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A guide to getting to most from your European travels


The latest smart strategies for your European travels, from finding the biggest price drops to figuring out how to tip (yes, they do that now). Illustrations by VALERO DOVAL.

Published on May 26, 2016

 

HOW TO GET TO EUROPE ON MILES

Want to use loyalty points to fly to Europe? So does everyone else—which is why availability tends to be tight (or nonexistent) and tickets costly. But it's not impossible to score a deal, especially with these strategies. By ERIC ROSEN and MONSICHA HOONSUWAN.

Illustration by Valero Doval
Illustration by Valero Doval.

Consider alternative reward programs. Some charge far fewer miles than others, and let you transfer points from credit card programs such as American Express Membership Rewards and HSBC RewardCash. Asiana charges 115,000 miles for a round-trip partner flight in business class from Southeast Asia to Europe, versus the 160,000 that Singapore Airlines requires.

Search efficiently. While none of the major alliances (Oneworld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam) has a single way to search for award tickets from all of its member carriers, and neither do most Asian airlines, the websites of U.S. airlines are comprehensive in this regard. For Oneworld, use aa.com; for Star Alliance, united.com; and for SkyTeam, search delta.com.

Look for obscure partnerships. Some airlines also have separate partnerships with less competition for tickets. ANA points work on Eurowings, Air Dolomiti, Germanwings and Virgin Atlantic. Aer Lingus awards are also a good bet, since you can book tickets using Cathay Pacific or Qantas miles.

Fly an unusual route. You can usually find open seats on Thai Airways (part of Star Alliance) from Saigon to Frankfurt; on British Airways (Oneworld) from Kuala Lumpur to London Heathrow; on Korean Air (SkyTeam) from Incheon to Madrid; and on Eva (Star Alliance) from Taipei Taoyuan to Istanbul Atatürk.

Watch for new routes. In the first few months, there tend to be more award seats. New in 2016: China Airlines, Taiwan to Rome and Amsterdam; Singapore Airlines, Singapore to Düsseldorf; and Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong to Madrid and London's Gatwick.

Think last-minute. Airlines often open unsold seats late for award bookings. First-class seats on Lufthansa, for instance, generally become available only about two weeks before flights.

 

The New Good Manners
IT'S NOT ENOUGH TO AVOID WEARING SHORTS IN CHURCH. AS TIMES HAVE CHANGED, SO HAVE LOCAL CODES OF CONDUCT. By MATTHEW KRONSBERG.

How to Pedal Appropriately in
AMSTERDAM

Amsterdammers ride their bikes the way New Yorkers walk and Germans drive: fast and aggressively. Cycling etiquette isn't always obvious (and locals are often the first to violate it), but Veronique Klomp of Amsterdam bike-rental chain MacBike offers a couple pointers.
Do use hand signals before changing directions or lanes, and obey the bicycle traffic lights. It's not just polite: breaking a biking rule can cost you €60—or, worse when abroad, cause an accident.
Don't ride side by side, blocking the passing lane, or otherwise hold up traffic. Doing so will earn you peevish glares and angry mutters. "We locals cycle to get from A to B," Klomp says, "as quickly as possible."

How Not to Be a Jerk in
DENMARK

The Danes are famously egalitarian—the Crown Prince and Princess even send their children to public school. While in other countries formality is a safe bet when first meeting people, here it can be a faux pas.
Do greet everyone in a group with a quick handshake and exchange of first names before beginning a conversation. To start chatting with the first person you see is to insult the rest.
Don't trot out the honorifics for yourself or others, says Kay Xander Mellish, author of How to Live in Denmark. "Calling yourself 'Mr.' or 'Mrs.' or 'Doctor' or 'Professor,' particularly in a spoken context, will seem almost comically pompous to a Dane."

How to Instagram in
ITALY

Whether it's the perfect cappuccino or a market stall brimming with tomatoes, Italy offers an endless supply of postable scenes. But Italians take their food seriously, and they consider using it as a prop disrespectful. Here's how to avoid having your beautiful shot spoiled by a scowling shopkeeper or waiter.
Do be a customer first and a photographer second. If that little butcher shop looks good enough to shoot, buy a few ounces of salumi, then ask to take pictures.
Don't insult a restaurateur by letting a dish go cold while setting up the perfect shot, says Katie Parla, author of Eating & Drinking in Rome. Be quick and discreet.

 


CASH-MACHINE CONS
ATMs are getting trickier to use with foreign cards; some offer "dynamic currency conversion"—asking if you want the ATM to convert your dollars into local money, instead of letting your home bank do it. Agree, and you'll get hit with a service fee, usually 2 to 3 percent. Some travelers in Europe have spotted sneaky tactics, like buttons that seem designed to confuse you into accepting and machines that ask repeatedly if you're sure about your choice. Read each screen carefully before completing your transaction.


 

THE UNDER-OVER EUROPEAN PRICE INDEX

If you can take advantage of price fluctuations in travel, you can get more bang for your euro. Skyscanner shows us the average costs of flights from Singapore to European cities this May, while Booking.com provides the average costs of a weeklong stay in 11 different destinations. Highlights to note: While hotel prices are mostly rising, you can offset at least some of the costs with cheaper flights to many cities—with the notable exceptions of London and Rome, both on the rise overall.

The under-over european price index
Data courtesy of Skyscanner and Booking.com. The average cost of a seven-day hotel stay is based on four- to five-star accommodations.

 

WHEN VAT GOES WRONG

Getting your value-added tax back after shopping can be a pain. Here's what to do when… By KEITH BLANCHARD.

When vat goes wrong
Illustrations by Valero Doval.

...there are no officials around to stamp your form.
You need to prove that youtook the goods out of the country. But if you’re driving or taking the train, you may not encounter a customs agent. France, for example, will consider your application if you get it stamped at the French embassy or consulate at home (bring purchases with you). Submit that, proof of residence, a copy of your plane ticket and an explanation within six months.

...you forget (or don't have time) to get the form stamped.
While we can't officially recommend it, if you're returning within the export window (often three months), there's nothing to stop you from bringing everything back.

...your refund doesn't arrive.
Ann Druery, a U.K.-based advisor who specializes in VAT, says to make inquiries after two months. If your refund was processed by a third-party service like Global Blue or Travelex, try its online tracker. If you think a merchant is ripping you off, your credit card company may be able to help.

 

Sizing Up the Super-Budget Airlines
LOW-COST CARRIERS DOMINATE EUROPEAN SKIES WITH THEIR BIG NETWORKS AND TOO-CHEAP-TO-BE-BELIEVED FARES. OUR CHEAT SHEET HELPS YOU DECIDE WHEN IT'S WORTH IT. By MARISA GARCIA.

 


TAP FOR TIPS
With tipping now de rigueur in much of Europe (yes, really), you could probably use a good app to navigate the expectations of servers and bellhops. Perfectionists should try the Europe Tip Calculator (US$0.99, iOS). Choose the category, the country, the purchase or luggage amount, and the quality of service; the app uses local standards to calculate the gratuity, down to the euro-cent. Piper (free, iOS) gives quick, general advice for each country.


 

 

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Illustrations by Valero Doval.
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