land-only tours. Escorted tours include transportation, admissions, guides and most meals. For example, Globus's seven-day "Taste of Britain" is $949 (less 10 percent discount); airfare is $1,046 from Washington Dulles. If booked separately with the best rates at the same hotels, you'd pay $725 for lodging only. And a six-day "Taste of Ireland" through CIE Tours starts at $953 (less 5 percent discount); air from New York is $582. The same three- and four-star hotels would cost at least $777 if booked separately.

Sophisticated Traveler, which specializes in Eastern Europe, has an eight-day all-inclusive "Poland's Best" escorted tour from Washington in May at $1,815 (plus up to $360 in taxes and fees; http://www.affordablepoland.com). Airfare alone to Warsaw starts at almost $900 on Orbitz (Scandinavian Airlines), and the hotels would cost at least $690 if booked separately.

Independent air-hotel packages also offer savings. The average hotel price in Italy is $196 a night, according to the latest

Hotels.com survey, so it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Tourcrafters'"Florence and the Heart of Tuscany" package is a bargain. For $999 (plus $310 taxes and fees) from Washington, airfare, seven nights in four-star hotels, car rental and breakfast are included (through mid-May; book by April 15; 800-482-5995, http://www.tourcrafters.com). If booked separately, the same hotels would cost $1,340.

Other Web sites to check: Go-Today.com ( http://www.go-today.com), Virgin Vacations ( http://www.virgin-vacations.com), Gate1 Travel ( http://www.gate1travel.com), European Destinations ( http://www.europeandestinations.com) and FranceVacations.com ( http://www.francevacations.com). Also check flight-hotel packages on Expedia.com, Travelocity.com and Hotwire.com.

Take a Cruise

With a cruise, you not only prepay -- thereby ensuring against rising rates -- but you have built-in lodging and all meals included. Check consolidator sites for bargains within 90 days of sailing. On Vacations to Go, for example (800-338-4962 or 800-680-2858, http://www.vacationstogo.com), late May and early June sailings on Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas are $549 for a five-day Mediterranean itinerary. Norwegian Gem's seven-day Mediterranean cruises start at $699, far below the brochure rate of $1,599. "Anything close to $100 a day in the Med on a ship like that is a great price," says Alan Fox, chairman and chief executive of Vacations to Go.

River cruises can price out considerably cheaper than land travel. Amadeus Waterways (800-626-0126, http://www.amadeuswaterways.com), for example, has an air-cruise-hotel package from Amsterdam to Paris (from New York) from $2,699 in November. Priced separately, airfare from Washington to Amsterdam on Lufthansa is $860; budget hotels in all cities on the itinerary would cost about $1,388. The difference of $451 covers ground transportation, 11 tours, admissions and meals.

If your time frame is flexible, check last-minute cruise sites for deals. CruisesOnly.com (800-CRUISES, http://www.cruisesonly.com), for example, has a $799 seven-day Tunisia-Spain-France route from Barcelona on the Costa Magica on May 30.

To sort through the choices, Cruise Lines International Association can help you find a travel agent ( http://www.cruising.org).


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