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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Budget Breakdown – UK

Warning: 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.

I went to the UK back at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013. It was the very first international trip that I had ever planned! It is a good trip to breakdown on here since I had so little money (for such a big trip) to travel with at that point. If you really are bound and determined, you CAN make it happen!

Here’s a look at the dates we had our trip for reference.

12/30/12 – Flew out of DFW

12/31/12 – Arrived at LHR (London Heathrow) after a layover in Frankfurt – midday

1/1/13 – 1/3/13 – 3 Full days in London

1/4/13 – Day trip to Oxford from London

1/5/13 – Day trip on to Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath from London

1/6/13 – Train to Cardiff, spent night there

1/7/13 – Day trip to Tongwynlais and Caerphilly from Cardiff, then train back to London

1/8/13 – Bus ride to Inverness, Scotland

1/9/13 – Full day in Inverness and Dores

1/10/13 – Bus to Edinburgh

1/11/13 – Full day in Edinburgh

1/12/13 – Bus back to London

1/13/13 – Fly out of LHR back home

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Conveniently Labeled Underground Station

Plane Tickets:

William and I purchased the majority of our plane tickets with miles. This was before I knew anything about how they worked or how to use them…..I simply knew they existed. Somehow, my dad and I had struck up a conversation concerning them, and he offhandedly mentioned, “Oh, I have about 100,000 miles about to expire with American Airlines.”

WHAT!!!!

After expressing my disbelief and bravely offering my services to put them to good use, my dad told me I could use them as long as I paid for any of the other fees. This conversation had occurred over a year before this London trip, so I used 25,000 miles to fly round trip to New York to visit one of my best friends, Juan, the previous year. We then applied the other 75,000 (probably a bit more) points towards London. We were short by a few thousand miles, and after all of the taxes and fees were factored in, it cost about $600.

Cost of airfare per person: $300.

Lodging:

These were the days before I knew about Airbnb, and William didn’t feel comfortable staying somewhere where we had to share a room. We definitely could have found a better accommodation looking back. In London, we stayed at the Easy Hotel. There are several locations across London, but the 2 we have experience with are the Kensington and Paddington locations. They were essentially EXACTLY the same. You get a bright orange “room” with a mattress surrounded by wall on 3 sides. There is a little patch of floor that allows you to get into your tiny bathroom that may or not may have hot water in the shower. When I first saw the room, I didn’t know whether or not I wanted to laugh or cry. William thought it was hilarious and we never spent time there anyway, so it worked out fine.

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These hotels on average cost about 40 pounds a night, which roughly was about $60. We spent 8 nights in Easy Hotels.

We also stayed in one cheap hotel near the train station in Cardiff for about $40 (can’t remember the name) for one night. Breakfast was included.

In Inverness, we stayed at the cutest Bed and Breakfast called The Quaich. It’s close to the main part of town, the host was very kind, and the breakfast delicious! I also learned at this breakfast the proper way to eat a boiled egg in Scotland with a spoon. It was about $40 a night including breakfast. We stayed here for 2 nights.

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Inverness, where The Quaich was located

Finally, in Edinburgh, we stayed at a terrible guesthouse (can’t remember name). Firstly, there was NO ONE THERE when we arrived at our check-in time. We both didn’t have international calling plans, so we walked down the street and found a local barbershop that let us use their phone to call. It turned out the poor guy had gone to the hospital after having an asthma attack. We had to wait for 30 minutes before he arrived to let us in. I know health comes first, and that’s a very legitimate excuse but it was still inconvenient that only this one person could help us.

The guy did feel bad and upgraded us to a room where we would have our own bathroom (originally supposed to share one). The stay was fine.

The main problem I have with this place though, is that they double charged us for our stay and never fixed it. When I got home, I saw both of the charges on the credit card account. I tried emailing and calling, but could never get in touch with anyone.

I probably could have been more persistent, but I eventually just gave up on getting that money back. We had stayed 2 nights here for about $60 a night after all taxes and fees.

In total, we spent about (or should have without the extra charge) $720 on lodging for 2 people.

Cost of lodging per person: $360

Transportation:

After reviewing the official London transportation website, it looks like things have changed slightly since I was there. However, my advice will be pretty similar. First of all, journeys on buses and the Tube are more expensive if you are buying an individual, single ticket every time. The locals use something called an Oyster card to pay for their fares. This is a card you can load money onto, or buy certain passes and have them connected to your card. At the London Heathrow airport, you can purchase an Oyster card for just 5 pounds and from there, take the Tube straight into the heart of London. You could also turn your card back in at the end of your stay, and get the 5 pounds refunded.

