Visiting Europe is getting easier for South Floridians.
Beginning later this fall, two more international airlines will begin nonstop service from Miami to the continent — Aeroflot to Moscow starting in October and Travel Service to Prague in November.
The new routes will raise the total number of Miami nonstop flights to Europe to 15 airlines serving 16 destinations, saving hours of travel time for South Floridians who in times past have had to shlep to Atlanta, New York or some other U.S. city in order to get to many European destinations.
But that’s not the only happy sign for Europe-bound travelers. Hotel rates there in the next few months are significantly less than they were last fall, in some cases discounted as much as 37 percent, according to Hotwire.com, a discount travel site.
Air fares, however, are staying at relatively high levels, mainly because airlines have not reduced their high fuel surcharges, which can amount to almost twice as much as the basic fare. Even so, fares are considerably less in fall and winter than in high-season summer.
All of which makes autumn one of the best times to visit Europe. Summer’s high-season crowds are gone, hotels have reduced their prices, the climate is pleasant, and the dollar has improved against the euro, says Pierre-Etienne Chartier, vice president of Hotwire.com.
“For anything you want to do, it’s a good time to go to Europe, because you save so much on hotels,” Chartier said.
European hotel prices actually booked by Hotwire for fall show declines in more than two dozen cities. “Berlin, Paris, Barcelona and Rome are seeing the best prices in five years,” Chartier said. In Prague, where rates are 37 percent lower, he cited “four-star hotels for $60 to $80, five stars for $100 to $150,” with an average booked rate at $77. Even Geneva, with an average price of $154, is a bargain, he said.
Some other average hotel prices already booked by Hotwire for September through November travel: Budapest, $61, 30 percent below last fall; Venice, $148, down 28 percent; Madrid, $104, down 26 percent; Seville, $70, down 25 percent; Lisbon, $78, down 19 percent; Athens, $86, down 10 percent; Rome, $133, down 16 percent; and Paris, $162, down 7 percent.
South Florida has been increasing nonstop flights to Europe for some time now. In the past five years, Miami has added nonstops to Lisbon, Moscow, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Berlin, jumping from ninth to seventh ranking among U.S. cities in terms of the number of European cities served. Today, Miami provides an average of 230 nonstop passenger flights weekly to/from Europe. Last year, those flights carried more than 2.9 million passengers to/from Europe, the airport reports.
Many European capitals can now be reached nonstop from Miami, including London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Lisbon, Berlin and Moscow, with Prague coming in November. Other nonstops go to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Milan and Zurich.
In some cases, South Floridians have a choice of airlines or airports serving a European city. London-bound travelers, for example, can choose from American, British or Virgin Atlantic flights. Headed for Madrid? American or Iberia will take you. Air France flies Miami travelers to Charles DeGaulle airport in Paris, while Corsair takes them to the French capital’s Orly airport. Moscow-bound travelers can fly via Transaero to Domodedovo Airport or, starting in November, Aeroflot to Sheremeyezo Airport.
Wherever South Floridians fly to Europe, however, they will pay dearly for passage. Fuel surcharges remain high, airlines are reducing capacity, and the uncertain economic outlook inhibits prospective travelers. All these factors work to keep air fares at high levels.
Still, fares traditionally drop in shoulder-season fall and low-season winter, so South Floridians now can fly to Europe for under $1,000 round-trip, said Tom Parsons, CEO of Bestfares.com (who recommends that passengers get lower fares by traveling Monday through Thursday). Some roundtrip Miami fares that Parsons found for early November departures: To Lisbon: $859, London: $789 (Oct. 30), Madrid: $879, Paris: $939, Rome: $929.
At those fares American passengers are paying almost twice as much for the fuel surcharge as for the base air fare — a big bone of contention with Parsons.
“If there’s [anything] that makes me hot under the collar, it is fuel surcharges to Europe,” he wrote in an article on his web site. “Boy oh boy are they on the rise and are we getting ripped off.”
Back in 2007, Parsons explained in an interview, the fuel surcharge for flights to Europe was $120-$150. “Today, fuel costs are only about 25 percent higher, but the fuel surcharges are four times more — $516 to about 95 percent of Europe.”
Parsons believes the U.S. Department of Transportation should challenge the airlines on the surcharges, citing also the fact that the surcharge on flights to Hong Kong — twice as distant — is only $249.
Victoria Day of Airlines for America, the airline industry association, says Parson’s comments are based on a flawed assumption, that the fuel surcharges in 2007 were sufficient to cover costs.
“Airline expenses have risen 9 percent, led by a 13 percent increase in fuel expenses (exceeding $25 billion) from the first half of 2012 compared to the first half of 2011, and the price of fuel is now running higher than the 2011 record,” she said. “This has resulted in the 10 largest U.S. airlines posting a combined $1.1 billion loss in the first half of this year. When airlines’ costs rise, the only options are to seek ways to increase revenue and/or decrease expenses.”