Ireland's Cliffs of Moher

Ireland's Cliffs of Moher Credit: Photo by Pat O'Connor

If you're one of millions of Americans considering a visit to Europe this summer, the outlook has some bright and dim sides, particularly in the wake of the recent volcanic eruptions in Iceland. Here's a rundown of some developments you should know about, plus a few ideas for getting the most for your money.

THE EURO

After rising as high as $1.50 over the winter, it's currently exchanging for about $1.33 - about the same as last year.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

To save money, use a credit card that doesn't add a surcharge to foreign transactions, such as Capital One, and use an ATM card with a minimum charge for local currency.

AIRFARES

It's the big question. As usual, the toughest part of looking ahead is in trying to outguess airfares. For most of the winter and spring, posted airfares have been sharply higher than last summer. Will the airlines reduce fares - or will enough people pay the higher fares to keep the planes full?

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Watch the sales carefully for short-term promotions on European routes and pounce on anything that looks good.

HOTELS

A recent report from the Britain-based Trivago Hotel Price Index showed average European hotel prices up 12 percent just from March to April, with even bigger Iincreases in many key tourist destination cities. Currently, the most expensive cities are Venice, Geneva, Rome, Lisbon and Paris, where the average "standard" double room is going for more than $200 a night.

At the other end, prices this month dropped a little in Bulgaria, Ireland, Finland and Norway, but those last two countries were already very expensive. Still, European hotels are discounting extensively through such third-party outlets as Hotwire and Booking.com (Priceline's European affiliate).

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Head for low-cost countries; minimize your time in the expensive cities and head instead for smaller cities or tour the countryside. If your heart is set on a specific city, book early if you need to lock in an itinerary, but don't pay in advance. You can keep checking for better deals until close to departure time.

RENTAL CARS

A Europe-based site, Holidaycars.com, reported sharply higher rental car rates. Customers who rent last-minute, says a spokesman, can look for price increases as high as 65 percent. As in the United States, European rental companies have sharply reduced the sizes of their fleets, thus shifting the usual supply-and-demand price balance.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Shop carefully among lots of suppliers and lock in any good deal you find. Include autoeurope.com in your search, as well as Priceline and a few European discounters such as Novacarhire and Tigercarrental. Be careful with offshore discount sites: Many quote lowball supposedly "inclusive" prices that include minimal collision damage waivers but huge deductibles.

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