International travelers to the U.S. spent $3.5 billion on airfares in January,… (Michael Robinson Chavez…)
An American in Paris today may feel like the poet Rodolfo in the opera "La Bohème" — so romantic, so impoverished. A mediocre hotel room in the City of Light can cost $200 a night. Lunch can eat up $30. Summer transatlantic fares can run $2,000 round trip.
But if your heart is set on a European vacation, don't give up. You can bring your trip into affordable range by choosing the right season, taking one-stop flights, renting an apartment or house, buying a travel package or even hitting the high seas.
Here's a closer look at these saving strategies:
Go in spring, fall or winter: The U.S. dollar, which has lost value over the last year in Europe, was recently trading at $1 to 0.71 euros and 0.62 British pounds. That makes peak-season summer trips even more costly.
You can save hundreds by going off-season. The lowest round-trip, nonstop L.A.-Paris airfare was $1,851 for late August travel but only $1,383 in September, I found in an online search of random dates last week at Kayak.com. Hotels, especially in resort areas, are often cheaper too.
Take a one-stop flight: It's amazing what switching from nonstop to one-stop flights can do for your budget. In my online search, that change reduced my LAX-Paris round-trip fare by nearly $700 in August and nearly $300 in September. Allow two or more hours to connect; short layovers look great until you miss your flight.
Tom Parsons, chief executive of BestFares.com, a flight-deals website, added this tip: If your dates are flexible, wait until 60 days ahead or less to book your flights. You'll often find cheaper prices as carriers struggle to fill empty seats.
"You want to sit back and hold on to your dollars until you think you just can't hold on any more," he said. And if you booked your flights two or three months ago, he said, check to see if fares have fallen. Even with change fees, you may save by rebooking.
Rent an apartment or house: Photographer Renée Jacobs of Los Angeles, who has made five trips to Paris in the last six months to work on a book, pays as little as $130 a night to stay there. She uses online rental agencies to find apartments.
"The one I loved the most was 85 or 90 euros per night," she said. "It's incredibly small. But you stick your head out the window, and you have an incredible view of the Eiffel Tower."
Renting affords her privacy and "phenomenal" savings on food, she said.
Book through an established vacation rental service, such as http://www.vrbo.com, http://www.homeaway.com or http://www.flipkey.com; in Paris, Jacobs has used http://www.clickappart.com. Pay by credit card, which offers fraud protection that cash transactions do not.
Buy a package: By booking your hotel and flights in a single package, you can often get both for the price of the airfare alone. Find these deals online or by visiting a travel agent.
For instance, http://www.gate1travel.com was recently offering four nights in Dublin, Ireland, including round-trip airfare from Los Angeles, hotel, daily breakfast, fees and taxes, for about $1,200 a person, double occupancy, for travel in late August. Another online vendor, http://www.adventurevacationsinc.com, had a similar package for a four-night Paris stay in fall or winter starting at less than $1,100 a person, double occupancy.
Hit the high seas: A European cruise can be surprisingly affordable because you pay many costs upfront in dollars, not in pricey euros or pounds.
"A cruise fare includes everything you absolutely need, such as transportation from port to port, food, entertainment, a kids club, water and coffee," said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of CruiseCritic.com, a consumer information website.
Look to fall and winter for cruise fares as low as $499 a person, double occupancy, for seven-day eastern Mediterranean itineraries and $679 for the western Mediterranean, she said. Airfare is extra, of course, although a few luxury lines are offering free flights for select voyages.