Maybe you are struggling to find reasons to be cheerful at the moment. But take heart. We may be going through a spasm of chaos as airlines and airports try to adjust to a surge in passengers and shortage of staff. We may be about to get our first diminished pay packets and our first inflated utility bills. But once we emerge from the Easter squeeze and the Bank Holiday on May 2, things will be looking a whole lot better for travellers.
Temperatures will be on the up, schools will be back and fares – which have soared because of the huge demand during our first “normal” Easter season for two years – drop sharply. As the pressure of numbers falls, surely airports and airlines will also quickly re-establish some order over their security queues and flight rosters.
What’s more, many Covid-related rules will have eased even further. Masks will (mostly) no longer be required in Spain after April 20) and it looks as though the rules requiring them to be worn indoors in Italy and – with a bit of luck in Greece – will ease on April 30.
For the first time since Covid struck, we will be able to enjoy spring in Europe’s cities, beaches and countryside. And, having done some checking on fares and hotel rates, it seems that normal service is resuming here too. Just as in any other year, the surge in prices during April abates dramatically and there are any number of bargains out there for anyone who is not tied to the school year.
Maybe you fancy Rome or Venice? If you were thinking of taking advantage of the first bank holiday weekend in May, you will have to pay over £200 return flying from Friday to Monday, from London. But wait one more week and the same flights are less than £100. Despite all the cost pressures, that’s no different to pre-pandemic fares.
Prefer the train to Paris? Unless you snap them up soon after bookings open, Eurostar fares are always high for Friday departures. Even so, the price differences over the two weekends are of a similar order to airfares. Travelling at civilised times (ie not an 05.59 departure), a Friday-Monday return over the bank holiday will cost £339. Booking the same timings a week later will cost £194, and you could upgrade to first class for not much more than that.
Interestingly, I did some checks on Booking.com, and hotel rates are not so different between the two weekends. A typical example was one of my favourite hotels in Venice, Hotel Metropole. Even for the peak bank holiday weekend, it is discounting its prices by more than £100 a night – down from £1,543 b&b for three nights to £1,161. The following weekend is also reduced, though slightly more expensive at £1,208 b&b.
In Nice however, where there is less competition at the top of the market, Hotel Le Negresco is not discounting for the bank holiday weekend (£1,401 b&b for three nights), but has dropped its rate by £75 a night for a stay one week later (£1,176 b&b). Meanwhile in Paris, the four star hotel Rond Point du Champs-Elysées has cut its rates from £992 to £797 for the first three-night weekend, and £982 to £788 for the second. I stayed there for £203 a night in late November – so it has gone up about £60 a night, but that is hardly surprising given November is rock bottom season.
I think what is happening here is that, especially in the popular city destinations, demand is still well below pre-pandemic levels. Most significantly tourism from Asia, China and the Far East – which had become such an important part of the market – is still close to zero. So hotels still have lots of spare capacity and the April rush from the UK has had less impact.
As the summer season gets underway that won't be true of beach hotels, however. So, if you want a bargain seaside break this year, then June is looking like your best bet.