1. Avoid high season
It was difficult last summer to find a fare to Europe from anywhere in the U.S. for under $1000. But off-season consolidator fares can be found from the East Coast starting at less than half that price, not including taxes.
Many hotel rates are also seasonal. For example, in our recent story on Mürren we gave an editor's choice to the Hotel Alpenruh. In high season, its per person rate is CHF 135. In the mid-April low season the price drops to CHF 95.
2. 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.
3. Spend less time in big cities
Your euros and francs will go much farther in the countryside.
4. 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 it's like to cost you $25 to $50 daily for parking fees in major cities. Limit your travel to a couple of adjacent regions, you can get by with a small car and another plus never drive the Autobahn.
4. Rent an apartment
As noted in recent issues of Gemütlichkeit, our three countries are full of short-term, self-catering rentals with kitchens. They start around $250 per week.
5. 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 $193 per week plus 19% VAT provides a per person, per day transportation cost of about $16 (not including fuel and parking costs). Four people together in a midsize car drops the per person, per day price to about $10. The least expensive second-class rail travel with a German Twin Pass is about $49 per day. If you're going to visit three or more countries, the cheapest Eurail Selectpass is $75 per person, based on five days of rail travel.
6. 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.
7. 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 about $14 to $35, depending, of course, on the hotel. Chain stores such as Migros in Switzerland often have inexpensive restaurants that serve dishes made from fresh, local ingredients. Cafeteria-style restaurants such as Berln's Rogacki, a combination food-stall/cafeteria/market, also come to mind.
8. Get cash with your ATM card
You'll get the very best exchange rate and, if you have the right bank, pay low or zero transaction charges.
9. Pay big ticket items with a credit card
Yes, most cards—but not all—levy a 3 percent foreign transaction charge, but you won't be billed for from two to six weeks, you'll get the best exchange range, have a record of expenditures, and if there's a dispute over a transaction you've got some leverage.
10. 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.