Budget Breakdown – Italy, Part 1

This blog post’s purpose is not to solely provide entertainment, but to present a realistic breakdown of expenses spent on a trip. The goal is to help create ideas on how to cut back, help set expectations, and to see how my money was spent based on airfare, lodging, transportation, attractions and meals.

Italy is at the top of most people’s lists for places they want to see the most. For me, I remember seeing the pictures of when my former youth pastor and his wife went on their honeymoon there. I couldn’t believe it – how could anything be more romantic than honeymooning in Rome? Especially since I had thoughts of riding on the back of a moped with a handsome man just like Lizzie McGuire did in her movie.

Well, dream accomplished. I had told William from the get-go this is where I wanted to go, and he was onboard with the idea. We went in April 2016. I have our general outline of how the trip went below for reference.

04/15/16 – Flew out of DFW

04/16/16 – Arrived in Naples after a layover in Frankfurt AND a layover in London (that required us to switch from Heathrow to Gatwick airport in 3 hours – yikes) – evening

04/17/16 – 04/18/16 – 2 full days exploring Naples

04/19/16 – Day trip from Naples to Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius

04/20/16 – Train to Sorrento in morning, full day in Sorrento

04/21/16 – Day trip from Sorrento to Capri

04/22/16 – Day trip from Sorrento to Amalfi Coast (Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello)

04/23/16 – Train to Rome in morning

04/24/16 – 04/28/16 – 5 full days in Rome

04/29/16 – Train to Pisa in afternoon

04/30/16 – Pisa, leave for airport in evening. Fly to London for overnight layover

05/01/16 – London to Madrid, then finally home

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Plane Tickets:

Because it was our honeymoon, my gracious, thoughtful, awesome in-laws gave us miles to book the flight with! William’s dad flies multiple times a month for work so he racks up a lot of American Airline miles. We went with the Economy MileSAAver redemption, which is the lowest amount of points possible that you can use to get from point A to point B. They are not available every day, so you have to be flexible with your dates. At the time, this was 20,000 miles per person each way. So for both of us, this would total to 80,000 miles. American has increased this award to 22,500 miles each way now though (90,000 round trip for 2 people).

Even when you book with miles, you will still have to pay various taxes and fees associated with the ticket. When I currently looked this up on a similar flight, this was about $150.

Keep in mind, if you book through American Airlines, avoid long flight segments that are on British Airways. In my case, I had to make sure my flight going over the ocean was not a British Airways flight. They charge you the fuel surcharge on top of the miles redemption, so this can change that $150 fee to a $600 one.

If you don’t have people in your life with tons and tons of miles to spare though, you can sign up for a credit card with a good bonus. Some examples are:

Citi American Aadvantage  – currently a 60,000 mile bonus, and the annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year.

AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard – currently a 50,000 bonus with an annual fee of $95 NOT waived. Clearly, the first card would be better but I already got it so this is appealing for me.

Starwood Preferred Guest – currently a 25,000 point bonus, and the annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year. Every 20,000 points that you transfer (at a time) to American Airlines racks up an additional 5,000 mile bonus. If you would like more information on this card, send me your email on my Contact Me page. I have a special referral email I’ll send to you!

Make sure though you are careful with your credit, and have a score of at least 700 before applying.

Cost of airfare per person: $75

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Lodging:

As a honeymoon present, we were able to upgrade for a bit of our stay in Italy as long as we kept it under $200 a night, and I used Rocket Miles to book these hotels. Why? Because they bonus me extra miles to the account of my choice just for booking through them. The prices for the hotels are similar to other hotel booking sites; the only difference is there are not as many options. The bonuses are always at least 1,000 miles but can go up to 13,000. Keep in mind, this is for the reservation (not per night).

In Naples, I found the Ramada Naples conveniently right next to the train station. After all taxes and fees were factored in, this cost $172 a night for 3 nights. I earned 516 miles through my credit card for making the reservation, and then I got a bonus of 9,000 American Airlines miles deposited to my account; 6,000 for the actual reservation and 3,000 for it being my first booking.

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Train Station in Naples

In Sorrento, we stayed at the Hotel Corallo for 4 nights at $183 total a night with all taxes and fees. So in addition to earning 731 miles on my credit card, I also earned a bonus of 6,000 American Airlines miles.

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View from the room at Hotel Corallo in Sorrento

For the rest of the trip, we were on our own so I chose to book our lodging through AirBnb! In Rome, we stayed 6 nights in an apartment located within walking distance of the Vatican. It had a full kitchenette, a patio with a garden, neighborhood cats, and it took a million keys to get inside (very secure!) The host was very kind, even though she didn’t speak much English. There was also food to make breakfast and many guide books inside (and a map)! You can check her place out if you are looking at Rome here.

