How ‘Brexit’ Will Affect Travel to Europe


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The view from the London Eye ferris wheel.

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Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

In the height of the summer travel season, Britain voted to exit the European Union, scrambling markets as well as the political picture. What happens in the aftermath of “Brexit,” as it is known, is far from clear, but American travelers heading abroad will see some immediate effects.

How does the Brexit vote affect Americans traveling to Europe and Britain?

The most immediate effect is in the exchange rates between the dollar and the British pound, which has recorded its lowest rate in about 30 years after the results of the vote were published, providing American travelers a discount on prices paid throughout Britain.

“Since yesterday, you get a lot more bang for your buck in the U.K.,” said Zach Honig, editor in chief at ThePointsGuy.com, which covers travel and incentives. “For lots of people, London is traditionally an expensive tourist destination, and with this shift the U.K. and specifically London probably are now within reach for a lot of U.S.-based travelers.”

The dollar has also improved against the euro, making travel within countries using the euro cheaper.

Is it a good time to book air travel?

Yes, but it has been so for the last six weeks, according to George Hobica, the founder of Airfarewatchdog.com.

“Airfares to Europe have been plummeting, especially for late summer travel, after the college kids go back to school around Aug. 28 and onward,” he said, noting that fares to Europe from the United States were appearing as low as $400 and $500 round-trip pre-Brexit. “It may have been an anticipation of Brexit, but we don’t know,” he said. “It’s probably also the fact that the euro and the pound were drifting lower, and that means that fewer people were flying from Europe to the U.S. and the airlines had to fill those seats with people flying from the U.S. to Europe.”

Two to three years ago, he said summer airfares to Europe were running in the $1,800 range.

Current deals, said Gary Leff, the author of the travel blog Viewfromthewing.com, are “a function of some growth in capacity and some of the ultra-low-cost seats on carriers like Norwegian. And it’s what we all expected, with some lag, due to lower fuel prices. It’s been inexpensive, and now it’s inexpensive to be there, thanks to the currency.”

Will I get a better deal on a tour or package to Europe or Britain now?

Maybe. It’s early days, but if exchange rates hold and travel softens within Europe and Britain, expect more enticing travel offers.

“Usually when these things happen, the travel industry response is to bring people in,” said Mike Stitt, the North American president of Travelzoo, a publisher of travel deals. “The real area I would watch for are vacation deals. There are packaging companies and tour operators who work with airlines and hotels and can put together strong deals to entice U.S. travelers.”

When these deals might surface is unknown but probably later this year, assuming exchange rates hold.

Will my experience at the U.K. or European borders change as a result of Brexit?

No. Americans must still present a valid passport when entering European Union-member countries as well as Britain. When the dust settles and Britain is extracted from the European Union, which most believe will take some years, it is travelers from European and U.K. countries who may experience more hassles at foreign borders.

One area of uncertainty is Northern Ireland. A member of the U.K., Northern Ireland shares a restriction-free border with the Republic of Ireland now. No passports are required for transit between the two countries, which, though both were members of the European Union, use different currencies. With Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, the Ireland and Northern Ireland border would now represent a frontier between the U.K. and the European Union, though what form that would take is unknown.

As Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny wrote in The Guardian this week, “What is not easy to quantify and mitigate is the psychological effect of a hardening border on the island. My fear is that it would play into an old narrative — one of division, isolation and difference.”

Will there be any effects felt in the travel industry in the United States?

That’s another unknown, but the decline of the pound relative to the dollar could affect incoming visitors from Britain who tend to visit popular destinations like New York, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago.

“If British tourists, because of currency fluctuations, change their plans or don’t come to U.S., you may see some ability to get some better prices in some cities,” said Mr. Stitt of Travelzoo. “We’re seeing a little of that effect now with the Canadian travelers. As their currency has plummeted against the dollar, Canadians are staying home.”

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