How we flew to Italy for (almost) free… and you can too!

How to go to Italy and do all of the things without breaking the bank

Update 9/24: Thank you to our friend Stephanie who pointed out that as of this morning, there is no minimum spend for the Barclaycard AAdvantage® Aviator Red World Elite MasterCard discussed below.  All you have to do is make one purchase.  That means you can buy a pack of gum and then get your 60,000 points! No need to spend $3,000 in 3 months like usual.  Act fast because this may not last long!

If you follow on Instagram or Facebook, you probably saw that we’re just returning from an amazing vacation in Italy! We visited a few different regions and there’s a lot to cover so I’m going to split up these posts into several parts.

positano on miles and points

Positano views

The most important thing to note is that we were able to book plane tickets and hotels for this entire trip on points.  Obviously this saves a lot of money, so we were able to spend money on some great experiences.  If you’re interested in all of the fun things we did in each place I will discuss those, too!

Quick overview of our flights to and from Italy:

advantage miles business class to italy

Ciao Felicia!

2 tickets from DFW to Venice in business class

  • 103,500 American Airlines miles (51,750 each)
  • Value: ~$3400 (~$1700 each)

2 tickets from Rome to DFW in economy

  • 60,000 Alaska Airlines miles (30,000 each) to book a direct flight on American Airlines from Rome to DFW
  • Value: ~$1,070 (~$535 each) plus another ~$1000 because we added flights to Hawaii on the same ticket. Long story but I’ll explain a little bit below. So, ~$2070 total.

Grand total for the roundtrip:

  • 163,500 miles (81,750 each)
  • Value: at least $5,470 ($2,735 each)

How to earn the miles needed for flights between the US and Europe very quickly

I know those numbers seem intimidating but the miles are easier to earn than you think.  With only 2 credit card sign-up bonuses, you will earn enough miles to book these flights or other flights between the US and Italy/Europe.

venice on miles and points

If you know you can meet the minimum spend, you can apply for both of these cards on the same day, but before applying for any credit card, please read some of our posts in the ‘for beginners’ category, especially getting started and the basics.  You can view posts by category in the sidebar or at the bottom if you’re reading on the mobile site.

1. Earn 60,000 AAdvantage miles with 1 sign-up bonus

So, you need 57,500 AAdvantage miles for a one way business class ticket.  The fastest way to earn a large amount of miles is with credit card sign-up bonuses.  American Airlines partners with 2 different banks who issue AA co-branded credit cards.  Those banks are Citi bank and Barclaycard.

Currently, the AAdvantage® Aviator Red World Elite MasterCard®  from Barclaycard has a sign-up bonus of 60,000 AAdvantage miles.  To earn the 60,000 miles, you must:

  • Spend $3,000 on the card within the first 3 months
  • Pay the annual fee of $95

Update 9/24: The current offer is actually no minimum spending requirement! All you have to do is make 1 purchase in 90 days no matter how small.  $95 + gum=60,000 points! This is a great deal and there is no telling how long this will last so apply soon if you’re considering this card!

60,000 Advantage miles is enough for 1 one-way business class ticket between the US and Europe, 2 one-way economy tickets between the US and Europe, or 1 roundtrip ticket between the US and Europe in economy.

2. Earn 30,000 Alaska Airlines miles with 1 sign-up bonus

Alaska Airlines co-branded credit cards are issued by Bank of America.  Currently, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® comes with a sign-up bonus of 30,000 Alaska Airlines*.  To qualify for the miles you must:

  • Spend $1,000 in the first 3 months
  • Pay the annual fee of $75

*Bonus: this card comes with an annual companion ticket.  This is not like Southwest where you can use the companion pass for any flights anytime your pass is active.  Instead, every year you will receive a promo code that you can use one time.  The way it works normally is that you can book a flight (roundtrip or one-way but roundtrip is going to be the best value) and then pay only $99 plus taxes and fees ($22) for your significant other, family member, friend, etc. to fly with you.  This can save lots of money on certain routes such as Hawaii.  Any flight that is solely operated by Alaska Airlines and Virgin America counts for this.  In other words, if any segment is operated by a partner such as American Airlines, you will not be able to use the companion ticket.

What makes this sign-up offer even better is that for your first year, the companion ticket is $0 fare.  so instead of $99 plus $22, you only pay the $22 in taxes and fees.

