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EUROPE ON SALE

It's dream trip time

Dublin, Rome, Venice, Paris. A slew of new deals could get you there. We've sifted through and come up with our top 10, plus a bonus.

September 24, 2006|Rosemary McClure | Times Staff Writer

TOO bad you weren't in Europe earlier this month. Ryanair -- Europe's largest low-fare airline -- gave away 5 million free trips. Or maybe it's good that you weren't. The promotional campaign caused a near-riot in Barcelona, Spain, when more people showed up to claim vouchers than Ryanair expected.

Airline representatives for the Dublin-based carrier said the giveaway stunt was necessary to win back customers after the Aug. 10 airline terrorism scare in London.

Other carriers aren't exactly lining up to do the same, but several have slashed prices and launched fare sales this month. And that's good news for Americans who want to cross the Pond.

Prices are so low that travelers who fantasize about visiting Europe can take their dream trip for about the same cost as three days of floating on a rented houseboat on Lake Powell or a week wearing mouse ears at Disney World.

Among the fall and winter bargains:

* Four nights in Dublin for $643, including round-trip airfare from Los Angeles and hotel accommodations.

* Four nights in Rome for $767, including round-trip airfare from Los Angeles, sightseeing and hotel.

* Nine nights visiting European classics: Paris, Venice, Florence and Rome, from $1,377, including round-trip airfare from LAX, transfers and hotels.

The off-season deals are especially welcome this year after a summer of sky-high prices.

"Some airfare prices to Europe peaked as high as 20% over where they were the summer before," said Amy Ziff, a travel columnist and consultant for the online travel company Travelocity (www.travelocity.com). "It's been a more expensive travel year than we've seen before."

Prices typically fall in October and November, with the lowest prices of the year available in winter. But the timing of the price cuts was disrupted in August, when London authorities said they had foiled a terrorist plot to blow up transatlantic flights, and some travelers canceled or postponed trips.

"It had a major impact on travel companies," said Aaron Brown of Travelzoo (www.travelzoo.com), one of the Internet's largest compilers of travel bargains. "They had to rush their deals to the market, so we're seeing the discounts earlier than usual. Europe is one of the best deals out there."

The terror alerts have caused headaches for travelers, forcing passengers to check more luggage and lengthening lines at some airports. According to a Harris poll conducted in mid-August, one in 10 said he or she had changed travel plans to avoid flying.

But most experts say the new security measures -- which caused thousands of canceled flights and chaos last month at London's airports -- will have minimal, if any, long-term effect on U.S. travelers.

"The first couple of days, a few people canceled," said Bob Whitley, president of the U.S. Tour Operators Assn. "The majority of people just wanted to change their departure date by a few days.

"Terrorism doesn't stop Americans from going where they want to go anymore."

Travel writer Rick Steves, who rarely pulls any punches, calls the heightened travel alerts "a bunch of hysteria."

"It's a nonissue to everybody except a government that wants me to be afraid," he said.

Fewer tourists, more activities

EVEN without the August flight disruptions, fall travelers can find good buys in Europe. They will also find smaller crowds and more cultural activities.

"It's one of my favorite times of the year," said guidebook author Pauline Frommer. "There's an abundance of indoor attractions.... In London, for instance, winter means the height of the theater season, with new plays to choose from. And you have the opportunity to actually meet local people because you're not surrounded by other tourists."

Steves is so fond of off-season travel that he developed a series of tours that celebrate the off-season -- one-week winter getaways to Rome, Paris and London. "The weather doesn't matter in places like that," he said. "There are so many museums and other things to see indoors. And everything is cheaper."

So what are some of the best buys on package deals (hotel and air) to Europe? We sifted through more than 100 to find the ones listed below. All include round-trip air transportation from LAX. A few cautions, however, as you shop the packages:

* Deals are popular and sell out quickly. If you're interested, move fast.

* Many companies that list travel bargains leave out some of the fees and charges you'll have to pay. We've tried to include all of these, but there is often some variation based on the month and day of the week you're traveling. Never assume an advertised price is the one you'll pay until you test-book a trip. In other words, book it online or through an agent up to the point where you pay for it with your credit card. (Don't give out your credit card number until you actually intend to buy.)

* If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. "I consider any package around $1,000 to be a really good buy for a weeklong trip from Los Angeles to Europe," said Brown of Travelzoo.

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