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March 24, 2004 -- Ah, the sweet smell of low airfares in spring. If you're searching for affordable ways to get to Europe, we have three varieties today.

Alitalia's Capital Sale

Washingtonians have a great opportunity to get to Italy with Alitalia's (www.alitaliausa.com) current $299 base-fare sale to any destination they serve along the Big Boot of Europe.

That means $299 (plus the usual $100 tax) for Alitalia's new nonstop flight from Dulles to Milan -- but also $299 to 18 other Italian cities including Naples, Rome, Florence, Brindisi (for the south), Trieste and Venice.

To get this fare, book now for flights between March 28 and April 30. The sale ends on March 31, but we think it'll sell out pretty quickly. The sale fares require a minimum Saturday night stay and a maximum 28-day stay, but they are available on weekends, which is rare for a sale like this.

When we checked April dates, we found Air France (www.airfrance.us) was matching Alitalia's fare to Rome and Venice, and Continental (www.continental.com) was matching Alitalia's fare to Milan. But the Alitalia sale reigned supreme for flights to Florence and Naples, with fares more than $400 below the competition.

Take a Chance on Priceline

Still despairing of cheap summer airfares? We're finding lots of great deals to Europe on super-discounter Priceline (www.priceline.com) right now.

Priceline's "name your price" (really, 'guess our price') system scares off a lot of travelers, as does their requirement that you hand over your money before you find out your flight details. It's true that Priceline will often give you a one-connection flight routing when nonstops are available, but the savings are so stunning as to make Priceline worth an inconvenient connection.

As we've written many, many times before, the key to demystifying Priceline is to patiently learn from the folks at BiddingForTravel.com, who've put up extensive FAQs on bidding for tickets and offer personalized advice when you're ready to bid.

Why play along with Priceline's game show? Because of these fares, all for summer trips (and all including taxes and fees):

  • Boston-London: $350
  • Chicago-Paris: $433
  • Houston-London: $495
  • Detroit-Frankfurt: $547
  • LA-Moscow: $771

Naturally, Priceline can't guarantee that you'll find these exact same fares for your dates. But we're confident you can find big savings over high season fares if you bid smartly. Head over to www.biddingfortravel.com to learn more.

Get on the Road in France

If you'd like to get off the beaten path in Europe this spring, Auto Europe (www.autoeurope.com/showspecial.cfm?specid=162) has some excellent packages for France including both a flight and a rental car for flights from April 1 through May 31. These fares compare favorably to what we've seen from Delta and Air France recently, and those airlines don't give you a car.

For the prices below, you get a roundtrip ticket to Paris or Nice, three days of unlimited-mileage car rental and a cell phone. Book by March 31, and you get an automatic upgrade from a tiny car to a slightly-less-tiny car.

Having a car in Paris gives you access to Normandy and Brittany, both of which are ill-served by the French railway network; you can also do your own tour of the Loire chateaux, which can be awkward to do by public transportation. Picking up the car in Nice lets you tour small villages in Provence, a gorgeous thing to do in May.

Single travelers can't get these fares, but groups of two or more can (as the prices are based on splitting the cost of the car.) Still, singles should call Auto Europe at 888/835-1555 to see what they can do for you. Prices include (all before the usual $100 tax):

  • From New York: Paris $367, Nice $427
  • From Boston: Paris $457, Nice $537
  • From Washington: Paris $487, Nice $587
  • From Philadelphia: Paris $489, Nice $589
  • From Chicago: Paris $518, Nice $589

Fares from "hundreds" of other cities are also available, according to Auto Europe, so give them a ring at 888/835-1555 or go online to www.autoeurope.com by March 31

Do you have a tale to tell about any of these carriers and suppliers? We'd love to read about your experiences on our Air Travel Message Boards.