John Madden, the TV pro football commentator, intrigues me. Lately, I've thought about his huge popularity and tried to understand the reasons for it. I have concluded—and this is hardly a news bulletin—that Madden has a special knack for communicating his information. He is simplicity itself with a little humor thrown in. He cuts through all the mysterious, mostly extraneous, football jargon and speaks in clear, simple English. He brings his subject, and himself, down to our level. It occurs to me that Gemütlichkeit should be more like John Madden. Sometimes we get mired in things that aren't important and, worse yet, don't get our message across in a plain, straightforward fashion.

Our resolution for the New Year, therefore, is to be more Madden-like. Such a resolve is no doubt easier in the talking about than in the living up to. It's quite possible that Madden, like the very best in any field, makes the difficult look easy. If this were Madden's newsletter, he'd say, "What the heck? This isn't brain surgery. We know some stuff. You pay us for what we know. Here it is... this is bad... this is good... boom... What else do you want to know?"

Thus begins the Gemütlichkeit-John Madden era. In keeping with our resolution we will henceforth underline information we deem to be particularly important or useful to the reader.

So, as Madden might put it, what's with 1995?

As this is written, we are only 27 days into the New Year, but from all indications to date, the volume of phone calls to tourist offices, early airfare and car rental bookings, the number of calls and orders to the Gemütlichkeit office, 1995 could be a record-breaking year for European travel.

Crowded Destinations

A heavy flow of tourists to Europe will, of course, be a factor in your trip planning. Expect such cities as Prague, Budapest, Rothenburg, Munich, Berlin, Vienna, Salzburg, Zürich, Geneva and Lucerne to be jam-packed from mid-June to early October. Hotel rooms in Prague, especially, will be hard to find in the high season. You may want to spend more time than usual in small towns and in the country. In a later issue, we'll have some specific suggestions along those lines.

Airfares & Airplanes

As this is written, very low fares to Europe are in effect. In early January, you could have gone roundtrip to London from New York for $199. Through today (1/27/95), you can—provided you can get a seat—fly roundtrip to Europe for about $400 from the East Coast, $500 from the Midwest, and $600 from the West. Not to worry if you missed this sale, there will be others to stimulate February to May travel. From a strictly airfare point of view, right now is perhaps the best time to visit Europe. One piece of advice: stay in touch with the airlines or a travel agent, especially if you're flexible enough to go at the drop of an airfare. Some sales are only for a day or two and are often not advertised except via fax to key travel agents. And don't forget such lesser-known airlines and charter carriers as LTU, Balair, and Martinair.

The big question is what will fares be this summer? Last summer, they held up better (or worse, if you will) than at any time since the Gulf War. A reliable industry source tells us that the number of seats already booked for the summer of '95—mostly groups—is substantially up over a year ago. This does not bode well for the consumer because if the airlines can manage to fill their airplanes without cutting prices they, of course, will not do so. Still, there are many airlines and plenty of seats to fill to Europe. Most major carriers are right now in the process of selling blocks of seats to consolidators like DER Tours who will resell them at prices lower than the airlines will.

It remains to be seen, however, if buying from a consolidator will ultimately be your best deal. If the airlines' own advance summer sales begin to lag, say in March and April, companies like Continental and TWA will undoubtedly lower prices. Other carriers are sure to follow. Often these airline sale prices are less than consolidator prices. In any event, we expect summer airfare wars to be fewer, shorter in duration and less bloody (higher fares) than in the recent past. By the end of February we will know the consolidator fares. Air ticket shoppers will then know what they have to fall back on in the event the big fare wars fizzle out. Such a strategy, of course, carries some risk. If the airlines are able to get their price it means summer sales are strong and the shopper who waits too long may find himself or herself talking to a consolidator who has a good price but can't make a reservation on fully booked airplanes. In any event, for those planning to travel this summer we recommend, for now at least, that you wait to purchase tickets at least until the consolidator prices are known. You should also keep in mind that as a subscriber you are entitled to a $50 per ticket fare reduction on Swissair (800-521-6722 for info), substantially more if you're flying full-fare economy, business class or first class.

And finally, whenever you go, from now to next November, figure on your flight being full.

Auto Rental

This is the golden age of auto rentals at least in Germany where the weekly price of a midsize, four-door car is slightly less than $14 a day, not including tax or collision insurance. In Switzerland, rates are lower than last year but well above Germany prices. The same Ford Mondeo goes for $20 per day plus tax. France, Austria and, in particular, Italy are much higher. It is also possible to pick up a car in Germany and drop it in another country without having to take out a second mortgage. If the drop is in Zürich, Paris or Vienna, the drop charge may be as little as $60. Opel Astras and Opel Vectras can be driven into Eastern Europe—but not dropped off there. Bottom line: fly in and out of Germany and save big on car rentals.

However, the savage rate war responsible for these low prices is cooling down. Evidence of this rumored "cease fire" came in early January in the form of a massive rate hike on the BMW 316i from $109 per week to $299. We are waiting for the other shoe.

Because car rental rates in Germany are unlikely to remain at current levels, we recommend you book a car and pay for it now (800-521-6722), thereby locking in these low rates. Since there are no cancellation or change charges, you lose nothing except the use of your money for a few weeks or months.

As you can see, with reasonable airfares and low car rental prices, the 1995 traveler has a good start on a reasonably-priced European vacation. But what about hotel rooms? As to that, I offer this little experiment. In the first five pages of the 1994 Michelin Red Guide (1995 not yet out) I counted 24 hotels for which the most expensive double room price was 150 DM ($99) or less. Eight of those were under 110 DM ($73) double. The '94 guide has 905 pages of hotel listings. If this ratio holds over those 905 pages, then in Michelin alone one can find the address, phone and fax number of over 4,000 hotels with rooms under $99 double and of those some 1,500 are under $73! Michelin doesn't include "dumps" in its Red Guides.

Europe will still be affordable in 1995.

January 1995