Paris on a Budget: Capitalize on the Euro
by Phyllis Stoller, The Women’s Travel Group
The no-brainer way to save on European travel is to stay within the Euro zone. Not all countries in the European Union use the Euro; for instance, Britain is still on the Pound. France, however, is a Euro based country and current rates are close to all time lows of 1.10. This chart tells a 4 year story:
Where to buy your Euros is a different tale. Banks charge a fee, airport change bureaux will rob you, and hotels are somewhere in the middle. Your credit card company might say they do not charge a fee, but the profit is built blindly into the rate. For us non-financial travelers, the ATM in Paris is generally the best rate especially if used Monday-Thursday. Note: no one wants our dog eared travelers’ checks anymore.
Which credit card is the best for currency? If you are a Nobel Prize winner in economics, you might be able to answer. Chase, Capital One and Bank of America are mentioned on line; but each has a different upfront fee, benefits you might not need and or different annual rebates. Find one that has a 0 fee for the first year even if you need to cancel your current card. Do the math: if you need to pay $50 for the card to save 8 cents on each Euro, you need to spend $625 to break even.
Shopping in Paris can generate refunds of sales tax. If you spend enough in one store – we recommend Galeries Lafayette or Printemps for accumulating $150 in one place – you get back 10-15% when you leave the European Union. You need to bring a hard copy of your passport photo page, or a good photo in your phone when you ask for the refund forms at the store. (Also ask for the 10% tourist card at each large department store’s Welcome Desk or in your hotel. This might be stapled to a map of Paris; with this 10% and 10-15% sales rebate, you might get a double discount on some items). When you will fill out forms for customs, there are two ways to get your refund. Choose a credit card refund for the higher amount. Choose a cash refund to avoid the hassle of checking your statements.
Note on the two major department stores: Printemps is less tourist-oriented and less crowded, but has a fabulous window’ed ceiling. Galeries Lafayette is chock a block with Mainland Chinese making shopping for some brands impossible. The two stores are a block apart.
Warning: You need to carry on purchases; some custom officers will want to see the goods. Leave time at the airport for the process of getting your forms stamped by customs. Mainland Chinese shoppers with 50 separate invoices might be in front of you.
Food in Paris can be reasonable with the 1.10 Euro; 10 Euro dish is now $11 vs. $14 a few months ago. Most restaurants, even the famous ones, offer a 3- course lunch or a meal where you pay by the course: 2 can be entrée and main or main and dessert. Check the menu for service included (inclus) so you don’t tip twice. Don’t be afraid to ask for tap water not bottled. Tap water is usually ‘eau ordinaire’ or just say tap. Make sure breakfast is included in your hotel rate; breakfast can break the bank.
Museums and sights are not cheap in Paris. However there are some free times which you need to research. A great source for freebies is Lets’ Go Guidebooks written by Harvard Students. The books are smart and often locate deals for cultural events and quality cafeterias. Example: The Modern Art Museum, Pompideau and Orsay are free the first Sunday of each month. Here is an excellent list of free museums.
As the list is long, my generalist suggestions are Carnavelet for history and Modern Art, across from the Eiffel Tower on the Right Bank, which many Americans do not visit. There is a lovely street market in front of it on some days. Skip Fragonard Museum.
Now for transportation: Uber is iffy for political reasons. Taxis a bit pricey. Metro/Bus excellent. Spend some time learning the two and buy a book of tickets up front, it is cheaper and tickets are good for both bus and Metro. Watch your wallet as you would in any big city.
Paris for the Holidays Tour. The Women’s Travel Group is offering a ‘Paris for the Holidays Tour’ Dec 21-28. And they’re offering a $50 discount to tomatoes. Contact: Phyllis Stoller Phyllis@thewomenstravelgroup.com