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While researching discount airfares for various articles, I came across a few companies offering budget air passes for travel across Europe. My first question was -- Why can't they do the same thing in the US? We may never know the answer to that question, or why so many European airlines seem to be making a profit when their US counterparts are facing mergers to stay in business or are fighting off potential bankruptcy.

Europebyair (tel. 888/321/4737; www.europebyair.com) is one such company. The Europebyair FlightPass lets you country-hop all over Europe for a mere $99 per flight. These "open" passes let you fly one-way to cities all over Europe, starting or ending wherever your heart desires. To make your travel experience easy, there are no annoying blackout dates, no fare zones, you can make your reservations in advance or choose your sectors as you need them. Each FlightPass is valid for 120 days so when you order, you can indicate the day you want to activate your passes. There is no minimum purchase required and reservation changes are allowed for a small fee. You enter a personal profile in the EuropebyAir system that includes your frequent flyer numbers and even your dietary requirements so each time you fly, there is no need to re-enter information.

As with all deals, there is a bit of fine print. Airport taxes are not included and FlightPasses are non-refundable. For this reason insurance is available and recommended in case your tickets get lost or stolen. Europebyair FlightPasses must be purchased prior to departure (they are not sold in Europe), and are available only to non-European residents. The name on your ticket must match the name on your passport.

There are literally hundreds of sectors available between the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Macedonia, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Ukraine, and the UK.

Examples of available $99 for one-way sectors include:

  • Barcelona to Vilnius
  • Berlin to Brussels
  • Corfu to Frankfurt
  • Dubrovnik to Paris
  • Ibiza to Munich
  • Lisbon to Bologna
  • London to Zagreb
  • Rome to Amsterdam

If they don't have the FlightPass route you need amongst their hundreds of available flights, they can still assist you with cheap tickets for a variety of discount and charter airlines across Europe. EuropebyAir started in 1998 with nine airlines and continues to add new carriers to its supplier list to offer better destinations and more options.

Currently, the airlines that participate in the program are Aegean Airlines, AirOne, Aerolineas Argentinas, Air Plus Comet, FlyBE, Cirrus, DBA, AlpiEagles, European Air Express, Aurigny, AeroFlight, LAN, Air Luxor, Portugalia, Croatia Airlines, Estonian Air, SN Brussels Airlines, Lithuanian, Air Lithuania, Virgin Express, VLM Airlines, Monarch, Welcome Air and Denim Airways. I must admit that there are a couple on that list that I'd never heard of, but, for $99, I'd be willing to give almost any airline a try. This may just be the best way to see Europe and at these prices, flying is the same price or even cheaper than train travel!

If you are flying to Europe on an airline that is a member of the Star Alliance (www.staralliance.com), you can take advantage of their European Airpass. This Airpass allows you to buy three to ten flight coupons that are priced individually according to distances traveled. The coupons are valid for travel in economy class within Europe on any of the participating Star Alliance carriers. Fares start as low as $65 per coupon so if you are traveling short distances, this Airpass may be the perfect option. For example, for $575 plus taxes you can travel the following route: Paris-Vienna-Munich-Copenhagen-London-Paris.

The coupons are valid for 90-days and except for the first coupon, reservations can be made at any time. As long as the routing is not changed, reservations may even be changed at any time. You will receive frequent flyer points for all flights taken using the Airpass. Each city may only be visited once, except for change of flights and a minimum of two stopovers must be made. This Airpass is available only to residents of countries outside Europe and is sold in conjunction with travel to/from Europe on Star Alliance carriers. Only one Airpass can be purchased in conjunction with each intercontinental ticket to/from Europe. The Star Alliance Airpass needs to be purchased through a travel agent before departure.

Star Alliance airlines include Air Canada, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian Airlines, British Midland Airways, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Spanair, TAP Portugal, Thai Airways International, United, US Airways and Varig.

Although part of the Star Alliance, Scandinavian Airlines (tel. 800/221-2350; www.scandinavian.net) also has its own Europe Airpass which is a good alternative if you are flying into Stockholm or Helsinki and wish to travel predominantly in the Scandinavian and Baltic regions of Europe. Domestic flights within Norway, Sweden, Denmark and strangely, Spain are only $65 per sector, or you can go to the Canary Islands for only $75. Flights between Spain and Portugal are $65 and flights between Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, or between Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Russia are only $75. Many other destinations and combinations throughout Europe are available. The Europe Airpass must be purchased outside of Europe and in conjunction with an intercontinental flight to Scandinavia or Finland on either SAS or United. A maximum of eight coupons using one coupon per flight (changing flights at transfer point requires an extra coupon) is allowable per intercontinental ticket. A reservation for use of the first coupon is required and coupons are valid for use for three-months. Changes of reservations are permitted but a ticket reissue fee of $50 will be charged if routing is changed. There is a limit of one stopover per city and travel with the Air Pass must start and end in Scandinavia/Finland. It is available through SAS or a travel agent.

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