Here we are in 2016. A stunning development considering just a few short weeks ago we were looking ahead to 2015—at least it feels like weeks. Time seems to fly at warp speed, but well do our best to keep up.
Virtually overnight, river cruising has become a significant element of European travel. Floating down the Danube or Rhine used to be a rare experience—mostly reserved for the well-heeled. Though river travel for pleasure in Europe dates to the early 19th century, not until recently has it become an option for the ordinary traveler. Over the past five years, the average increase in river cruising has been 10% per year. In January 1987, at the dawn of our business there were perhaps half-a-dozen riverboats with overnight accommodations and only one or two companies offering vacation trips on the rivers of Germany and Austria. Today, the top seven European river cruise companies: Uniworld, Avalon, Grand Circle, Ama Waterways, Viking, and Scenic operate some 95 vessels with more under construction. Most of these fleets have been built over the last six years with the trend being toward larger staterooms with private balconies, and more passenger amenities
For the most part, cruising is priced “all in,” with shore excursions, meals and, in some cases, unlimited beverages included in the price. Boat size is limited by the rivers and their locks, which in turn dictate passenger capacities of from about 100 to 200.
In February, 2016, you can rent a car in most countries for less than you could a year ago. In Germany, for example, a one-week rental of a four-door compact car, VW Golf or similar, is currently $154 with VAT. Last year at this time the same car was about $163. Our best Germany deal is book an intermediate category car and a get a free upgrade to a full-size category Mercedes Benz C-Class or similar with free GPS. Last year the one week price from the was $248. This year it's $208. Get a car rental quote.
In France, one week in a compact is now a mere $131 and that includes 20% value added tax. In Italy, where rental car prices are the highest in Europe, a compact is over $247 from Rome Airport.
Our advice on when to book a rental car in Europe is always the same: NOW. The current rates are bound to increase and travelers that wait will undoubtedly pay more later in the year. Booking immediately always gets the best price because if rates go down you simply cancel and re-book at the lower price. If they go up you keep your low winter price. The only disadvantage to our BRA (book right away) strategy is in order to lock-in the price you must pay in advance, though you can always get a 100% refund up to the time of rental. Yes, if later on the circumstances of your rental change (dates, car category, locations, etc.), you may have to accept different rates, but if you wait to book you’ll pay those higher rates anyway.
Rail vs Car Rental
Train tickets and rail passes keep rising in price while car rental rates are at their lowest point in years. In 2005, the four-day, second-class German Twin Pass was $135 per person. This year it’s $189. A compact car for a week in Germany was $230 in 2005. Currently it’s $154, a 33% decrease. Yes, there are other factors to consider with both modes of travel but given the rental car’s flexibility and lower per day cost ($47.25 per person per rail day for two persons traveling together vs. $11 per person per car day) it’s no longer an argument. With a family the numbers get somewhat ridiculous.
2016 Airfares to Europe
Not a lot of change here from 2015. Expect $1500 to $2100 for high season economy fares. (Departures after May 17 and before August 24.) Sales are unlikely for high season travel but probable for spring, fall and winter trips. Wait for a sale only if you are flexible regarding dates of travel, carrier, and destination.
The strategy is different for business class buyers. Business travel drops off in the high season, so summer is the best chance for reduced business class fares. At this time of year over both of the last two years, the Gemut.com travel department had access to sale-priced biz class tickets for summer travel priced at $2,600 to $3,100. But so far, no such sales for 2016. Business class tickets are currently in the $3500 to $5100 range, indicative of early business class booking strength and perhaps of briefer sale windows and/or higher sale prices. Since business class fares (at least through Gemut.com) aren’t likely to get much higher than they are now, it might be a good idea to wait for the sales we expect sometime in the next 60 days. Get an air ticket quote.