Dear Europe Traveler

We can beat our chest around the clock—and, in fact, do—about our European car rental service and prices, but nothing is so effective and revealing as this. By the way, these posts are helpful to our business, so if you feel inclined, the forums at Fodor’s, Rick Steves, Frommer’s and TripAdvisor all have Europe car rental threads.

The Winter Tire Question

There is great confusion and some unrest about winter tires on rental cars in Europe. The major problem seems to be in Germany where rental companies don’t routinely equip their vehicles with winter tires, even in the dead of winter. One must request those in advance and pay extra—about 14 euros per day to a maximum of 105 to 150 euro per rental, depending on the rental company. The unrest and confusion comes from a general misunderstanding that the law requires winter tires in Germany during colder months when, in fact, they are only required when conditions are “wintry”—snow, ice, slush or temperatures low enough to affect tire adhesion. When roads, as they can be in winter, are bare, dry, and temperatures are above about seven degrees (Celsius), it is perfectly legal to drive a car with summer tires. The “wintry conditions” language creates a gray area in the law that has allowed rental companies to make winter tires an option and not standard equipment. And it is the driver’s responsibility—not the vehicle’s owner— to see that his/her vehicle is properly equipped. So either order them in advance or plan not to drive when the conditions get “wintry.”

In both Austria and Switzerland, the renter has no choice; winter tires are standard equipment, though there is an extra charge for them in both countries. Italy and France seems to have no laws regarding winter tires and, as a result, winter tires are not even available on rental vehicles…at any price. This creates a problem for travelers who want to rent in Italy or France and drive in countries where winter tires are required.

One holiday traveler who rented a car in Rome found himself in a Dolomite mountain snowstorm on his way to eastern France. His intended route was through Austria and Germany, countries where winter tires are required… at least in ‘wintry’ conditions. From limited available options, he chose to purchase winter tires from a local tire store, return the summer tires to the nearest office of his rental car supplier, and try to obtain reimbursement from the supplier at the end of the rental. Given that changing equipment on a rental car violates the rental contract, reimbursement will be a most unlikely outcome. In other words, folks, don’t try this at home. Car rental quotes.

Free Report: “What You Should Know About Renting a Car in Europe”

A unique resource for the prospective rental car customer is our free special report What You Should Know About Renting a Car in Europe.

$700 Per Couple Off on Danube Cruise

Europe’s classic river cruise is the Danube. Uniworld’s 8-day Enchanting Danube itinerary features the great cities of Budapest and Vienna, winds through the gorgeous Wachau Valley wine country with visits to picturesque Dürnstein and Melk, includes an overnight in Linz with a full-day excursion to Salzburg, and also stops in beautiful Passau. Per person fares range from $1999 to $3099, depending on sailing date, but if you book and pay by the end of the month you can deduct $700 per couple from the regular fare. Contact: Laura, 800-521-6722 x 2

More than two dozen of you took advantage of the two-for-one offer on Uniworld’s Treasures of Prague, the Rhine & Main cruise. Though the time for that great deal is gone, cabins are still available for some departures and there is now a $1,000 per person flight credit on offer from Uniworld, plus an additional $100 per couple discount if you book through Gemut.com. Full payment for cruise and air is required by January 31. For full details contact Laura at 800-521-6722 x 2.

Transatlantic Air: 2011 Outlook

That segues nicely into the topic of transatlantic air travel in 2011. You might consider a trip within the next 60 to 90 days, because '11 fares will probably not get lower than they are right now. All predictions are that 2011 summer fares will be at least at 2010 levels and probably higher. As those of you who have tried to book business and first class tickets with frequent flier miles well know, demand for those seats is back.

  • Condor, the no-frills German carrier, begins service from Seattle to Frankfurt on Mondays and Thursdays this summer beginning June 23. One-way economy fares range from about $428 to $830. For about $120 to $250 more each way you can upgrade to “premium economy” which gets you six inches more legroom, free headsets, free drinks, a “premium” menu, online check-in, pillows and blankets, and a reserved seat. From this list you can see what’s not included in the regular economy fare. In price and amenities, Condor’s comfort class resembles the business class of a decade ago. Seats are 19 inches wide and the distance between them, back to front, is 47 inches. At from about $1250 to $1700 each way, comfort class is a bargain. Condor can also be booked from Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco/Santa Rosa, Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks, Fort Lauderdale, Calgary, Halifax, and Vancouver. Call Laura at 800-521-6722 x 2 or get an email quote.
  • Air Berlin is also expanding service from the U.S. to Europe. This summer, the airline begins nonstop service from New York to Berlin four days per week. Currently, only other nonstop is Delta/Air France. And such a deal...For a July 6 itinerary from JFK, Air Berlin's fare is $864 while Delta/Air France is nearly $1400. All other airlines stop at least once and fares range from $1276 on Virgin Atlantic to $1584 on KLM. Air Berlin can also be booked from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Fort Myers, and Miami. Call Laura at 800-521-6722 x 2 or get an email quote.
  • Flight shopping got a bit more complicated when American Airlines fares and schedules were dropped off the screens of online sellers Orbitz and Expedia, and by Sabre, the computer booking system used by many travel agents. To get a price quote you must visit AA’s website, phone them or contact a travel seller such as Gemut.com that uses a different booking system such as WorldSpan and can quote flights on all major transatlantic airlines. This is the result of a beef between AA and online travel sellers over, what else, money. It all may be negotiation but for now just be aware that Orbitz and Expedia don’t offer a complete portfolio of flights. The one-stop shop where you can be assured of getting a rate comparison on virtually all transatlantic options—Lufthansa, United, American, Continental, Swiss, Air Berlin, Icelandair, Condor, Delta, KLM, Air France, British Air, Air India, Singapore, et al— is our Laura Riedel at 800-521-6722 x 2.

Hey Traveler, Who's Got Your Back?

You’ve watched the scene dozens of times on TV. The poor, innocent devil in the jail cell meets his defense attorney who says, “You’re in big trouble, and right now I’m the only friend you’ve got.” It’s much the same with international travel; except when things go wrong your only friend may be your travel agent…provided you didn't book online or directly with the airline. Booking through a real, live travel professional—who will be your advocate if you have problems before, during, or even after your trip—is the safest and most convenient way to fly. Ever try to call Orbitz or Expedia? If you have you know you’re in for a long haul before you talk to a real person; one who may not be in this country and for whom English is a not a first language. Read more...