Seat 2B By Joe Brancatelli
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The Summer Travel Summary
May 21, 2015 -- It's Memorial Day weekend, so that means thinking (finally) about taking some time off this summer.
I'm a big fan of down time for business travelers. Whether I think business travelers should travel for a holiday, well, that's a totally different matter. If jetting or driving off for a holiday after spending months on the road shuffling from plane to car to hotel sounds right for you, then do it. On my few off-duty days this summer, I'll pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep, thank you very much.However, BizJournals.com doesn't pay me to talk about beds and sheets. And you don't come here for deep discussions of pillows and cushions. (This rant, which I first saw on a British Airways flight, covers cushions quite well.) So here's what I think might be fun — and a comparative bargain — this summer. Take the Great American Road Trip
I've never boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh or taken four days to hitchhike from Saginaw, but I've always wanted to look for America. This might be the summer for the Great American Road Trip.
Gasoline is cheap compared to recent summers and (one assumes) summers to come. Even with the recent price run-up, the AAA Fuel Gauge Report on May 19 pegged the average price of a gallon of regular gas at $2.70. That's down almost a buck a gallon from last year. Hotel rates shouldn't be higher, either. A nearly endless supply of new rooms gushing out of the development pipeline seems to have kept nightly prices relatively stable. And prices are moderating in the big coastal cities because the strong dollar has temporarily spooked overseas visitors.
Another reason to count the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike? Domestic air travel this summer could be extremely unpleasant. Every survey I've seen predicts a record number of summer fliers, perhaps as many as 225 million. That could lead to a 90 percent load factor — a functional sell-out — and that means jammed overhead bins and fully packed rows of passengers jamming themselves into ever-smaller seats. And remember: at least half of the 20 busiest flying days of the year are between Fourth of July and Labor Day. All in all, the kind of air-travel forecast that should drive you to the highways.
Loonies and toonies and Canucks, oh my! Even though it'll be another year when hockey's Stanley Cup ends up in U.S. hands, Canadians continue to like us and welcome us to the Great White North. With loonies (Canadian dollars) and toonies (Canadian $2 coins) trading at an approximate 20 percent discount to the greenback, Canada will be a good bargain, too.The jewel of Western Canada, Vancouver, is now perennially trendy. Quebec continues to be a bit like visiting France without crossing the Atlantic. There are also intriguing new transborder transport options. The company that runs a car ferry between Portland, Maine and Nova Scotia is discounting trips by as much as 40 percent this year. And a new cruise ship, MS Saint Laurent, debuts summer runs from Chicago or Portland to Montreal, Toronto and the St. Lawrence River.
Europe when it sizzles
Thanks to the introduction of Emirates flights from New York to Milan, fares to the gateway to Lombardy, the Cinque Terra and the Lakes District are the cheapest on the continent. And if you purchase by the end of the month for travel through October, all-business-class La Compagnie is selling roundtrip business-class flights to Paris or London for around $3,000. That's the all-in price for two travelers, by the way.
If the Big Three of England, France and Italy doesn't suit, take heart. Major U.S. carriers are discounting summer business-class seats to destinations around the continent. At $2,500 roundtrip and up per flier, the bargains aren't what they were a few years ago, but they're still 50-70 percent off the spring and fall fares. If business class is out of financial reach, try premium economy, a good balance of cost and comfort. Lufthansa is aggressively promoting its new premium economy cabin this summer and sale prices start as low as $1,800 roundtrip from the East Coast and $2,200 from the West Coast.
Best of all, the strength of the dollar against the euro and British pound makes Europe about 20 percent cheaper this summer. That means off-the-top discounts on hotel rooms, restaurant meals, taxi fares and shopping. Throw in the fact that many free-spending Russian travelers have disappeared from Western Europe due to the rocky Russian economy and Ukraine-related sanctions and Americans visitors will be warmly welcomed around the continent this summer.
One cautionary note: This may be the summer of strikes throughout Europe. Watch out for rail stoppages — strikes are scheduled in Britain and Germany this weekend, for example — and shop-shutting protests in Portugal and Greece, where austerity measures have been poorly received.
Go West, vacation traveler