“My Next Vacation” – Italy

In the next installment of “My Next Vacation,” I’m going to take a look at what it takes to get to Europe! As you may recall, this series is intended to outline a step by step process to get you on your next vacation for pennies on the dollar. You’ve heard it from me and probably from others that it is possible to take a once-in-a-lifetime trip for a mere fraction of what it would cost otherwise. And you want in.

How do we do it? Well, banks want customers. They want you to use their credit cards. And they’d prefer that you not pay them off every month so that they can reap huge profits from you through their outrageous interest rates. In return for signing up for said credit card(s), they’re willing to give you a bonus of sometimes cash, other times credit card points or airline miles. That’s where we can leverage our wonderful credit scores and smarts to never succumb to carrying a balance and make out like bandits!

One thing to keep in mind is that in order for this to work, you need to plan ahead. You can’t decide that you’d like to take a trip in 3 months (or even 6 months) and expect to have the points/miles in hand immediately to do so. But once you get into the rhythm of garnering points or miles through credit cards, it is much easier to plan something closer to travel.

While I won’t delve too deeply into the foundation of pursuing this path, I’d be remiss if I did not mention that in pursuit of these miles and points, you MUST pay off your balance every month. You MUST have a great credit score. And you MUST not have a large purchase that you intend to finance in the next two years or so (think mortgage). If these apply to you, read on!

How do we do it?

Italy is on the bucket list of most, but getting there can be really expensive. However, by signing up for 2 or 3 credit cards per person (assuming a couple is traveling), you can get airfare plus 6 nights in some of the nicest hotels in the country.

Wife starts by signing up for the American Airlines Platinum Select Credit Card from Citibank. This gives her 53,000 AA miles once meeting the minimum spending required ($3,000 in 3 months). Wife also signs up for the Chase Hyatt credit card which gives her 2 free nights at any Hyatt in the world after spending $1,000 on the card within the first 3 months of card opening. Together, she will need to spend $4,000 on these two cards within 3 months. She should make sure she adds husband as an authorized user so he can help with the spending.

Once meeting the spending is on the horizon, husband signs up for the same two cards using the same process. Then after his spending is met, either person signs up for the Citi Hilton Honors Reserve card which gives them two free weekend nights at any Hilton property in the world. Keep in mind that a weekend as defined by this program is a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night stay.

So, now they have the miles and points they need for their vacation. American Airlines only charges 20,000 miles each way per passenger in coach when flying between anywhere in the continental US and Europe between October 15 and May 15 (off-peak). That price is the same whether you’re flying from Los Angeles or New York city. In order to maximize our miles, we could schedule our trip entirely during that period so our roundtrip total would be only 40,000 miles. Or we could depart the US in that range and pay the sAAver rate of 20,000 miles for the one way and then pay the peak rate of 30,000 miles for the return (something like departing on May 15, returning on May 25). This would use 50,000 miles per person.

Keep in mind when booking your award that you’ll want to avoid flights on British Airways and you’ll want to avoid connecting in the United Kingdom if at all possible. This is because either or both of these things will increase your out of pocket taxes considerably.

Now, onto the hotels. The only Hyatt in Italy is in Milan and boy, is it a nice one. Paid rates can go up to $1,000 a night for a standard room. But with the four free nights they have between the two of them, they can stay there for free! The best way to leverage these four nights with the two free weekend nights from Hilton would be to do four nights in Milan and two nights in Rome. The Waldorf Astoria property (Rome Cavalieri) is another amazing property. They would just need to make sure that they stay there either a Friday and Saturday night or a Saturday and Sunday night.

So, to summarize, they would fly from the US to Milan and spend 4 nights at the Park Hyatt Milan. Then they would connect themselves to Rome (either via train or cheap flight) and they would spend 2 nights there at the Rome Cavalieri. They could extend their stay in Rome by either paying for a hotel or by leveraging another credit card (just ask if you want suggestions). They then would fly out of Rome back to the US. They could also reverse the order by flying to Rome first and flying home from Milan, they just would need to make sure they scheduled their time in Rome over a weekend.

This would be an amazing trip to one of Europe’s finest countries. But keep in mind that it’s not free. There are taxes on the award flights. There is food to be paid for and local transport to be considered. But a paid vacation to Italy, staying at some average hotels, easily runs several thousand dollars for a couple. This vacation would cost a fraction of that and would involve staying at some of the nicest hotels in the country.

Keep in mind that you could do something similar to other European countries. You’d just need to make sure that there was a Hyatt property there (France and Austria come to mind). It’s never too difficult to find Hilton properties. If you have something in mind and want to run it by me, I’m happy to help.

Another great vacation highly subsidized by credit card companies! What are you waiting for?

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