Subscribe
Herbert Blesinger, owner of ABC Travel Service, takes a call Saturday from a customer inquiring about airfares. ABC has offices near U.S. military communities across Germany. Blesinger said the cheapest seats on flights to the States this summer will be well above last year’s prices during the high season — typically June through August.

Herbert Blesinger, owner of ABC Travel Service, takes a call Saturday from a customer inquiring about airfares. ABC has offices near U.S. military communities across Germany. Blesinger said the cheapest seats on flights to the States this summer will be well above last year’s prices during the high season — typically June through August. (Matt Millham / S&S)

Have plans to travel to the States this summer? Plan to fork over plenty of cash.

On Wednesday, just days into the high travel season, United Airlines announced it was cutting the number of international flights by as much as 5 percent. On Thursday, Continental Airlines said it was trimming its passenger capacity by up to 11 percent. Add to that the skyrocketing cost of fuel and an increase in the number of European travelers taking advantage of the cheap dollar, and you can guess what the result is.

Don’t expect to get a cheap seat this summer, said Herbert Blesinger, owner of ABC Travel Service, which has offices in the German cities of Mannheim, Kaiserslautern, Ramstein and Vilseck. While airlines have left prices on higher fare classes about the same as last year, the lowest fares are expected to increase well above last year’s prices during the high season —– typically June through August.

Passengers might have been able to get cheap seats if they bought early, but if they wait until the last minute, the cost could double or more of what that same ticket would have cost if purchased in May, said Siggy Mitschke, an agent at the SatoTravel office in Darmstadt. Prices, she said, are rising fast.

Airlines are laying the blame for higher ticket prices on increased fuel costs, which, they say, have also forced them to cancel flights.

Blesinger said fuel has inflated prices, but the airlines themselves are also holding onto low-cost seats until the last minute in the hopes of selling the more expensive seats first to turn a bigger profit.

"This is a technique we don’t like," he said. "It helps nobody."

He compared shopping for a plane ticket on an American carrier to going to a casino, because you’re never sure when the cheap seats will come available, or if they’ve already been sold out. The cheapest flight Blesinger could find Thursday for a round-trip flight from Frankfurt to Atlanta for the first two weeks of July was $904 — a bargain compared to fares found the same day on the Internet. The least-expensive fares found on Internet booking sites Travelocity.com and Expedia.com were about $280 more than that.

With prices so high, it’s no surprise that business is down for travel agents who do business with U.S. personnel in Europe. But many don’t blame it on airfares. They blame it on deployments, the troop drawdown and the dollar.

Thomas Bohling, an insurance and travel agent in Darmstadt, noted that because of the euro-to-dollar exchange rate, the average ticket is now about $200 more than it was last year.

"A lot of civilians who would travel, they can’t afford it any more," he said.

Rising costs for necessities such as gasoline — up about 20 percent in the past six months — and food are taking up an ever-larger portion of Americans’’ paychecks, leaving less money for travel or vacations.

But travelers might be able to find good deals after the summer is over.

Flights now available for the low season actually cost less than they did last year, both Blesinger and Bohling said.

Driving is still cheaper than flying – usually

Right up front let me say that, no, Esso isn’t paying me to write this, but it’s a fact: When you’re headed out with the family, the car is still the cheapest option for traveling around Europe. Well, besides cycling or walking.

Sound unbelievable? That’s understandable.

The cheapest gas U.S. forces can buy in Europe now runs a shade over $4.18 per gallon — about 96 cents more than it cost just six months ago when we last compared the costs of getting around Europe.

For sure, if you’re traveling alone or even in pairs, driving is not always the cheapest way to get where you’re going.

But consider this. Let’s say a Wiesbaden, Germany-based family of four — two adults and two children — wants to get away to Milan for the upcoming four-day weekend. The cheapest round-trip flight available Friday would have cost the four of them roughly $366 on no-frills carrier Ryanair. And that’s assuming they declined extra bags, travel insurance and the option of getting on the plane before other passengers.

If they took the train it’d be even more expensive — about $486, and that’s with a special discount fare.

But if that same family hopped in their minivan, the drive from Wiesbaden to Milan and back would cost about $175 in gas, supposing the vehicle gets roughly 20 miles to the gallon, and supposing they didn’t have to fill up on the economy on the way. Chances are they’d have to, though — it is an 840-mile round trip. Even with the cost of an autobahn vignette in Switzerland and the autostrata tolls in Italy, it would be cheaper to drive.

But they probably could make it to Prague without having to pay German or Czech prices. And driving there is certainly cheaper than flying or choo-chooing to Kafka’s hometown.

The cheapest flight for four to Prague that weekend cost about $1,680 Friday, and the train about $675. It’d take just about $145 in gas to get there by car.

But what if you’re going stag? It usually is cheaper to fly or take the train over long distances by yourself.

For example, a single round-trip adult ticket to Milan from Frankfurt-Hahn will runs about $92 — roughly $83 less than the cost of gas to Milan from Wiesbaden. For that price, a couple could fly for nearly the same amount it would cost to drive, and without all the hassle and wear and tear of a road trip.

But the train might not work out without a discount card, such as Germany’s Bahn card. A single adult going to Milan and back from Wiesbaden would pay about $230 that weekend for a saver fare on Deutsche Bahn, and the trip would take about 9 hours each way.


Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up