Bargains in Paris and London and Berlin - Really?
Europe is on sale for Americans this summer, making a trip there an irresistible, as well as a practical, vacation choice.
Why the bargains?
It all has to do with the PIIGS, that handful of heavily indebted European countries – Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain. Fears that one or more of these countries may default on its debt has caused a fairly steady drop in the euro's value against the greenback. In fact, in early June, the euro fell to a four-year low, trading at about $1.24. That exactly mirrors the rate of exchange on January 4, 1999, the day the new currency made its debut. The pound has followed the euro's decline. Its value is now at an extraordinary low of $1.48.
That was then
To put the numbers into context, just two years ago, one euro was worth $1.54, making the U.S. a bargain basement for Europeans. New Yorkers joked that you never heard customers speaking English in Macy's or Bloomingdale's. In March of 2008, one British pound was worth $2.00. British twenty-somethings with careers on the rise were not above making quick weekend trips to New York, just to wine and dine and see a show.
Now Britain is where the bargains are, according to Simon Bradley, Vice President Americas for VisitBritain.
A built-In 25 percent discount
"In general, the exchange rate is making prices in Britain at least 25 percent cheaper for Americans than was the case 18 months ago," Bradley says. "That lets visitors do some luxury things that they wouldn't have normally done. For example, London has more Michelin-starred restaurants than Paris does, and Americans can pay the bill at a 25 percent discount."
It is also a great time for Americans to shop in England. The new Bicester Village outlet mall just outside London offers fabulous deals. (Take the train from Marylebone Station to Bicester North – just under an hour – then hop on the free shuttle bus to the mall.) When you add the 25 percent rate-of-exchange benefit to the outlet mall's already deep discounts, you can walk away with some breathtaking bargains bearing tags that read Armani . . . Burberry . . . Versace. And don't fail to load up on those lovely British-made Molton Brown toiletries, a great gift for the folks back home.
As to sightseeing, the vast majority of London's museums are always free, a special treat for a special city. Even attractions that charge come at a discount this year, however. The popular London Eye, the gigantic Ferris wheel that lets you see all of London – and on a clear day all the way to Windsor – costs just 18.90 pounds, or a little over $28, for a half-hour "flight." A 17 pound guided tour of the Tower of London, including two special exhibitions, now rounds out at just over $25.
Catch some deals on the continent
The bargains are just as compelling on the continent. In France, the drop in the euro puts everything at a significant discount, but there's an added treat for those who love to eat. The French government has dropped the TVA (the Value Added Tax) on restaurant meals – and that includes on wine and other beverages consumed with the meal – from 19.5 percent to a mere 5.5 percent. In addition, the city of Paris museums, perhaps taking a lesson from London, have now dropped admission charges for some of their permanent exhibitions. That means that tourists can now visit such popular attractions as the Petit Palais, with its fine art collection, and the Musee Carnavalet, devoted to the history of Paris, at no charge.
Of course, even travelers accustomed to the lap of luxury like a good bargain, and they can find it in Paris. For example, the classic Hotel Fouquet's Barrière, located where Avenue Georges V meets the Champs-Elysées, and known for its superb restaurants and posh spa, has also become more affordable.
"We haven't raised our fees, yet for American tourists there is a minimum discount of 25 percent based on the value of the euro," notes Eric Boonstoppel, General Manager of the hotel. "That means Americans can get a room for between $700 and $880 a night this summer," he says. Clearly, the definition of bargain depends on who is doing the defining.
Bargains abound in Berlin
Berlin has always been less expensive than London and Paris, but now euro-related bargains put even luxury-level Berlin within the reach of many travelers. "A double room at the five-star Adlon in Berlin, one of Germany's finest hotels, would be about $306 now, including breakfast. That is almost $80 less than one year ago at the same price in euros," notes Ricarda Lindner, Regional Manager of the Americas for the German National Tourist Office. She adds that the average room rate in Germany, which is less than the European Union average, has dropped from $120 one year ago to about $95 a night today.
Americans are getting the message. In the first two months of 2010, according to Lindner, arrivals were up by four percent over 2009. "It certainly appears that the strengthening of the dollar is an incentive for Americans to book and travel now," she concludes.
Clearly, as London and Paris and Berlin go, so goes the rest of Europe. Bargains are available for Americans this summer in every country that uses either the euro or the pound. It's that built-in discount based on the rate of exchange, and it offers enormous value.
What It Cost Then . . . What It Costs Now
What You Would Have Paid at Today's Prices in London, Based on the Rate of Exchange Then in Effect
What You Would Have Paid at Today's Prices in Paris, Based on the Rate of Exchange Then in Effect
What You Would Have Paid at Today's Prices in Berlin, Based on the Rate of Exchange Then in Effect