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Some tips to help you save on a European vacation

SHARE Some tips to help you save on a European vacation

1. Plan ahead. This way you can take advantage of the best deals, get a seat on a trans-Atlantic flight, and find accommodations to suit. Last year, airlines reported load factors of 85 percent or better for June and July with many flights sold out well in advance.

A helpful guide is the European Travel Commission's free "Planning Your Trip to Europe" guide that covers the 28 member countries (a new member is Croatia) with maps and photos. For a copy, call 800-816-7530; write to European Planner, Dept. C, PO Box 1754, New York, NY 10185; or look up Europe's official Internet site at (www.visiteurope.com).2. Buy as much as possible of your trip before leaving home. This saves time and money. Many tour operators have packages whose price is guaranteed in dollars. Many European hotels are offering discounted rates to trav-el-ers. Hilton International's BounceBack breaks and vacations offer discounted prices weekends throughout the year and every day in summer (call 800-HILTONS and ask for code EO).

In the British Isles, Thistle Hotels has a dollars-for-pounds package where one dollar equals one pound, a savings of up to $100 a night (call 800-847-4358). Stakis Hotels, with hotels also throughout the British Isles, is offering a U.S. dollar Leisure Program with rates beginning at $59 a night including breakfast, service, and local taxes (call 800-STAKIS-1).

3. Take the train. Rail travel in Europe is very efficient and less costly. Many rail pass plans are available. This year, Rail Europe and BritRail merged, providing new train travel packages and making it easier than ever to travel in just three hours or so between downtown London and the heart of Paris. For a brochure listing rail passes and travel packages, call 800-438-7245.

The best deals for car rentals in Europe are also found in the Unit-ed States.

4. Use public transportation. Many cities offer discount travel cards that make this form of transportation even less costly, as well as providing admission to museums, attractions, and other discounts. The European Planner and travel agents have details.

5. Use an ATM to beat the best exchange rate. As at home, ATMs can be found throughout Europe, and offer the best exchange rate. Before leaving home, check with your bank as to the availability of the machines and if your pin number will work (some European ATMs only use four digits). Also, when making purchases, use a charge card; not only does this save your cash for other things, but it generally means you will receive the best exchange rate on the deal.

6. Eat where the locals eat. Also, look for tourist menus. As at home, you'll pay more for a meal in a popular tourist area than a place off the tourist path frequented by the natives.

7. Avoid telephone surcharges. Many European hotels still add on a hefty telephone surcharge if you call home from the convience of your room. Use a service such as AT&T Direct Service. Sheraton Hotels now provide a direct connection with AT&T in their rooms.

8. Avoid the VAT. Europe's Value Added Tax can add up to 24 percent to your purchases; however, it can be refunded upon leaving the country. Ask for VAT refund forms on any major purchases.