Whenever I talk to people about their dream vacations, the topic almost always turns to Italy.
After all, most people dream of seeing Venice, a masterpiece built on water which is often referred to as “the city of love.” Others want to see Rome and the great Colosseum. Of course, there’s also Tuscany, a region in central Italy known for its rolling hillsides and historic wineries. Then there’s Genoa, Pisa, Naples, and Cinque Terre, as well as the other hundreds of cities and villages that make up Italy’s unique culture and landscape.
If you’re considering a trip to Italy, you’re probably worried about the cost of such a trip. After all, you’ll have flights and lodging to worry about, in addition to paying for food and incidentals. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to fly and stay in Italy for free, or almost free. How? By pursuing credit card rewards.
How it Works
If you’re reading this site, you probably already know just how lucrative credit card rewards can be. If not, I’ll give you a quick rundown of how it works and you can also read our beginner’s guide. Basically, credit card issuers offer certain perks for signing up for new cards and reaching certain minimum spending requirements.
In most cases, those perks come in the form of cash back, airline miles, or free hotel stays. A little bit of strategy can go a long way when it comes to pursuing rewards, and can even fund entire trips if you play your cards right. In fact, they could even fund an entire trip to Italy. Want to see Italy? Do this:
Visiting Italy With Credit Card Rewards
Note: This plan was created for a household with two point-earners, and can be tweaked to your particular schedule. There is a LOT of flexibility here, depending on what part of the country you visit, which particular hotels you want to book, etc. This guide is the perfect start and can be used as is, or you can look for other cards to help stretch your trip even further (more on that below).
Step 1: Hotels
This is probably the category with the most flexibility, so I’ll recommend one of the most helpful and versatile hotel cards right now: the The Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card. With the current signup bonus, you’ll earn 75,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months after account opening. You’ll also get a free anniversary night at any category 1-5 Marriott property after the first year. And, the $85 annual fee is waived the first year! Once you add the points you’ll earn from meeting the spending requirement, you’ll at least have 78,000 on each card, so 156,000 total points between the two of you.
Right now, these points can be transferred to the Starwood program fro some real value. Your 156,000 Marriott points will be worth 52,000 Starpoints immediately after you transfer them. Here are some great hotels where you might use them, along with the points per night cost:
- Sheraton Roma Hotel & Conference Center (4,000 SPG points)
- Sheraton Golf Parco de Medici Hotel and Resort, Rome (7,000 SPG points)
- Sheraton Diana Majestic, Milan (12,000 SPG points)
- Westin Palace Milan (12,000 SPG points)
- Westin Excelsior Florence (25,000 SPG points)
- The Gritti Palace, Venice (30,000 SPG points)
- St. Regis Rome (30,000 SPG points)
With just your SPG points, you’d earn 13+ free nights at the Sheraton Roma Hotel & Conference Center! Now, it depends how you want to travel. That hotel is out of the city center, but you might also stay one night at the St. Regis in Rome or one of the beautiful Westin properties in Florence or Milan. That’s the great thing about these points, you can stretch them on cheaper hotels and still have some left over for a night or two of luxury!
This card is a great way to take advantage of the current Marriott and Starwood deals, and its bonus would come in handy for a trip to Italy.
Click here to compare this card and learn more.
Step 2: Airfare
Many travelers can find good deals flying with American Airlines. You can find one-way flights in the “off-peak” season as low as 22.5K points, so 45K round trip. There are multiple ways to go about getting these points. Some cards earn AA miles directly, and others allow you to transfer your points. You can check out our current credit card offers to find the best active deal.
Here are a few other tips:
- Stay away from BA. Make sure to choose flight itineraries that do not include British Airways for any leg of your trip. They charge ridiculous fuel surcharges that other airlines don’t charge.
- Keep an open mind. Be flexible when it comes to your travel dates. For example, you might have to travel during the week to get the best flights or find the best off-peak seats. Being flexible with your travel dates will allow you to get the best bang for your buck when it comes to point redemption.
- Experiment with taxes and fees. Taxes and fees for your flights will vary by the city you fly into/out of as well as the airlines you use. As an example, I found an American flight into Venice, Italy on November 4th and out of Milan, Italy on November 12th for a total of 90,000 AA miles and $152.00 for two people. Play around with the calendar and your destination cities until you find the best deal.
Step 3: Other Travel Expenses
Like with any trip, a vacation to Italy will be full of the unexpected. You’ll take trains, eat good food, and spend a lot of time exploring. These costs can add up, in addition to any initial travel that your points didn’t cover. That’s why it’s a great idea to have a credit card or two with flexible redemptions. That’s where the Capital One Venture really comes in handy.
This would be the perfect card to cover cab fares, train tickets, Airbnb stays, taxes and fees, and any other expenses that aren’t accounted for by other points. The current offer is 50,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 in the first three months, and the $95 annual fee is waived the first year. You’d earn 6,000 miles by meeting the early spending bonus, so you’d have a total of $560 in travel expense credits. If both people get the card, that’s $1,120! These can be redeemed for any amount, making them the perfect flexible solution.
I love having flexibility in a credit card, especially when it helps you cover the unexpected. There’s nothing worse than thinking you’re taking a “budget” vacation, only to have a bunch of small expenses add up and cost you hundreds of dollars. This card can help prevent that and keep your trip fun and cheap!
Tips and Other Options
This might seem like a lot to take in, but once you get the hang of it you’ll realize that it’s fairly simple. Keep in mind that you can spread the sign-ups out over time, for as long as it takes. And remember that this is your regular spending and you will pay your credit card balances in full, so you will not be paying any interest expense at all. This is not an opportunity to spend more money than you normally would on your credit cards, because that might defeat the purpose of “saving” on the trip. If you do choose to stagger the cards, as most people do, you simply sign up for the next card on your list as soon as you’re almost finished meeting the minimum spending on the last one.
The cards we included in this guide should get you started in the right direction. But there are definitely a TON of ways you could plan your trip, and other cards could give you more flexibility. Don’t be afraid to look at other options, but you also can’t go wrong with the guide as-is. To learn more about great credit card offers, check out our credit cards page where we post the best deals we can find.
You’re on your Way!
Want to see Italy? As you can see, you can, and you can do it for far less than you’ve ever dreamed. All it takes it a little bit of planning, research, and discipline to make it happen. So, figure out your game plan, and decide where you want to go. Then sign up for the appropriate cards and make it happen. And it’s definitely worth it for a free trip to Italy, am I right?
Have you ever wanted to see Italy? What’s stopping you from making it happen?
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