When West Coast residents say they are going east for vacations, they don't necessarily mean they are going to New York or Boston. With convenient flights over the pole and the strength of the dollar in Europe these days, it could just mean they are bypassing the US East Coast entirely in favor of a bargain-basement-price few weeks on the other side of the Atlantic.
Of course, it does no good to save money in Europe, only to lose it in the price of the flight over, so if you're one of those California, Oregon, and Washington vacationers considering a trip to Paris or Rome this year, you'd do well to check your flight options carefully.
It used to be that charters were the least expensive way to go. They are still popular, certainly: John Donovan, owner of Time to Travel, a Fullerton, Calif., agency, says some 10 percent of the people coming to him want charters. A representative selection of companies offering such flights from the West Coast shows what 1984 travelers will pay for them. In the main, you will have to add departure taxes to the prices quoted. They range from $3 to $15.
* Jet Exchange, PO Box 1966, Whittier, Calif. 90609, (213) 723-1131 or, in California, (800) 352-4445, outside California, (800) 423-4705.
From Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, Jet Exchange flies charters to Frankfurt and Dusseldorf, West Germany. The price range is $589 to $804. From Los Angeles to Munich mid-June through September the range is $639 to $844. They fly from Los Angeles, Oakland, Calif., and Seattle to Amsterdam four times a week; the prices range from $548 to $738. And, if you want to go to Paris, flights will depart from Los Angeles and San Francisco from early June to early January '85, priced from $599 to $779.
Jet Exchange also flies to Munich and Frankfurt from New Orleans, and has Paris service from Miami. Prices quoted are round trip. One-way fares are half of that, plus $25. You are allowed to mix and match, flying into one city and out of another. Children 2 through 11 get a $100 discount; under 2 they cost a little under 10 percent of the adult fare.
Cancellation policy: More than 51 days before departure, no fee at all; 50-14 days, $50; fewer than 14 days, no refund unless seat is resold.
* Chartours, 594 Howard Street, San Francisco, Calif. 94105, (415) 495-8881.
Chartours flies from Seattle to Amsterdam for a high-season price of $598. From Oakland and Los Angeles, it connects with Frankfurt, London, Zurich, and Amsterdam. Summer prices will range from $598 to $678, depending on destination. You can go one way for half price, plus $25. Children 2-11 fly for half fare.
The company does arrange car rentals, but has no ground packages. Cancellation policy: $25 immediately on booking; $50 up to two weeks before departure; $100 from then to departure date.
* Travac Tours and Charters, 6151 West Century Boulevard, S-728, Los Angeles, Calif. 90045, (213) 670-9692 or, outside the Los Angeles area, (800) 872-8800.
Travac offers service to London, Paris, Zurich, Geneva, and Frankfurt from Los Angeles and San Francisco, and to Amsterdam and Rome from Los Angeles, Oakland, and Seattle. Round-trip flights between Los Angeles or San Francisco and London range from $550 to $800, depending on season. Round trips between Los Angeles, Oakland, or Seattle and Rome are $756 to $920. The Rome charter must be round trip; otherwise it is possible to book one-way flights or to combine a flight to any of the European cities Travac includes with a return from any of the others. Children up to 2 years may travel free if held on an adult's lap, and there are a limited number of cheaper fares for children up to 13.
Travac has offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Zurich, and also flies charters out of Chicago, New York, and Baltimore. Its cancellation policy: 45 or more days before departure, $25 forfeiture; 44-21 days, $50; fewer than 21 days, full forfeiture unless Travac resells the seat.
* Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), 205 East 42nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10017, (212) 661-0311 or, outside New York State, (800) 223-7402.
A nonprofit academic organization that specializes in student travel, CIEE also offers charter flights to the general public. From Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, you can fly to Amsterdam at a fare ranging between $558 and $738. It also has direct flights to Paris, Zurich, Madrid, Rome, London, and Brussels from New York (connecting flights from Western cities such as Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, and Denver can be arranged at an added price) for prices that run, depending on the city and season, between $668 and $828. For children 2 to 11, the price is discounted $50 round trip.
CIEE's cancellation policy is unique among charter companies: $50 forfeiture anytime - right up to departure day.
As you can see, it is cancellation fees that can make charter prices prohibitive. If you are wishy-washy about planning, deciding yes and then, as your departure date draws near, changing your mind, you could pay as much as $ 800 for the privilege of staying home. If you fly charter, be certain of your plans.
You can, to a degree, protect yourself with travel insurance. Policies range from $25 to $50, depending on the coverage you require. These are medical policies, though; they cover illness and injury, not a last-minute decision not to go.
There are things besides possible last-minute cancellation that might make charters a less than practical option for you. Often charters fly only on certain days, or they leave from and fly to a limited number of cities. If you live in Las Vegas, Nev., for instance, or Portland, Ore., you will have to add the price of a connecting flight. That can be doubly bad if your charter flight is delayed - perhaps not a common occurrence, but it can happen - for then you have extra hotel and food bills eating up your travel dollars.
Another and not so little thing to consider is baggage. Most charter operators allow 44 pounds of luggage only (which can be distributed in no more than two bags).
Fortunately, charters no longer corner the low-fare flight market. Since deregulation in the airline industry several years ago, Mr. Donovan says, ''Regularly scheduled airlines have competed pricewise with charters. APEX fares are almost the same, for instance, as charter fares, and on an APEX ticket you fly on any day convenient for you and your cancellation penalty is a maximum of
APEX means advance-purchase excursion. You must buy this ticket a specific number of days before departure. Some other initials to remember for low-priced regularly scheduled flights are ITX.
ITX stands for inclusive tour excursions. To benefit from this, you must buy some sort of land package in the country you are visiting, which may mean staying a minimum number of nights or taking a sightseeing tour. It doesn't necessarily mean you must travel in a group, so don't reject it out of hand. if you don't like the ''If This Is Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium'' kind of travel.
Your travel agent can supply you with information on prices and packages available from your city or the nearest gateway and help you through the intricacies of choosing the one for you. It will be worth it to check thoroughly. Remember that if you shop around for the best fare to Europe, you will have that many more dollars available for shopping in Europe.