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The value of the euro has dropped by more than 20 percent against the dollar since last summer. So for Americans, at least, Europe is on sale, but only if you're already there. Cheap flights to Europe are hard to find. From Germany, Susanna Capelouto of member station WABE reports on why flights remain expensive even as Americans find other bargains overseas.
SUSANNA CAPELOUTO, BYLINE: All over the world, free tourist attractions draw crowds at certain times each day. Think changing of the guards in London or Yellowstone's Old Faithful. In Munich, it's the...
KATHIE SEEDROFF: Glockenspiel.
ROBERT SEEDROFF: Came to see the Glockenspiel.
K. SEEDROFF: At 5 o'clock it's going to go around, and those little people up there are going to dance, and then there's going to be music.
CAPELOUTO: Robert and Kathie Seedroff are from Denver. They are among thousands of tourists who cram Munich's Marienplatz, pointing iPads and phones upwards toward a tower on top of city hall.
The whimsical spectacle before them involves historically insignificant events of the 16th century - a wedding, a joust and the plague. It's all accompanied by lots of bells. The Seedroffs are having a great time on this trip because the dollar is a bargain in Europe, says Kathie.
K. SEEDROFF: We were very excited when we found out that the U.S. was only 1.06 to the euro because we'd been planning for it to be about 1.50, 1.60 the way it was several years ago when we traveled to Britain. So this makes it very affordable for us.
CAPELOUTO: Food, hotels and souvenirs all at a rebate this year, but that's where the bargains stop. Don't expect airlines to give you a break on flights to Europe, even though oil, their biggest expense, is cheap now. Flights from the East Coast to Europe's hotspots average about $1,200. Many analysts say that's because over the past decade, airlines have merged to a point where the industry has become an...
GEORGE HOFFER: Oligopoly.
CAPELOUTO: George Hoffer is a transportation economist at the University of Richmond.
HOFFER: So an oligopoly is a market structure where you have relatively few players in the market, and since there are so few participants, they have quite a bit of pricing power.
CAPELOUTO: In this case, Delta, U.S. Airways, United and American Airlines - they are making money on international routes by filling up planes, and Hoffer says they have no reason to offer discounts this year.
HOFFER: Demand is strong, and I think that's the most important factor. The demand is there. Second - while the falling euro should have lowered prices for the domestic carriers, virtually all their costs are in dollars.
CAPELOUTO: And European airlines can't offer much price competition. Hoffer says that's because oil is sold in dollars. A weak euro means they're paying more for jet fuel. But there are options for bargain travelers willing to start their trip on the edges of Europe.
PATRICK SURRY: Don't fly to Rome. Fly to Portugal or fly to Istanbul and take a stopover, and then get a connecting flight.
CAPELOUTO: Patrick Surry is a data analyst with hopper.com, a website that finds bargains on travel. He says once you are on the continent, transportation gets cheaper.
SURRY: You know, Europe is actually pretty small when you're there. You can get around pretty effectively even without using planes.
CAPELOUTO: And you can take in more sites. Just ask Michael Lybass. The Boston University student had a six-hour stopover in Munich on his train odyssey.
MICHAEL LYBASS: We started in Paris. We went through Berlin, Amsterdam, Prague, Brussels, and we have a train tonight to Venice.
CAPELOUTO: Tour operators throughout Europe are reporting an uptick in bookings from Americans ready to enjoy the great sale of Europe. For NPR News, I'm Susanna Capelouto.
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