Your fare price will also change depending on what zones you are traveling to and from. You can take a closer look at this map here.

I did all of the math for William and I based on our itinerary using the chart of fares, and it made the most sense for us to buy a week long pass that we activated on 1/1/2013, valid only for zones 1-2 (I feel like ours may have just been zone 1, but this is not an option anymore. More details on passes here).  London Heathrow is actually in zone 6, but it is the only place outside of zone 1 that we needed to get to/from. So we just paid as we went with our new oyster card to our hotel inside zone 1 on the 31st. Keep in mind also, that even though we did several day trips and a night in Wales, we still needed to use the Tube every day to get to and from the special buses, tours or train stations.

A week long pass in just zones 1-2 is currently 33 pounds. With that converted along with the other times we used the Tube, we probably spent about $65 per person on transportation in London.

William and I also used buses in Wales (to Tongwynlais, Caerphilly, and back), Inverness (to Dores and back), and throughout Edinburgh. In total, this probably ended up being about $15 per person.

We also booked most of our longer local travel through Megabus.

  • London to Inverness (about $20 per person, 14 hour route)
  • Inverness to Edinburgh (about $5 per person, 4 hour route)
  • Edinburgh back to London (about $15 per person, 10 hour route)

The other bus we booked was a special bus that literally just went from London to Oxford round trip for a day without any stops in between. I can’t remember the name of the company, but this was about $20 per person.

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On the bus to Oxford

So in total, on buses outside of London, we spent $75 per person.

Finally, we did take a train round trip from London to Cardiff as a splurge. There were buses available, but this was the cheapest route available by train and William really wanted to try one out while we were there! Per person, our train travel round trip was about $60.

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Train Ride to Cardiff

Drum roll please…….In total on ALL transportation, big and small, we spent about $200 per person. For 2 weeks.

Attractions:

William and I did pretty much everything we could possibly fit in, but a lot of the sightseeing was free.

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Most museums in London are free, including the famous British History Museum

For those things that aren’t free in London, they most likely are covered under the London Pass. You can buy a 1,2,3,6, or 10 day pass. We decided to buy the 3 day one because it would save us the most money in the end. It was about $80 per person, but when you consider that certain attractions, such as the Tower of London, are like $30 alone, it adds up quickly.

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Tower of London

You can also add an Oyster transportation option into your London pass, but when we went, it wouldn’t save us as much money.

We paid for other attractions just at the gate (or bought tickets online), as well as booked an undergrounded haunted tour in Edinburgh. We also booked a full day tour that took us to Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath. Admission to Windsor Castle and Stonehenge were included, as well as the transportation and lunch for $90 per person.

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Stonehenge

So for attractions, we spent about $250 per person in total.

Meals:

This is where we REALLY cut back.

Breakfast – For breakfast in London, there was a Sainsbury grocery store down the street a few blocks. This store would always have something called a 3 pound meal deal. For 3 pounds (about $5), we could get a sandwich or some pasta, a bag of chips and a drink. Breakfast was included in Wales and Inverness at our hotel/b&b. Breakfast Total per person: $55.

Lunch and Dinner – We basically ate at KFC and McDonalds for every meal, because everything else was so expensive. Therefore, our meals totaled at about $5 per person per meal. We did branch out every once in a while, so we don’t feel like the trip was “wasted” or ruined. Food isn’t my biggest priority when traveling anyway though.

We ate at a traditional British pub and a Chinatown restaurant in London, as well as a really local neat pub in Dores, Scotland where we tried Haggis.

Total per person for Lunch and Dinner combined: $150.

Total spent on food per person for the whole trip: $205.

Summary:

So the grand total is……. $1,065 per person for EVERYTHING.

Keep in mind this does depend on your priorities. Time is a priority you have to pay for. If you don’t want to take a 14 hour bus ride, it will cost you. Better meals and local fare will cost more. Taking taxis or renting a car will cost more.

But all I really care about in the end is experiencing and seeing the city I’m in. I am pretty much willing to do anything to get there. And William and I had an AMAZING time on this trip!

If that still sounds like too much for a 2 week trip across the UK, keep these tips in mind.

