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Anna and I have been wanting to visit Italy for a long time, but with her lack of vacation time from work, big trips like this often take time to plan. We were able to plan a 7-day vacation to Rome and Milan using miles and points that would have otherwise cost us almost $12,000! Here’s how we did it.
Booking the flight from Los Angeles to Rome
We were looking to wait until 2017 to make this trip since Anna started a new job this year, and we already had trips planned to Yellowstone & Glacier National Parks on Amtrak, Cabo for my birthday, and Cabo for a wedding that would eat up most of her vacation time. However, when it was announced that American was changing their award redemption chart, we had to book in March within their 330-day booking window.
We live in Southern California, so we were planning to fly out of LAX. However, Anna’s Mom is watching the kids for us in Northern California, so we needed to be flexible with our airports. I tried searching for award space that would accomplish this, but I eventually turned to my friend Ari at Award Magic, an award booking service, to handle everything. They were great because they found award space I could not… and booked us from a small airport near her Mom to make things easy on her… all for about $160 a person.
We were able to redeem for Business Class for 100,000 miles each + $274 in taxes each.
If you were to redeem under the new award chart, it would be 115,000 miles each.
Beyond wanting a complicated itinerary, I wasn’t able to find flights that could reduce the fuel surcharges and taxes very far. That is another reason I went with an award booking service… the reduction in fuel surcharges & taxes from about $1,000 to $274 per person more than paid for the $160 in fees they charged!
For flights from Los Angeles to Milan that were paid for in cash, I searched and selected the cheapest options, and the flights were still almost $5,000 a person!
I’m way too frugal to ever pay $5,000 for a plane ticket. I’m not even sure I’d pay $1,000 for a plane ticket… but it is pretty amazing to see the value you get when you redeem miles and points for travel.
Altogether, we paid 200,000 AAdvantage miles and $865 for two business class tickets from Los Angeles to Rome that would normally cost $9,652. And AwardMagic helped us save about $1200 vs the flights I found when trying to book with miles!
Where we’re staying in Rome and Milan
Using Hilton HHonors points
There are four choices in Rome to use your Hilton HHonors points. Since it was a romantic getaway for Anna and me without the kids, I decided to splurge and stay at the Waldorf.
Our first two nights in Rome, we’re staying at the Waldorf Astoria Rome Cavalieri (click here for TripAdvisor reviews) using 28,000 Hilton HHonors points + 114 Euro a night.
I almost spent 70,000 HHonors points per night, but decided I would rather pay the $135 to save the 42,000 HHonors points… because that’s equivalent to one night at the Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach or the Fess Parker Doubletree, two of our favorite local getaways. Each night there is certainly more than $135, so that’s a good trade-off.
At a minimum, we would have paid 227 Euro a night (plus taxes) for the Rome Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria if we prepaid for our reservation during the Hilton sale. That would be $510 US dollars for the 454 Euro, before taxes. Instead, we are paying 56,000 Hilton HHonors points and $273.
Using Hyatt credit card certificates
I’ve heard great things about the Park Hyatt Milan from my friend Angelina’s recent stay there, so (on the suggestion of my friend Jamie from the Foward Cabin) we’re taking a train from Rome to Milan to see the countryside and experience a couple of days in Milan. I received the Chase Hyatt Visa during my March 2016 App Party, so I needed to use my two free night certificates before they expired in March 2017. This seemed like a perfect opportunity!
We were able to get booked into a Park King using the two free certificates, which would have normally cost 480 Euro a night, plus taxes. That 960 Euro is equivalent to $1,079 US dollars! I only have the Platinum status that comes with the Hyatt card, so we may not get much of an upgrade, if any, during our stay. Before our trip, I may ask for a Hyatt status match to Diamond because I’ve heard the upgrades and free breakfast at the Park Hyatt Milan are well worth it.
If you want to redeem Hyatt points for a stay at the Park Hyatt Milan (click here for TripAdvisor reviews), it will cost 30,000 points per night… or you can use the points + cash option of 15,000 points & 253 Euro ($284).
Using the Chase IHG free night certificate
To keep our out of pocket costs low, we also looked to use the free night certificate that comes with the Chase IHG card. In Rome, the Hotel Indigo St George looked like a great place (click here for TripAdvisor reviews).
Normally, this room would run 280 Euro, plus taxes, which is $315 US dollars. To stay at this 5-star property using points, it would cost 45,000 points per night. I’m looking forward to trying out their Turkish baths and having dinner & wine atop their rooftop terrace.
Using Club Carlson points
For our final night in Rome, we’ll be staying at the Radisson Blu es. Hotel for 50,000 points a night rather than paying the $165 in cash.
It has a ton of reviews at TripAdvisor, with a pretty good rating. We’ve had a lot of great experiences in Europe and Australia at Radisson Blu properties, so we have high expectations for our last night in Rome. And it doesn’t hurt that starting January 7, 2016, there is a complimentary mini bar in every room… I’m pretty sure it will be empty by the time we leave.
Upon completion of our booking, we were offered some upgrade options. We ignored the Superior Guest Room option since we figure we’ll get an upgrade thanks to my Club Carlson Gold status from having the US Bank Club Carlson card. However, we chose the two dining options so that we can enjoy a final Roman meal prepared by the hotel chefs.
Although I’m still bummed the Club Carlson eliminated the “last night free” benefit when redeeming points (which generally meant 2nd night free for those of us willing to change hotels every couple of nights), I still find value in their loyalty program.
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The Bottom Line
For about $1,200, some points, and some free night certificates, I am looking forward to spoiling Anna on an amazing, romantic, 5-star Italian holiday. We’ll be in Italy for 7 days and 6 nights and enjoying top-notch hotels and getting spoiled on a Business Class round-trip flight. If we were to pay cash for the trip, it would have cost almost $12,000. Like many of you, I would never spend that kind of money on a trip, but I’m sure looking forward to living the good like thanks to miles and points (and a little bit of cash).
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