We paid about $61 a night, totaling $365 for the whole stay.

Finally, in Pisa for one night we also stayed at an AirBnb location. It was $58 for the grand total. Never met our host, but it was a great location.

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Our Pisa apartment

Cost of lodging per person: $835.50 (but also earned 16,247 miles just through 2 hotel bookings. More than enough for a one way domestic airline ticket).

All of my Italy budgeting, especially transportation, ended up being some rather lengthy writing. I’ve decided to end this post here, but next week I will include more information on the cost of transportation, attractions and food. I will also reveal the grand total!

Stay tuned…..

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Finding Flights without Miles

Recently, I have been asked to share what I do in order to find cheap flights by my sister, Ashley. She wants to visit me next summer while I am in Bangkok for school!

Flexible Travel

First of all, the best way to get great deals is to be super flexible. Like not caring when OR where you go. When you have this flexibility, you can get SUCH a great deal. Sometimes the planner in me cries because I can’t take advantage of those spur of the moment $300 airfare to Rome offers.

If this applies to you however, I’ve got a couple of GREAT resources.

This website finds some of the best deals on the internet, including mistake fares! You can pick what US city you want to look at specifically (I chose Dallas) and then see the routes, dates, and prices available for some really cheap tickets. These deals go crazy fast though. Even though older ones will stay posted on the website, I usually don’t bother looking farther back than 2 days.

When I looked just now, there are a few decent deals flying to India, Indonesia, and Rwanda for about $800 round trip from Dallas. However, a couple of days ago I could have taken advantage of $474 round trip fare to Barcelona.

Once you find a deal you are interested in, you can look at the dates available and other specifications, as well as exactly how to find that flight with that price to book.

Speaking of being flexible, another thing to keep in mind is maybe flying in CLOSE to where you want to go, instead of exactly to that destination. If you weren’t necessarily interested in going to Spain, but you did want to go to Europe, it still might be advantageous for you to consider the above mentioned flight offer, and then take a train to where you wanted to go.

To get to this website you have to directly type the URL in. It will not appear for you by just googling it. Once there, you can use this tool to not only search flight routes to specific cities, but to regions! If you want to go anywhere in the US, you can just type in “From: Dallas, To: United States.” It will then bring the major cities up, and rank them based on the lowest fare options.

flight explorer

When I looked up Dallas to the US just now, Denver came up as my cheapest option within the next 3-5 days for $90 round trip. However, each city also provides a bar graph showing the prices on a day-by-day basis. You can look for a large dip in price easily this way! When you click on the Best Price button, it will bring you to a separate page giving you the details of the flight (airlines, times, dates, etc.).

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Finally, if you click the date listed at the top (where it says August 12th for the outbound option), it will bring up a calendar view, with the lowest prices each day listed. I used this feature one time searching fares to Orlando to find a time my husband and I could afford to fly down for a weekend at Disney.

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Keep in mind, you could also use this to search the cheapest flights into Europe too!

If you are like me though, I like to plan my trips almost as far out in advanced as possible. Mainly because I get too excited to wait. My husband and I also work year round. In order to take advantage of our time off, I like to fly out late on a Friday or early Saturday, and I like to come back late on Saturday or Sunday to maximize my time away. This leaves me with a lot less flexibility. A lot of people have to travel during specific breaks or holidays as well, and are probably in the same boat. The good news is this online tool can be helpful in that case too! You can search prices quite a few months out in advance.

ITA Matrix

Now when I am actually looking for a flight with a pretty specific destination and dates, I first go to the ITA Google Matrix. This searches several different airlines prices directly from the airlines, and has a bunch of cool features when comparing flights. For my sister’s example, airfare for visiting me next June/July is not available yet, so I took a look in May. I used the dates May 1st – May 8th, DFW – BKK.

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The cheapest flight was for $981.56 round trip. However, it is a mix of airlines. Eva Air and Alaska Air are NOT partners, so they would have to be booked on separate tickets. This can be dangerous, because if you’re Alaska flight gets delayed and you miss the Eva flight, Eva Air won’t care since it is not their fault or responsibility. If it was an extremely long layover, it might be worth it. I also have occasionally booked with one airline on the way to a destination, and used a different one on the way back.

With only a 2 hour 40 minute layover in Seattle, I would not risk this option.

When I go back and look at my search results in the matrix, the cheapest flight that is all one airline (or airline partners) is an all Emirates choice for $1,030.96.