Quick summary so far

venice on miles and points

2 sign-up bonuses per person earn the miles needed for the exact flights we booked between DFW and Italy or for other flights between the US and Europe.

  • Total credit card applications: 2
  • Total minimum spend required: $4,000 in 3 months*
  • Total miles earned: 90,000
  • Total annual fees: $170

*If you do not think $4,000 in spend is possible, read the post about minimum spending requirements.  You may want to consider using Plastiq to pay some bills that you typically would not be able to pay with a credit card such as rent or a car note.  The fee is 2.5%, so even if you used Plastiq for the entire $4,000, you’re paying a total of $100.  I do not recommend using Plastiq regularly because of the fee associated, but if you’re trying to meet minimum spending requirements for a large sign-up bonus, it’s well worth it.  You can get $500 in fee-free payments after making your first payment of $500 or more if you use this referral link and code 573475.

Another option if you’re a couple traveling together:

To get the exact flights we had, each person would need to signup for the 2 cards mentioned, so that’s 4 cards total.  But you actually could get these flights for 2 people in economy with only 2 or 3 applications between 2 people.

The easiest way is for each person to get the AAdvantage® Aviator Red World Elite MasterCard® because 60,000 AAdvantage miles is enough for a roundtrip economy ticket between the US and Europe.  That would require a total of $6,000 in minimum spend and $190 in fees for 2 people.  

There is one other way for a slightly lower minimum spend, but it requires 3 applications total and $240 total in fees.

One reason you may consider the 3 application method rather than just 2 AA cards would be if you have a need for the Alaska Airlines companion certificates for other trips you may be planning.


Flights from DFW to VCE

Business class tickets on an American Airlines flight from DFW to VCE

57,500 AAdvantage miles each.

  • If you have a qualifying AAdvantage credit card, you get 10% of redeemed miles back on up to 100,000 miles per year. In other words, you can earn up to 10,000 miles back per year.  These miles are usually credited back to your AAdvantage account the same day your tickets are booked.
  • 10% of 57,500 is 5,750 so 57,500-5,750 is 51,750 miles.
  • Since we hadn’t hit the 100,000 mile limit for the year, we each received the 5,750 miles back
  • So these flights were effectively 51,750 AAdvantage miles each.
  • 51,750 miles for a one way business class ticket is reasonable considering these flights cost ~1,700$ each way.*

*I’m basing my one way prices off of half the price of a roundtrip since American Airlines tends to jack up the price for a one way ticket in international fares such as this.  So while it says 7,068$ for a one way on average when I search AA.com for one-way fares between DFW and Venice, that’s not really an accurate number to use when calculating.  According to AA.com, for the same departure date as my one way search, if I were to buy a roundtrip ticket it would be $3438. Yep, you read that right.  A one way business class ticket costs over$3,500 more than a roundtrip business class ticket.  More than twice the price. 🤷‍♀️ American Airlines, but why?! Anyway, the purpose of me telling you that is to explain that I’ll use the lower and more realistic number to calculate values.  So I’ll take the cost of the roundtrip and divide by 2.  So, half of ~$3400 is $1700.

Total spent: 51,750 miles each.  103,500 AAdvantage miles and $11.20 ($5.60 each for TSA fee) total

Total saved: $1700 per ticket, so at least $3400 for both of us.

Economy one way tickets between the US and Europe are as low as 22,500 each way!

You can certainly get to Europe for less.  In fact, if you book with AAdvantage on one of their off peak dates, it’s only 22,500 each way in economy.  Peak dates are 30,000 in economy at the MilesAAver level.  When I first started learning about and using miles and points, we booked mostly economy since business seemed out of reach.  Then I got better at earning miles and points and now it’s nice to be able to book business class on long flights.

Most flights to Europe are overnight. Therefore, we like sitting (sleeping) in business class is on the way to Europe.  It definitely helps to beat jet lag.  It’s so nice to wake up and be able to explore a city after an (almost) full night of sleep.

Return trip: Rome to DFW

rome on miles and points

American Airlines recently added direct flights between DFW and Rome so that was very exciting for us!  Unfortunately, there was no business class award space available at the saver level.  There were seats available in economy though and we liked the idea of a direct flight home.  We knew we wanted this flight but instead of using AAdvantage miles, we used Alaska Airlines miles to book.*

*Alaska Airlines is not in the OneWorld alliance.  Actually they are not in any alliance. But they are a non alliance partner of American Airlines, meaning you can use Alaska Airlines miles to book American Airlines flights and vice versa. 

