Traveling on Rewards to Italy

Traveling on Rewards to Italy - picture of Rome's skyline

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Ever since I was a little girl, I have wanted to visit Italy. Aside from the obvious reasons I would want to go, one thing that put Italy on my radar is the fact that my mom went there after college. She’s told me dozens of stories about her trip through Europe and the time she spent in Italy, and she remembers everything – where she stayed, what they ate, and funny things they saw.

Anyway, since I have basically wanted to go forever, I decided to make it happen this year. Here’s how we did it:

Using Travel Rewards to Italy

To pay for our airfare, we used a surplus of points from our two Citi AAdvantage credit cards. To save points, we decided to travel off-peak, which happens to be October 15 – May 15th with American Airlines. Off-peak to Europe on American only costs 20,000 one-way, with the only other costs associated with airfare coming in the form of government-mandated taxes and fees.

Sometimes finding the best flights can be a pain. Fortunately, I finally found an itinerary that made sense with where we really wanted to go. Finally. After over a month of searching, I found two round-trip flights with only one stop from Indianapolis to Rome in late October 2015.  Our return flight is from Venice and also only has one stop. The cost: 80,000 American miles and $109 in taxes and fees. BAM!

We did things a little different when it was time to book hotels. Hotels in Italy are notoriously expensive – even in points – so we opted to save our points and book bed-n-breakfasts instead. Using cash-back from one of our six Capital One Spark Business cards, we paid for seven nights at Bed-n-Breakfasts in Rome, Florence, and Venice.

Our Plans in Rome

When planning any trip to Italy and especially Rome, it would be shame not to see some of the surrounding area. That’s why we booked an epic day trip to Sorrento and Pompeii. I can’t wait to see the country’s coastline and the haunting sights at Pompeii, the ancient city that was buried in ash by an erupting Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD.

The bed-n-breakfast we’re staying in is near the Piazza Navona, and within walking distance of the Colosseum and Vatican city. In addition to completing our day trip and seeing the Vatican and the Colosseum, I also want to see a bunch of historic art and some specific pieces of history stored at the Vatican museum. Specifically, I would like to see love letters written by Henry VIII to his second wife Anne Boleyn, which are supposed to be on display there. I am absolutely obsessed with that period in English history. And yes, I have seen The Tudors five times!

Our Plans in Florence

Once we take the train to Florence, our plan is to take in as much as we can. What I really want to see is the Duomo, the Baptistery of John the Baptist, the Ponte Vecchio, and many of the famous pieces of art that are scattered throughout the city.

We’re staying at the Globus Hotel, which honestly looks like a hole in the wall. That’s okay, though. For us, it was more about the location. It’s right by the train station and within walking distance of plenty of sights and sounds.

Our Plans in Venice

I’m probably most excited about our last stop – Venice. But since we only have one day there, my excitement may be short-lived. Regardless, our plans include seeing St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s palace. Hopefully Greg will take me out on a romantic gondola ride too.

We’re staying at the Hotel Arlecchino, which we chose due to its location right near the public transportation hub that will bring us to the city. Plus, it was only around $100 a night, which is a price I could live with.

See Our Italy Trip Recap (With Photos) By Clicking Here!

Other Costs Associated with Traveling on Rewards

Obviously, there will be other costs associated with traveling on rewards to Italy. Just because our hotels and flights were free doesn’t mean we are off the hook. In addition to a budget for food, we will also need to bring money for train fares (both within and between cities), entry fees to museums and exhibits, and anything else that pops up.

I plan to schedule and pay for some of that ahead of time, but that doesn’t mean it won’t sting a little. Since we’re staying only at hotels that offer free breakfast, I am planning to budget around $1,000 total for this trip.

That’s a lot of money for sure, but it is nothing compared to what we would pay if we had paid for everything out-of-pocket. Our two coach tickets to Italy would have cost $1,200 each on their own.

And that’s what I love about credit card rewards. It doesn’t make everything free, but it helps put international travel into a price range that I can actually afford. Check out these awesome Chase Sapphire Preferred benefits for more!

If you’re interested in learning how to plan a similar trip, feel free to contact me through my contact page or free travel advice page.

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  1. Sounds like an epic trip! I’m sure you’re going to have a blast! Yikes! The gondola ride has recently gone up to €100 which you might be able to bargain to 90, but doubtful. Better to just take the water taxi for like €3 :-). You must also try that Insalata Rica l wrote about, it will be right by you at Piazza Navona. I can’t wait to read your take on your trip. Way to go with the hack!

    1. I heard that. We’ll have to see. That will be at the end of our trip so it might depend on how much $ we have left! =)

  2. Sounds like a great trip, looking forward to the post trip post. We’ve been working on building up some reward points and may have a trip planned to CA later this year.

  3. That sounds super fun!! Venice is my *favorite* place in the world, followed by Florence 🙂

    Wander off onto one of the smaller side canals to find a gondolier- you’ll have more negotiating power than if you’re on the main drag.

    You can purchase certain train tickets before you go (ie a week long rail pass) and I’m pretty sure it’s a little cheaper (I can’t remember by how much though)

    1. Yeah, I will start looking at trains again soon. Last time I price-shopped, the schedule wasn’t out all the way until October yet!

  4. Ok, now I’m super jealous! We went to Italy for a couple weeks several years ago and we loved it. We saw most of the places you mentioned, but one of our favorite things was when we rented a car and drove through Tuscany. Epic scenery there, and incredible food. If you have any spare time, I’d recommend it!

    1. We probably won’t have any spare time. We are jam-packed. We will probably need to go back one day since there are several other places in Italy I would really like to see. You can only do so much in 7-8 days, unfortunately.

