People usually plan vacations months in advance, but often make their car purchases within a couple of weeks at most. European delivery is a service that can combine these two concepts in a way that can turn the car buying process into a unique vacation while saving you thousands of dollars.

If your next vehicle will be a European luxury car and you don't need it anytime soon, you can arrange to pick it up from the factory and make a nice vacation out of it.

What Is European Car Delivery?

European vehicle delivery programs offered by Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo offer a discounted price on a vehicle, combined with free or discounted travel fares. You can take European delivery from Porsche, too, but there are no discounts.

In a typical program, you fly to Europe, where the automaker arranges a ride from the airport and puts you up in a premium hotel for a night. You'll take delivery of your car the following day and take a tour of the factory where it was built. Part of the tour includes specially prepared meals. Once the car is officially yours, you're free to take it for a drive through Europe (two weeks of insurance is included). Then you drop off the vehicle at the factory or at a designated drop-off location. From there, the carmaker ships the vehicle to the U.S. (this is called "redelivery"). It will arrive several weeks later, and you'll pick up your car at a U.S. dealership.

Sounds great, right? Before you rush off to the nearest dealer, here is a brief overview of the process and a few tips to keep in mind.

Step 1: Be Aware of the Time Frame

You'll want to start the ordering process at least three months before your anticipated travel date. When you finally drop off the car, it will take roughly six to eight weeks to arrive at an East Coast port, and about eight to 10 weeks for the West Coast. In total, it could be about six months from when you place the order on the car to when you park it in your garage. If you need the car sooner, European delivery might not be the best option.

This is also the point at which you'll want to decide which car you want and which automaker's program most appeals to you. This Frequent Business Traveler's chart is a great way to compare the different programs without having to go to various carmaker sites.

Step 2: Find a Good Dealer

Find a dealership you feel comfortable with. There should be at least one person specially trained to handle the European delivery orders. Find that person and ask them any questions you might have. Online forums are good resources for dealer recommendations. The Bimmerfest forums, for example, created an excellent wiki on European delivery for BMW vehicles that includes dealer recommendations. Here's the discussion on the Audiworld forum.

One of the big questions to ask is where the car brand stands on pricing. Every automaker, except Porsche, offers a discount ranging from about 5-7 percent on the vehicle purchase. Volvo's discounts vary by model, rather than being a fixed percentage. Note that this discount is off the base MSRP of the car, meaning that the carmaker charges full retail price for options on the car. Some dealers won't budge from the standard discount, but there are a number of dealers that will be more open to negotiation. Keep in mind that the European delivery invoice price is different from the U.S. invoice price. You may not be able to buy the vehicle at the European invoice price, but it doesn't hurt to ask what it is and use that figure as a reference point in the negotiation.

Shoppers looking to lease will have to stick with Audi, BMW or Mercedes. Porsche and Volvo do not offer European delivery with a lease.

Step 3: Place the Order

This is where the fun begins. You can order the car exactly how you want it and not worry about whether you've chosen a hard-to-find color or option. Play around with the configuration tools on the automakers' Web sites to see the different colors and packages.

Volvo offers a unique perk: It lets the customer order Europe-exclusive colors, wheels and interiors. Customers can also choose options for the vehicle à la carte (blind-spot monitoring, for example) rather than having to order an expensive tech package with other options you may not really want.

It is important to note that as cars become more global, they may not always be made in the automaker's home country. For example, the BMW X3, X4, X5 and X6 are not eligible for European delivery. That's because BMW builds them in Spartanburg, South Carolina, rather than Germany.

After choosing the vehicle and its options, you'll essentially be paying for the car as if it were on the dealership lot. This means you'll arrange financing, make the down payment and handle the trade-in with the dealership. In fact, you might make the first couple payments without seeing the car. Some dealers will collect the German value-added tax up front. The dealership usually refunds this tax after the vehicle arrives in the states.

After placing the order, you should receive a formal delivery date in a week or two. It is now safe to buy the plane tickets and plan out the rest of your trip.

Step 4: Pick Up the Car

You'll need to fly into the city where the factory is located. Audi gives you the choice of touring its museum in Ingolstadt or visiting the factory in Neckarsulm. Porsche gives you a choice between two factories: Stuttgart (for the Boxster, Cayman and 911) or Leipzig (for Cayenne, Macan and Panamera). Porsche also has a museum in Stuttgart.

Volvo is the only automaker that will fly you and a guest on its dime. All the other manufacturers offer a 15 percent discount on Lufthansa. Most automakers will also offer travel assistance to help you plan your itinerary and make hotel reservations.

After touring the factory or museum, you'll take delivery of the car and receive a thorough walkthrough of its features. The automakers say that the presentations are top-notch and will make you feel like a VIP client.

Step 5: Road Trip!

European Union country or those that honor the tourist license plates. All automakers will cover the insurance for up to about 15 days. You can stay longer if you wish, but you will be responsible for the insurance costs after 15 days. The automaker will loan you a GPS unit or install the European maps if your vehicle has navigation.

BMW recommends that all drivers obtain an International Driver License through the American Automobile Association. The International Driver License is mandatory in Austria and Spain. Drivers must be at least 18 years old.

Many automakers have planned itineraries that will show you the best routes and help you hit many landmarks. Or you can stray from the beaten path and explore the countryside if you prefer.

If you plan on visiting during the winter months, you may need to rent winter tires. Porsche will loan you a set, while BMW and Volvo can set you up with a rental set of tires. Audi avoids this by not offering European deliveries in the winter.

Step 6: Drop It Off

Step 7: Take Delivery in the U.S.

All that remains is to sign the last bit of paperwork and take your new car home.