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The thing about the matrix is that it doesn’t sell you the tickets, it just tells you how to find them. However, I love that it doesn’t have ads and pop ups and comparing tools slowing down your computer. With this above flight, I went through the Emirates website and selected the same flights. Sure enough, as you can see, it was the same price.

emirates

The other thing about the ITA Matrix is that not all airlines are included on it. So if all you care about is literally the cheapest deal, you will have to do some more searching. Before I delve into that more though, I want to cover the other reasons I love the ITA Matrix.

  • If you look at the first ITA screen shot, you can see at the top it listed all the different airlines separately with prices underneath. If you only like to fly certain airlines, like American or United, you can instantly see the cheapest prices they are offering there and click to see the routes more in depth. You can also already separate the prices by 1 or 2 stops.
  • On the top right corner, you see an option on the search results page that says “Time bars.” Click it, and you’ll get something that looks like this. ita3This is a really great visual representation if you care about the duration of your flight journey, or about your layovers. My favorite thing is to look for the big layover chunks and see if maybe I can sight-see a little somewhere. In the above example, you can see the gray DEL bars in the middle are really long. This is almost a 22 hour layover in Delhi! It’s way too expensive in this case to be worth it, but if it was only a few dollars more…..why not?!
  • Back on the first page where you type in your trip information, there is an option to look at exact dates or search the calendar of lowest fares. If you select calendar of lowest fares, you can look at up to 2 months at a time with the lowest price for each day listed. This is similar to the Google Flights Explore, but since these dates are too far out for the Flights Explore, I can only look at the calendar view here. By searching through May and April, I see I have about 3 days where I could fly out for $901 round trip.

Continuing the Search

As I said earlier, not all airlines are included in the matrix. At this point, I used to just search every single possible flight search engine possible for hours, clicking pop up after pop up. But I have found that most of them only differ based on a few dollars, and I usually end up booking those flights through Kayak. In this example, I used the same dates and places and found the cheapest option to be through Kayak. It was still helpful that I checked the matrix first because I knew what price I was trying to “beat.” I clicked all of the pop ups, and other popular sites such as Priceline, Expedia, Travelocity, etc. Everything varied between $860 and $900 for the best deals, but on Kayak, it offered me one for $854. All of the flights were on China Airlines flights, which are not in the ITA matrix.

One last thing I usually do is to always check the actual airline’s website. Since the best deal I found was on a third party site, I want to check and see if I can get it cheaper directly from China Airlines. When I checked on their website, it gave me a total of $900.

So in this case, the best deal I can find on 7/5/2017 for a Dallas to Bangkok trip May 1st through May 8th is officially $854 total round trip.

Other Tidbits

  • If you have some time before you need to book a flight, it would be a good idea to sign up for some price alerts, such as on Airfare Watchdog or through the ITA matrix. These websites email you when they notice a price drop so you can watch it for a couple of months.
  • Keep in mind that airfare is usually cheapest to book on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Also, flights that fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Saturdays usually have the best fares.
  • There is a very “exact” science to when the best time to book a flight is, depending on the destination you are traveling to. Refer to the chart on Cheap Air here to get a good idea based on region.
  • Seasons matter. Summer and Christmas time are expensive. My favorite time to travel is April because it’s before most of the tourists start heading out, but the weather has warmed up enough to be enjoyable as well.
  • Some credit cards that offer miles would still benefit you by searching for the lowest fare. Cards such as the Capital One Venture Rewards and Barclays World Arrival Plus earn you miles directly through them. You have to actually purchase a travel coded item, such as a flight on that credit card, and then redeem the points towards that specific purchase. For example, my sister could get the Capital One card mentioned above and earn 50,000 bonus points. When she buys the flight on Kayak for $854, she then will apply 50,000 points towards that purchase, taking $500 off. She then is only paying for $354 round trip for the flight.
  • If you are looking at some of the same airfare search engines repeatedly, clear your cookies and browsing history. If they know you’ve been looking for a deal on their site before, they know you are clearly interested and sometimes raise the price.

 

This is just my method when looking for flights. To be honest, I have never actually outright purchased an overseas international flight in full. Since I like to save my miles for the bigger trips where my miles go farther, I usually save miles for that and buy all of my domestic travel plane tickets.

I’d lastly like to dedicate this post to my dear friend Rachel, who introduced me to the Google ITA matrix 2 years ago. She was the foundation of where all of this came from, and I probably wouldn’t be as obsessed with all of this travel strategy stuff if it weren’t for her. You’re the real MVP.