updated 4/9/2010 12:26:14 PM ET 2010-04-09T16:26:14

Flummoxed by those four-digit fares across the Atlantic? You’re not alone. Much sooner than expected, we’re seeing a repeat of the fare madness that characterized the summer of 2008.

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Want to head to Tuscany? That’ll be $1,500. Just for the flight. Feel like taking advantage of all those cheap hotel rates in recession-battered Prague? Great, but the lowest fare we found in mid-July was on Finnair; it included — brace yourself — two stops. In each direction.

What’s going on? Simple — airlines are getting serious about cutting the amount of empty seats on their planes.

British Airways alone cut capacity between New York and London by nearly 25 percent over 2009.

Factor in a situation where Europeans — some of whom presumably have more cash to spend right now thanks to a weakened U.S. dollar — are being offered more attractive fares, and you have a dearth of seats at the one time of year when masses of Americans get the urge to go abroad. Ergo, high prices.

Spendy Euros aren’t the only ones clogging up the planes, though; many seats are held by tour operators and packagers; some of them have spectacular leverage, resulting in week-long per-person rates including hotels — and sometimes, even cars — priced about the same as your a la carte airfare.

No fooling — with just a little scouting, you can get to Prague in late July for just $1,149 per person with Virgin Vacations.

That price — lower than the crazy, never-ending Finnair flight alone — includes 6 nights in a 2.5-star hotel, all taxes and fees. You’re welcome!

Here are just a few examples of the savings that can be yours by booking packages.

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