Editors' pick: Originally published Feb. 16.
If you're thinking of doing some international travel in 2017, there's no time like the present to book that trip.
After the Federal Reserve's latest rate increase in December, the value of the dollar rose to its highest level in 14 years. And the strength of the greenback has been sustained this new year. While that isn't entirely great news, it's what U.S. travelers were used to in the late-'90s and have been waiting for since the early 2000s.
Also, now is one of the best times of year to travel. Rick Seaney, chief executive of travel advice and pricing site FareCompare.com, calls the weeks between New Year's Day and Valentine's Day the travel season's "dark weeks." Folks who haven't managed to accrue enough vacation days early in the year or who are wiped out by holiday travel are steering clear of the airports, leaving a lot of empty seats and great fares in their absence. And that lull in travel continues throughout February.
That's why things get really interesting and really cheap in a hurry. Roughly 52 million passengers took trips aboard U.S. airlines last January, according to the Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation statistics. That's up almost 3 million passengers from January 2015, but still well below the 57.9 million passengers who caught holiday flights a month earlier in December and not close to the 66.1 million who fly during peak season in July. The only month when folks travel less is February, with a scant 51 million passengers putting up with foul weather and delays during that month.
The folks at travel site Hopper have been charting average airfares throughout the season and, despite "dark weeks in early December, average airfare in the U.S. still hovered between $215 and $220." Those holiday travel price hikes end come January.
"The good news is that the best flight prices of the year are right around the corner," says Hopper data scientist Patrick Surry. "Historically, flight prices bottom just after the holidays in January at $211 round-trip."
However, there are any number of factors that can outweigh the dollar's strength in a hurry. Just about any U.S. presidential transition makes markets jittery, but this one in particular has folks at home and abroad a bit nervous. Both the United Kingdom and European Union are still dealing with fallout over the Brexit vote, Canada is still feeling out Justin Trudeau's early days in office and fears of both war and terrorism are weighing heavily on the minds of both nations and travelers.
While all of the above makes a long escape seem like a good idea, you still have to pick your vacation destination of choice wisely. While not every country is offering a deep discount, there's a complete itinerary of countries that are. With some help from folks at TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals, we came up with a few destinations where the U.S. dollar is buying far more than it did even a year before:
Exchange rate per dollar this time last year: 1.39 dollars
Exchange rate now: 1.31 dollars
Yes, it's declined a bit (and had actually declined even more since the U.S. dollar was worth nearly 1.46 Canadian in January 2016), but this exchange rate in our favor makes that span between 2010 and 2013 when the U.S. dollar was actually worth less than the Canadian dollar seems like a bad dream for U.S. border hoppers now.
With U.S. residents getting an additional 31 cents for every dollar they spend up north, Canada is back on the map for U.S. travelers. That means if you want to pop into Vancouver for a Canucks game, visit the breweries, distilleries, restaurants, museums and theaters, you'll also land a great deal on spots like a refurbished coach house in Kitsilano going for $134 a night.
Meanwhile, in Montreal, the outdoor al fresco dance party Igloofest braves the elements in January and February. In February, Montreal en Lumiere sheds some light on the city's cultural events calendar with shows, concerts, culinary tours and more (yes, Bryan Adams qualifies as "more"). Finally, the underground Art Souterrain lines Montreal's 20-mile-long Underground City with contemporary artwork.
Exchange rate per dollar this time last year: 0.90 euro
Exchange rate now: 0.94 euro
We were in the Netherlands and Belgium when the exchange rate was closer to 0.95 euro, and it was about as great as you'd expect. No sticker shock from the credit card bill when you get home, no outlandish ATM transaction fees, no fumbling around with the calculator to see how much damage your European vacation will do.
So where do you go? Well, there are 19 countries within the Eurozone including France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Austria and Belgium. However, before students in the rest of Europe go on holiday, the folks at TripAdvisors recommended the Greek island of Santorini, with its gorgeous sea views and $151-per-night guest houses.
Exchange rate per dollar this time last year: 0.99 Swiss francs
Exchange rate now: 1.01 Swiss francs
While the Swiss franc and the dollar have been comparable in value for a while now, it wasn't always this way. Roughly a decade ago, the dollar was worth upwards of 1.26 Swiss francs and was going a lot farther in Zurich and Gstaad than it does today. However, as recently as 2011, the dollar was worth all of 72 francs during a sharp dip in the exchange rate and lingered below the one-for-one exchange until about 2015. For the last year, however, the dollar and franc have been of nearly identical value.
That makes it a fine time to hit the slopes and see the Alps, but the folks at TripAdvisor think your money would be better spent outside peak ski season in Zurich, where vacation rentals can be found on the cheap and where the shops, restaurants and heritage sites can be accessed via direct flights from the U.S.
Exchange rate per dollar this time last year: 8.51 krona
Exchange rate now: 8.94 krona
That's still some fairly incremental change, but it's worth noting simply because the U.S. exchange rate with Sweden has been a lot weaker in recent years.
That figure you're seeing first seemed possible back in 2008 and 2009, but the dollar cratered against the krona and was worth about 6 as recently as 2014. Even that seemed generous considering the fact that it spend much of 2008 hovering around 5.5 krona. This is about as much as your dollar has ever been worth in Stockholm, which, sadly, isn't saying much. When a beer at Akkurat goes for 72 krona (or roughly $8.06), you're not so much getting a break as you're getting pity.