  5. I’ll be interested to hear about you Italy trip, since my old lady and I are going for our anniversary next February.

    I also was going to laugh if you had happened to pick the same weekend we were going, but you are going long before we are.

    1. We are going at the end of October. When are you going?

      1. We are going very end of February into the first part of March… it is good old anniversary number 8 (or is it 2 since we got married on 2/29/2008)

  6. Fabulous. Just used almost all my points to book our trip to the DR, need a new card to start. Suggestions? I don’t spend much, so need low spending thresholds- 1-2k in three months.

    1. Hmmmm….low spend. Maybe the IHG Rewards Select MasterCard? I used points from that card for our all-inclusive in Montego Bay, but they have a few other all-inclusives in Mexico I think. You can use your points at thousands of IHG properties around he world too! The current offer is for 70K points after you spend $1,000 within 90 days. Annual fee is waived the first year.

  7. My sister has been to Italy twice for work this year (and just got back from Tokyo). She gets to take some time off when she travels for work to sightsee. I’d like to travel less for work, but would like to go to Italy some day. #2 on the blog is honeymooning in Italy.

    1. Nice! Which cities is she honeymooning to? That would be super romantic!

  8. Great travel hacking Holly! Italy is one of my dream country that I wanted to visit in the future “hopefully”! Getting an affordable flight is really hard, you should put extra patience on that.

  9. We so need a trip without the kiddo. I love her, but sometimes you just need to get away by yourselves. We don’t have anyone at this point to keep her for more than a night or two, but it will get easier as she gets older. Sounds like a really fun trip. Venice is one of my favorite places I’ve ever been.

  10. I spent a couple weeks in Italy and it was amazing, I did not want to leave. I ate gelato like 3 times a day, haha. We also downloaded audio tour guides on our phones when we went to the Coliseum instead of paying to join a tour group.
    The Vatican is amazing! Book your tix in advance and lock in a time, otherwise the line to get in can wrap around a few blocks and you could spend half the day waiting to get in. There’s an underground tour you can take that is offered by the Vatican – you go below and see ancient tombs, the historical significance of what the Vatican is resting on, etc. I can get you the info if you are interested!
    Can you tell I am really missing Italy?!

  11. Sounds like a great trip. We seriously need to look into travel hack more for our trips.

  12. Sounds like a fun trip! And I love your idea of staying at bed and breakfasts instead of hotels. $1000 really isn’t bad for Europe at all

  13. $1000 is definitely a steal for a trip to Italy. We loved Italy and, while lodging can be pricey, at least you can get great food and wine without spending much. We found Rick Steve\’s Italy guidebook helpful for sight-seeing and dining tips.

  14. I think you mentioned in the past that you were planning to go to Italy through travel hacking but I must have forgot! We have a United Airlines credit + miles from a United card and we’ll both be getting Chase cards and transferring them all to my account (1:1!) and use that to pay for our flights to Italy next Summer. At least that’s the plan. Neither of us have been to Europe so I think it’ll be a nice break as we’ve both been kind of going full steam with work and grad school.

  15. I definitely plan on making it to Italy eventually. I just got the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and will receive the 40,000 point bonus. Now I have to decide what I want to do with those points!

  16. I just returned two weeks ago from my first trip to Italy. I paid $400 for our roundtrip tickets to Milan from JFK thanks to an Emirates Airlines sale back in January. I absolutely loved Italy – visited Rome and Milan. We did the main attractions in Rome- Colloseum, Vatican, St. Peter’s Basilica, Borghese Gallery, Pantheon, Piazza Navona. I loved it all. I walked so much that my feet were throbbing at night but it was well worth it. In Milan, we visited the Last Supper. I used points for our hotels- 4 nights at the Westin in Rome and 2 nights at the Marriott in Milan. So, no cost for hotels. Our total cost for the entire trip including taxis, trains, attraction tickets, plane tickets, food, and souveniers came to $1700. I hope to return one day to visit Florence and Venice. Enjoy!

    1. Awesome! So glad to hear you had a good time. I’m sure I will love it too. We aren’t making it to Milan this time. It’s hard to fit everything you want to do in there!

  17. Nice! My next travel hacking would be Italy and Spain definitely. Thanks to cc rewards, I am writing my comment in Beijing! Just walked the Great Wall today! Waiting for my flight back to Honolulu. Tired but uber happy.

  18. How exciting Holly! We are also using AA miles to go to Italy in October! We will be there from 10/5- 10/20; starting in Venice-Bologna-Florence, ending in Rome. I didn’t have points for hotels, so we are staying at Air bnb’s–will probably be able to write a story about that experience when we get back! It has always been my dream to get to Italy as well and is so much more achievable now with cc points and a great exchange rate! Appreciate the Italy suggestions from all the commenters!

  19. I went to Italy a couple years ago and had a great time. Best food Ive ever had in my life (I love pizza). I currently use the Capital One Aspire Travel World Mastercard which pays 2% on all purchases, I\’m hoping to save up $800 in rewards to use on my next trip

  20. We are planning on travel hacking our way to Italy next summer and have begun the rewards accumulation, so now I can just copy everything else you are doing. 🙂 I love that you share all of your results and I keep sending people your way because I love how you show other people how to travel efficiently as well!

  21. I spent some time in Rome/Florence/and Venice. Italy is awesome. AND you have to go to Pompeii. It is mind blowing.

  22. Going to Japan! Am planning and budgeting now (ouch). Surprised you found Italy hotels expensive – but depends what you’re comparing to I guess.

  23. We did Italy last year for 2 weeks using CC points for our flight. This year we will be going to Munich, Austria and Switerzerland using CC points. You will love Italy, there is so much to see and do and the food is wonderful. Enjoy your trip.

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