FCO to DFW-30,000 Alaska Airlines miles each for a direct American Airlines flight from Rome to Dallas. We booked through Alaska Airlines rather than American Airlines for a few reasons:

  • We had some miles in our Alaska Airlines accounts from shopping portals, signup bonuses, etc.
  • We were actually able to book this as our stopover before our Hawaii trip coming up in January. So, for 30,000 miles we’re going from Rome to Dallas for a 4 month “stopover” and then on to Hawaii on the same ticket.  In other words, Rome-DFW and then DFW to Hawaii for 30,000 total. Normally it would be 30,000 miles/points just for the Rome to DFW segment.   More on that later because it gets a little complicated and certainly needs its own post.  But if you’re interested, email me. I can explain how this works before I get that post published.  The stopover trick like this only works with Alaska Airlines, not American Airlines.

Alaska Airlines miles can be transferred from SPG Starpoints, but I value Starpoints very highly so I prefer to earn the miles a different way when possible.  The easiest and fastest way to earn 30,000 Alaska Airlines miles is to sign up for the Bank of America Alaska Airlines credit card I mentioned above.

Total spent on return trip: 60,000 Alaska Airlines miles (30,000 per ticket)

Total value: ~$2070 (~$1035 per person)*

*The one way from FCO on AA typically runs ~$1500 roundtrip, or 750$ each way.  There are cheaper routes between DFW and Rome but as you can see they are pretty inconvenient with long layovers and multiple stops. 

I’ll stay on the conservative side when calculating and use the cheapest option, even though I realistically would pay more to have better flight times/shorter trip.  I picked random dates next year and the prices were pretty consistent for all dates in July and August.

So ~$1070/2=$535 plus the cost of the one way ticket to Hawaii which is ~$500 each.  $535 plus $500 is $1035.

30,000 miles for $1035 is a good value. It’s about 3 cents per point. Remember since I used the calculation of the cheapest flight, if I actually used the value of the convenient nonstop flight, my cents per point value will go up.

Other ways to get these flights between the US and Rome

See also: Best ways to book Europe using Ultimate Rewards

Use American Airlines AAdvantage miles

30,000 miles each way in economy or 22,500 each way during off peak dates as discussed above.

As with Alaska Airlines, you can transfer Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints to American Airlines, but I prefer not to since I value SPG points so highly.

The easiest and fastest way to earn Advantage miles is the credit card sign up bonus mentioned above.

Use British Airways Avios

30,000 Avios each way in economy for DFW-Rome and vice versa.  Remember that British Airways has a chart that is based on distance.  This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the distance of your flight.  So if you’re flying from the east coast, the amount BA charges will decrease since the distance to Europe is less.

Since British Airways Avios can be transferred from Ultimate Rewards, SPG Starpoints, or Amex MR, you can actually book these AA flights if you do not have AAdvantage miles but you have points in one of these three programs.  You would need to transfer the points to British Airways and then use British Airways to book the AA flights.  The easiest way to find availability is by using AA.com to search.  Remember, in order to use Avios, there must be award space at the MilesAAver level.

Sounds great, right? Well unfortunately British Airways imposes a fuel surcharge on transatlantic flights.  This can add hundreds of dollars to your cost in addition to the points/miles/avios you pay.  For more information on the infamous British Airways fuel surcharges, read this post.

Summary:

Plane ticket total miles spent:
  • 51,750  AAdvantage miles + 30,000 Alaska Airlines miles=81,750 miles each
  • 81,750 x 2=163,500

163,500 miles total for both of us

Total plane ticket value:
  • $1700 DFW-VCE per person in business class
  • FCO-DFW in economy $535 per person plus cost of one way ticket to Hawaii ($500 per person) so $1035 per person
  • $1700 + $1035=~$2735 each
  • $2735 x 2=$5470

$5470 total for both of us

163,500 miles for at least $5470 worth of plane tickets is a value of at least 3.3 cents per point.  I consider that a great value.  If you want to learn more about calculating the value of a mile or point click here.

Feel free to contact us with any questions.  I know we post a lot of information that can often be a little overwhelming.  It’s difficult to have a one size fits all plan that we can give when it comes to deciding which credit cards are best since everyone has different travel goals.  But it’s easy for us to guide people once we know the goal!

Ciao!

