When rooms at very good hotels in Germany's major cities get down around the $100 mark, where they have been within the past year, it's too good to last and the pendulum is about to head back the other way. That's what's happening now.

Last year, the best double room in Munich's very good, three-star Hotel Domus was about $117. This summer, after a price increase coupled with the dollars drop against the euro, the rate is $149, up 27%.

The Swiss franc is also stronger. At Bern's solid-but-nothing-special Hotel Kreuz in the heart of town, a double at the dollars apex last summer was $118. This year, with no price increase, you'll pay $139, nearly 18% more.

We've been through this before. In the mid-90s the dollar fetched as little as 1.09 Swiss francs and 1.38 German marks. We're better off now than then, but for those of us who must get an annual or biennial Europe fix, perhaps it's time to discuss strategies to reduce trip costs.

Avoid high season

It's been difficult this summer to find a fare to Europe from anywhere in the U.S. for under $1000. But late fall and early winter consolidator fares can now be found from the East Coast starting at around $350, not including taxes.

Many hotel rates are also seasonal. For example, last month in our story on Mürren we gave an "editors choice" to the Hotel Alpenruh. In high season, it's per person rate is CH 135 ($94). In the mid-April low season the price drops to CH 95 ($67).

Lower your sights

Move down one or even two hotel categories. Travelers who stay only in five and four-star hotels might be surprised at the charm and comfort of three-stars such as the Hotel Asam in Munich or the Kaiserin Elisabeth in Vienna. And the next step down to the Acanthus or the Kraft in Munich, the Art Nouveau in Berlin, the Altstadt in Vienna is not that far, even for the most discriminating traveler. In fact, over the years we've seen well-furnished, spacious, comfortable hotel rooms in all price categories.

Spend less time in big cities

Your euros and francs will go much farther in the countryside.

Don't try to see too much

If you try to see Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, Zürich, Munich and Berlin all in a two or even three-week trip you'll either need an expensive railpass or spend long days on the Autobahn plus spend at least $20 daily in parking fees. Limit your travel to a couple of adjacent regions, you can get by with a small car, and another plus, never drive the Autobahn.

Rent an apartment

As noted in the July Gemütlichkeit, our three countries are full of short-term, self-catering rentals with kitchens. They start around $300 per week.

Rent a car

Trains are great but when two or more people are traveling together, rental cars are usually cheaper. Two persons renting an Opel Corsa in Germany at $140 per week plus 16% VAT provides a per person, per day transportation cost of $11.60 (not including fuel and parking costs). Four people together in a midsize car drop the per person, per day price to $7.46. Second class rail travel with a German Twin Pass is $33.75 per day. If you're going to all three countries the cheapest Eurail Selectpass is $58.80 per person.

Rent a smaller car

A compact is not much smaller than a midsize and still has four doors, air conditioning and a trunk with enough luggage room for two or three people. A subcompact two doors, no air, smaller trunk also works for two persons.

Eat more simply

Most hotels offer a half-board deal that is much less expensive than ordering dinner a la carte in the hotel's restaurant. The extra cost to add dinner to the price of room and breakfast usually ranges from $10 to $25, depending, of course, on the hotel.

The Michelin Red Guides for Germany and Switzerland identify restaurants offering full meals for less than 14 EUR ($14) in Germany and CH 20 ($14) in Switzerland.

Pay with a credit card

You'll get the very best exchange rate, won't be billed for from two to six weeks and if there's a dispute over a transaction you've got some leverage.

Keep it in perspective

Using the Michelin Red Guide Main Cities of Europe, we selected the top five hotels in each of six cities: London, Paris, Rome, Zürich, Berlin and Vienna. We computed the average price for the best double rooms in each city and got the following results:

Paris $822
London $675
Rome $602
Vienna $453
Zürich $398
Berlin $345

We found similar ratios in all price categories. The point being that hotel rates in our three countries are substantially lower than in Europe's three most popular countries: Great Britain, France and Italy. Keep the faith. RHB

August 2002