  • I did splurge on some meals
  • I could have bought groceries
  • I could have waited to have all the miles I needed for airfare (reducing the cost per person by $300)
  • I could have earned hotel points and had free lodging (reducing the cost per person by $360)! Or
  • I could have used Airbnb, alltherooms.com , or stayed in a hostel to cut back on lodging costs
  • I could have taken a bus instead of a train to Wales
  • I could have cut out certain attractions

In the end, if you want to get there, you can do it! Do your research, plan in advance, save those points. And I’m always glad to help.

Why Flying Spirit Doesn’t Have to be Bad

Spirit Airlines has a notorious reputation for extra charges and bad experiences. I remember the first time I booked a Spirit Airlines flight, I even felt afraid. I heard the stories. I knew it was a bad idea. But my frugal little heart couldn’t justify not trying it for the price!

Thankfully, it turned out fine! I have actually used Spirit Airlines several times now and have never had any issues. My experience includes:

  • Taking their longest flight from Fort Lauderdale to Lima, Peru at about 5 hours long
  • Booking an itinerary that involved an overnight layover on my way to Haiti
  • Several trips with my husband to Fort Lauderdale and Orlando

I also happen to be a planner. I have found that the reason most people get upset on Spirit Airlines’ flights is because they were unaware of a policy or situation. I want to point out some of the major catches that you can easily find on their website, and to help you decide if Spirit might be a good option for you.

1 – Why Spirit Prices are Lower

Spirit’s philosophy is that you pay the bare minimum to get from point A to point B. You don’t have to pay for the “extras” to do that. Other airlines include flight refreshments, bags, etc. in your base fee and that’s why they charge more. If you don’t need to carry a lot of luggage, if you are traveling alone, or you just plain don’t care, then Spirit is a good option.

It’s true, Spirit has more seats packed on their planes so there is less room. I like to sleep on planes by folding the tray table down and putting my head on top of a pillow on the tray. However, on Spirit flights, I do not have enough room to bend all the way over in a comfortable position. The shorter the flight, the better (though isn’t that always the case?).

There is no entertainment or wi-fi on board. I usually never know if I get one of the good flights with a TV anyway on any airline though. Plan ahead, especially if you have children. Download lots of movies! And since I like to save money anyway, I have never bought wi-fi on a flight so this doesn’t affect me whatsoever. I understand how it is difficult for people traveling on business to be unreachable for a couple of hours, but if my boss can do it, so can you. He flies Spirit often and I have never seen a man get more phone calls than him.

There are no free snacks or drinks, including water. I always travel with a water bottle that I carry through Security empty. Then I find a water fountain and fill up for my flight. I also read once on a forum that you can order ice for free. On my trip to Peru in 2014, I was able to get free ice, which melts into…………….yes, water!

You are charged to pick your seat. Any seat. Luckily, I was flying alone to Haiti and Peru anyway so I just let them randomly select one for me for free. Both times I ended up with an aisle or window seat. When I fly with William, I do have to select seats so that we are together. However, in most cases this is still cheaper than purchasing through another airline. It’s always good to compare prices though! The Spirit website says seat choices start at $5. In my experience, this has usually been the case. So in total, for 2 people going to and from our destination, it’s an extra $20 to sit together.

2 – Baggage

Unlike most airlines, Spirit allows 1 personal item to be carried on for free. The personal item is your smaller item – such as a laptop bag, purse or small backpack. I have brought my regular school backpack from college on every Spirit flight with me completely STUFFED with my items. On most of William and my’s adventures to Florida, we typically only bring a personal item since most of our trips are only a few days long.

On the Spirit website, you can click the Optional Services tab at the top. On that page, you will find something called a Bag-O-Tron which allows you to look at any trip itinerary and see how much it will cost for your baggage depending on when you purchase it. I put in an example of flying from DFW to Fort Lauderdale on a weekend to see my options.

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As you can see, the sooner you decide how many bags you are bringing the better! I always make sure I know when I am making my booking. The only trips I have brought a bag for are Haiti and Peru. For both, I went with just one checked bag and no carry on bag. This is because carry on bags are more expensive!

Another important thing to keep in mind with bags is that the weight limit for checked bags is 40 pounds. This is 10 pounds less than regular airlines in the States. If you go over this limit by even just a pound, the overweight fees are terrible! They start at an extra $30 per bag and go on up from there.