Laura


One more thing: credit card details for the 2 discussed above:

Want to book a trip to Italy on miles? Consider signing up for these cards (current as of September 2017)

Alaska Airlines Visa Signature

Alaska Airlines co-branded credit cards are issued by Bank of America.  Currently, the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® comes with a sign-up bonus of 30,000 Alaska Airlines.  To qualify for the miles you must:

  • Spend $1,000 in the first 3 months
  • Pay the annual fee of $75

Benefits overview:

  • Limited Time Offer: Buy 1 ticket, get 1 for just the taxes and fees with Alaska’s Companion Fare™ ($0 fare plus taxes and fees from just $22) after you make $1,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of your account opening. There are no blackout dates.
  • Annual companion fare: getanother Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 plus taxes and fees from $22) every year on your account anniversary valid on Alaska and Virgin America flights booked on alaskaair.com. There are no blackout dates.
  • Free checked bag on Alaska and Virgin America flights for you and up to six other passengers on the same reservation
  • Earn 3 miles for every $1 spent directly on Alaska Airlines and Virgin America purchases
  • 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases
AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard

Earn 60,000 AAdvantage miles after paying the annual fee and spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of opening the  AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite MasterCard from Barclaycard.  The annual fee is $95

Benefits Overview:

    • First checked bag free for the primary cardmember and up to 4 companions on eligible bags when traveling on domestic itineraries operated by American Airlines.  Although a checked bag is free on flights between the US and Europe on American Airlines, you will usually pay $25 each way for a checked bag.  If you fly two roundtrips on American that covers the annual fee.
    • 10% of your redeemed miles back on up to 100,000 miles per year (10,000 miles maximum per calendar year)
    • Preferred boarding for the primary cardmember and up to 4 companions on your reservation when traveling on domestic itineraries operated by American Airlines
    • Receive 25% inflight savings on food and beverages
    • Reduced mileage awards
    • Earn 2X miles on eligible  American Airlines purchases
    • Earn 1X miles on all other purchases

 

 

Advertisements

15 thoughts on “How we flew to Italy for (almost) free… and you can too!

  1. I’m so excited to read the entire post!! I’m starting to plan my France vaca for next year! I literally was about to sign up for the Aviator Red card but wanted your option on which airline/cc would be most beneficial for flights. So excited about this post😆Thanks for sharing Laura!!

    • Awesome! Yep, I know I give AA a hard time, but when it comes to Europe flights they have some good options! Since you already have some others with transferable points, I think Aviator is a good choice for you!

      • Hello! I found your blog so helpful! My mom and I are looking to go to Italy in June and I was trying to find the best card for us to sign up for to do this. After doing some research through your blog, it seemed like the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard was the best deal right now. I was looking to fly from LAX to Rome or Milan. Seems like you can get a free flight with 60,000 miles. Does that seem correct? This page was so helpful!!!

      • That is correct, if AA has availability at the MilesAAver level! If you’re going to get this card, do it ASAP because I believe that deal expires on November 30th. Once you earn the miles, start looking for tickets. June is far enough out that you should be able to find award availability at the milesAAver level (which is 60,000 miles roundtrip). When you’re searching for award tickets with AAdvantage miles, look for flights operated by AA and not British Airways. British Airways is infamous for tacking on fuel surcharges which can add hundreds of dollars in fees, even if you’re booking with AA miles. But if the flight is operated by AA, the taxes and fees are minimal. If you can’t find MilesAAver availability to Rome or Milan, you can check other major European cities such as Frankfurt, Zurich, or Madrid. Then just book a cheap flight or train from whatever city you fly into to the city in Italy you want. Hope that helps, feel free to contact me if you have other questions!

  2. Pingback: 10 days of 4-star hotels in Italy for free!

  3. Pingback: Spend more time enjoying Italy and less time in transit!

  4. Pingback: How To Pack For Italy With Only A Carry-On Suitcase • The Miles Genie

  5. Pingback: Affordable unlimited data while abroad: get a mobile hotspot!

  6. Pingback: 8 Venice hotels that you can book with points • The Miles Genie

  7. Pingback: Venice photos and recommendations • The Miles Genie

  8. Pingback: 7 Florence hotels that you can book with points • The Miles Genie

  9. Pingback: Tuscany photos from our recent trip • The Miles Genie

  10. Pingback: Positano photos and recommendations • The Miles Genie

  11. Pingback: Capri recommendations • The Miles Genie

  12. Pingback: 17 Rome hotels that you can book with points

Leave a Reply