Exchange rate per dollar this time last year: .69 pounds
Exchange rate now: .80 pounds
Hopper suggests that a Brexit-weakened British pound and plummeting post-Brexit fares make this a good time to hop the pond and hit London, Edinburgh and other U.K. hot spots. Round-trip fares from the U.S. have plummeted below $700 and are only getting lower for the winter months.
While it may seem like a great time to hit London (and TripAdvisor agrees), we'd advise getting to Scotland first. Brexit didn't go over particularly well in Scotland, which voted overwhelmingly to remain within the European Union, and talk of another Scottish independence vote has ramped up. However, with the dollar at 80% of the value of the pound for the first time in more than a decade (and at almost double its 2007 value in Great Britain), there hasn't been a better time to put on a sweater, walk the moors and sip some whisky.
Exchange rate per dollar this time last year: 18.34 Mexican pesos
Exchange rate now: 20.34 Mexican pesos
We aren't going to say one word about walls, but we can't say that it's always going to be this easy to reach our neighbors to the south, nor will the rate of exchange always be this favorable. This is why TripAdvisor recommends hitting Riviera Maya, a stretch of resort towns along the Yucatan Peninsula south of Cancun, while you can.
Formed in 1999, Riviera Maya includes Playa Del Carmen, the walled Mayan city of Tulum, Puerto Aventuras and other destinations fairly well known to U.S. tourists, and lies just west of the island of Cozumel. While it's always been fairly inexpensive to travel here, perks like Puerto Vallarta Villa exist. Starting at $750 a night, this ten-bedroom, nine-bathroom compound of a villa could be a nice place to start. Across from Playas Gemelas beach and within the Sierra Del Mar gated community, Casa Peregrina has ten private suites and two kitchens within its 11,000 square feet. No suite shares a wall with another and a private chef, housekeepers, and "housemen" are on hand to meet your every need. Air-conditioned bedrooms with their own cooling zones, a salt-water swimming pool with bay and ocean views, treated drinking water, 500 Thread-Count linens, welcome drinks, custom menus, breakfast and either lunch or dinner, yoga classes and spa treatments are all available as well.
Exchange rate per dollar this time last year: 14.92 Argentine pesos
Exchange rate now: 15.46 Argentine pesos
We've seen some great deals out of Argentina for much of the year as the peso plummets against the dollar. However, folks looking for Malbec, barbacoa, dancing and shopping can find 430 square foot studio apartments in the city starting at $180 a night.
The Malabia apartments have a lovely garden view, but thier primary draw is its location in the fashion and design center of Palermo Soho. It's teeming with restaurants, bars, boliches clubs, the Alto Palermo shopping center and the botanical garden -- not to mention connections to the commuter rail and Buenos Aires Underground.
However, if you're looking to get away from it all and still like a little winter chill during a Southern Hemisphere summer Casita Hillside in Patagonia can provide it with a starting price of $145 a night.
Patagonia is just lovely country that just happens to have its own penguins. It's why this 750-square-foot cabin that looks as if it was airlifted from Northern Minnesota is right at home here. Built in 2014, this cozy one-bedroom, one-bathroom home claims to have room for four, but it's a far more comfortable retreat for two people, tops. The master bedroom's queen bed, Egyptian cotton sheets, down comforter and blackout curtains are great for keeping both the cold and outside world at bay, but the living room's wood burning stove and 11-foot-wide picture window with views of lake Nahuel Huapi are the prime sellers. The serviceable kitchen, huge deck, outdoor table and grill, flat-screen TV with DirecTV, stereo with smartphone or MP3 cable, alarm system and washer/dryer are all nice perks, but this location at one of the ends of the Earth provides a valuable buffer.
Exchange rate per dollar this time last year: $1.39
Exchange rate now: $1.30
It hasn't returned to the heights of more than $1.60 per dollar it reached before the economic crisis in 2008, but it's better than the 90 cents on the dollar that U.S. travelers received if they were unfortunate enough to hit Australia at the dollar's weakest in 2010.
However, you're going to be hitting Australia during its warmer, more enjoyable summer months, so why not take in some of the beaches? Gold Coast in Southeast Queensland can turn that exchange rate into long days on its surfing beaches, at its theme parks, on its golf courses and in its hundreds of restaurants. An oceanview penthouse sleeps eight for $406 a night. If you and seven friends can spend a day flying to Brisbane and catching the train into Gold Coast, then the city's yours for about $57 a night.
Exchange rate per dollar this time last year: 3.98 real
Exchange rate now: 3.06 real
With the Summer Olympics over, the Zika scare dying down and Brazil's political turmoil waning a bit, that currency gulf is staring to normalize a bit. That said, there's still enough of an advantage to make hitting Brazil during the actual summer seem like a fine idea.
With the crowds out of Rio, it's a great time to take in the city and the sands of Copacabana and Ipanema beach. During the Olympics itself, TripAdvisor recommended a penthouse in the heart of Ipanema with room for six and a stunning view of the Christ the Redeemer statue and mountains. With the starting price having since dropped from $188 a night to $141, it's tempting. However, having one of the world's most easily recognized tourist attractions visible from your balcony's hot tub may tilt the scales a bit.