3 – Boarding Passes

Print your boarding pass at home before getting to the airport. Otherwise, Spirit charges $10 for using the check-in counter PER BOARDING PASS. On my first flight to Peru, I was worried because I knew I wouldn’t have access to a printer on my return trip. I printed my pass though for my way down, and discovered they didn’t charge me for checking in and printing at the counter on the way back up. At first, I thought maybe it was a fluke. But on all of my trips, this has always been the case.

4 – Using Miles

Spirit miles have usually been pretty worthless in my opinion. The main reason for this is because they expire after 3 months of inactivity. For most cards or hotels or airlines, points expire at least after a year of inactivity! Since I typically fly Spirit on average once a year, all of my miles from Peru and Haiti and Florida are always lost.

There is a shopping portal through Spirit you can technically use to keep your points active. But the one time I tried it and made a purchase, they still all disappeared. So I don’t trust it.

The only way miles would be advantageous is if you decide to get the Spirit World Mastercard. Anytime you use the cards, you earn points and therefore would easily be able to keep up activity in the account.

The good thing about Spirit miles is you can fly with way less than other airlines! Without the World Mastercard, you can fly one way for 10,000 miles during a standard travel time (distance depending). That is slightly less than what you can usually get from American or United. If you DO have the World Mastercard though, you have access to Off Peak awards. The same trip, as long as it’s during an off peak travel time, would only cost 2,500 miles. Which is such a bargain!

I have attached a link to the pdf file from the Spirit website here that lays out when the off peak, standard and peak travel dates are, how many miles are required based on distance, and a chart that lists all the regions for you.

To summarize, do not bother with Spirit miles unless:

a) You get a Spirit World Mastercard

b) You can travel during off peak times of year

I will be presenting an example in the next section of how I plan on using Spirit miles in the near future.

5 – Spirit World Mastercard

This card is often overlooked in my opinion. If you are okay with Spirit and like to fly within the US/Caribbean area mainly, it can be well worth your while. It earns double miles on EVERY purchase, has a bonus of 15,000 miles after your first purchase, and no blackout dates! It also waives the annual fee for the first year, and then it is $59 a year afterwards.

You can look at more of the details the card offers here.

I plan on getting this card in June. I am wanting to take my best friend and her daughter to Disney World for the first time in April. Since there will be 3 of us, by having this card and choosing dates carefully, I will be able to fly us round trip to Orlando for 5,000 miles each during an off peak time (probably end of April). All I have to do is get the card for free, make one purchase to get the 15,000 mile bonus, and make sure to continue making a purchase at least every 3 months so my miles stay active! Easy.

I probably will not keep this card when the annual fee becomes due, because I don’t think I would be taking advantage of the savings enough on a yearly basis to justify the $59 fee. But depending on your situation, it very well could work for you.

6 – The $9 Fare Club – Is it Worth it?

Probably not. It probably won’t ever be for me. For $59.95 a year, you get savings on bookings and bags. From what I’ve seen, you save about $10 per plane ticket (one way), and about $10 per bag purchased. So if you fly Spirit a lot and like to take bags with you, the savings could be worth it.

For me, I only fly Spirit once a year and usually don’t purchase a bag at all. I would only potentially save a maximum of $40 (round trip for 2 tickets). $59.95 – $40 = Still spending $19.95 extra. This is also assuming that $9 Fare Club Pricing is even available.

7 – Other Tidbits

One thing I really like about Spirit is that their prices almost always stay the same. If you are looking to fly out on a Thursday at a certain time to a certain location, look at several different weeks. It is usually the same price. The flights don’t really fluctuate on a day-by-day basis like other airlines. If you go back in the same browser without deleting the history, the flight price will stay the same. They don’t fluctuate it just based on your interest. It’s easier for planning and budgeting purposes.

Finally, I’d like to note that a lot of people don’t like Spirit because they are known for running late. In my experience, I have only had one flight ever delayed (2 hours). Spirit Airlines does not have as many planes as other leading airlines. So, if one plane gets delayed early in the morning, all of the other flights depending on that plane are affected. They don’t have as many back up plans (not that I really even know how airlines fix these problems). If this is something that worries you, it is better to fly out earlier in the day. The delays build up and affect evening flights the most (although I have almost always flown in the evenings).

 

In Conclusion, of course every airline can give someone a bad experience. But every airline can give a GOOD one too – and this includes Spirit. Let me know if you have any questions and I’d be happy to help answer them. I hope this was helpful!