EASIER THAN YOU THOUGHT

Stretching the Dollar in Europe

Even with the weak dollar, there are ways to save when traveling abroad.

By Tim Leffel, Tuesday, Mar 18, 2008, 12:00 AM

The Rembrandt House, Amsterdam (courtesy The Rembrandt House)

1. Check airline deals Europe's low-fare carriers are good for more than cheap airfares--many also sell packages (air and hotel for a bargain price) and offer hotel and car-rental specials. EasyJet has hundreds of packages in dozens of European cities, many departing out of London (holidays.easyjet.com). The deals require planning and patience: EasyJet doesn't fly to the U.S., so you'll have to connect to it in a hub like London, and the airline charges to check bags and for extra weight. Vueling (vueling.com) and SkyEurope (skyeurope.com) airlines also list hotel and car-rental discounts on their websites.

2. Buy train tickets in advance Train travel is sometimes more expensive than flying, but you can save by buying tickets online in advance and traveling during off-peak hours. In Germany, weekday, round-trip Deutsche Bahn tickets purchased at bahn.de at least three days in advance are 25 percent off the regular price--and weekend tickets bought in advance are 50 percent off. Look for Dauer-Spezial one-way tickets on the website for very low prices, too. Many tickets purchased more than a month in advance for France's TGV trains are also at least half the normal price (voyages-sncf.com).

3. Dig deep on tourism websites Tourism bureau websites are often loaded with overly rosy descriptions of a place, but some also have good deals. Click on the People Like You tab on Visit London's site (visitlondon.com) for budget hotel and entertainment listings. The Special Offers tab links to a page with hotel-and-attraction packages, such as one night at a hotel and two tickets to the Ian Fleming exhibition at the Imperial War Museum starting at $200. The tickets alone cost $16 per person.

4. Eliminate a night in a hotel Sleeping in transit is a backpacker's trick to save money, but it works for those who want to travel in moderate comfort as well. A double-occupancy, upper-deck cabin on the DFDS Seaways' ship that sails daily from Copenhagen to Oslo (an overnight trip lasting 16 hours) starts at $139 in the summer (dfds.com). A couchette bed in a six-person compartment on the 11-hour overnight Deutsche Bahn train from Prague to Cologne costs $72 per person if purchased in advance (bahn.de).

5. Evaluate city passes Many tourism bureaus--including ones in Lisbon, Zürich, Budapest, and Stockholm--sell city cards that cover the costs of mass transit and admission to museums and also provide discounts to other attractions. To determine if they're worth it, however, you have to do the math: Sometimes you'll have to go to four or five museums just to break even. For a full list of cities with the cards, go to europeancitycards.com.

6. Don't buy single rides Multiride subway cards are almost always a better value than individual tickets, depending, of course, on how many stops you want to make. In London, a single Tube journey costs a whopping $8, but a one-day unlimited-ride Travelcard runs you just $13.25. An even better value is the Oyster card, which starts at $16 (a $6 refundable deposit for the card itself and $10 worth of credits toward subway and bus rides). With the Oyster card, a single ride on the Tube is $3 to $4, and a day of unlimited transport is $12.25. When you run out of credits, you can recharge the card at Tube stations, convenience stores, or newsstands where you see the Oyster card logo.

7. Use a bike to get around In Paris, about 20,000 bikes are available for short-term rentals at hundreds of pickup and drop-off spots. You buy a Vélib' card for $1.50 per day or $7 per week; each bike is then free for the first half hour, $1.50 for the second half hour, $3 for the third half hour, and $6 for every half hour after that. Two caveats: The bike-rental machines only accept credit cards with smart chips, such as certain American Express cards. You also can't rent a helmet at a Vélib' station, so you'll have to bring one (though there are no helmet laws in Paris). Starting at $15 per day, you can rent a bike (with a helmet) at the city's 20 Roue Libre bike-rental stands (rouelibre.fr). Other cities with programs like Vélib' include Brussels, Vienna, and Helsinki.

8. Skip the train, take a bus Long-distance bus travel may not be as glamorous as riding the rails, but some bus lines, such as Busabout (busabout.com) and Eurolines (eurolines.com), sell multicity passes that rival the Eurail Pass in terms of price and flexibility. Eurolines has a pass that gives you unlimited travel over 15 days for $485 or 30 days for $647 (both prices are for the summer). There are 40 cities on the route, including some like Kraków, Poland, and Riga, Latvia, that aren't reachable with a Eurail Pass, and you need to reserve each leg at least two days in advance. The pass has one major restriction: All trips, with a few exceptions, must cross international borders.

9. Rent a supercheap car If you can, avoid renting a car at all--rates in Europe are high, as are gas prices. If you really need a car--to tour the Tuscan countryside, for example--check the prices of rentals at European chains such as EasyCar (easycar.com), Alimex (alimex.eu), and Sixti (sixti.com). Sixti advertises cars in France and Italy for as low as $7.50 a day, but beware of add-ons that cost extra, such as allowing an additional driver, airport or train station pickup, insurance, and even winter tires. The other cost associated with these cheaper rentals is a personal one: pride. Cars rented from Sixti and Alimex are plastered with flashy advertising for the agencies.

10. Find the freebies Scour the Internet before your trip for free museums, concerts, cultural events, and activities--you may be surprised by what's out there. Visit Oslo's website, for instance, has an extensive list of free festivals and museums (visitoslo.com). The blog at EuroCheapo--a worthwhile source for very affordable hotels--also routinely posts articles on how to find free stuff in Europe (eurocheapo.com). And at BudgetTravel.com, we're posting a list of eight free European events this summer, including perfor­mances by the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and various ensembles at Amsterdam's Concertgebouw hall, as well as the annual White Night festivals in Rome, Paris, Brussels, and Madrid.

A week in Crete for two people: $527 savings
7 savings$527 savings In our test, round-trip flights between New York and Crete on Olympic Airlines and seven nights at the Hotel Arolithos outside Heraklion cost $3,125. But we also found an EasyJet package that included flights between London and Crete and seven nights at the same hotel for $968. Adding New York-London flights for $1,630, the total price was just $2,598.

Berlin to Frankfurt on Deutsche Bahn: $115 savings
$115 savings Second-class regular fare...$158
Second-class Dauer-Spezial fare...$43

Sightseeing in Amsterdam: $27 savings
A two-day "I amsterdam" card costs $63 (iamsterdamcard.com). It covers unlimited transport on the subway, trams, and buses; entrance to 25 museums, including the Van Gogh Museum, the Rembrandt House (above), the Rijksmuseum, and the Stedelijk; a canal cruise; and discounts at a number of restaurants. (The Anne Frank House is not part of the offer.) If purchased separately, a canal cruise and admission to the four museums previously mentioned would cost $71. Adding two days of unlimited tram rides would take the total to $90.

A car for a week in Italy: $254 savings
Economy car from Avis (with tax, loss damage waiver, and unlimited distance)...$412
Smart car from Sixti (with tax, loss damage waiver, and 700 kilometers of driving distance)...$158