Traveling with the euro

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At the beginning of this year, the European Union’s monetary system changed forever. The euro, which was introduced on January 1, replaced all currency for 11 participating countries-Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. How will this affect American tourists? For starters, you won’t have to calculate exchange rates as you travel from country to country. The euro exchange rate is set and fixed.

Although no euro coins or notes will be issued until 2002, most credit card transactions are now based on the euro value of the sale. This is also good news for U.S. travelers, since the increased efficiency in the European economy is expected to result in lower prices. And according to Mike Sherman, vice president of corporate relations for Visa International, travelers may actually save about 5 percent.
James Berrien, president of American Express Travelers Cheque Group, agrees. “Travelers save money because they won’t incur currency exchange fees when visiting several European Union countries on the same trip,” notes Berrien. “Changing from francs to lira to pesetas can eat up about 10 percent of a traveler’s budget.” American Express has already issued euro travelers checks in denominations of 50, 100 and 200 euro.

Remember francs, marks and the independent currencies for the 11 countries will eliminated by July 1, 2002.

Restricted holiday flying
The New Year 2000 holiday season may be the busiest in the history of travel, according to the American Society of Travel Agents. And to ensure travelers show up for their flights-keeping planes from taking off with empty seats-airlines have kicked in new restrictions. “The major carriers have made all classes of seats, including first-class and full-coach, nonrefundable and instant-purchase for some popular destinations,” notes ASTA President and CEO Joe Galloway. On United Airlines, US Airways, American, Northwest and Delta, tickets that are normally refundable will be nonrefundable for travel between December 16 and January 10, 2000.

The restrictions are limited to select destinations, such as New York, New Orleans and Las Vegas. “They’re mainly places with planned major millennium celebrations,” notes US Airways spokesperson David Castelveter. American is also adding restrictions to the Caribbean and some South American and European cities. But, says American spokesperson John Hotard, it’s not the first time airlines have set such restrictions; many did so during the Atlanta Olympic Games. If you’re planning a millennium getaway, check to see if your ticket is refundable-before you book.