Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Alrighty, let’s say you’re planning a trip to Italy.  First advice is definitely to plan well in advance – minimum of six months or so for planning/scheduling/budgeting things as optimally/economically as possible.  Unless of course you’re made of money, in which case feel free to throw handfuls of it up in the air, have your personal travel advisor make all the plans for you, and just leave tomorrow.  If this describes you, please call me – I will happily plan your trip, and promise to keep my advisory fee under six figures.

But if you’re like me – not poor, but not exactly stumbling over piles of spare C-notes on the way to the bathroom – you’re going to want to minimize your costs, budget as much as possible, and pre-pay for what you can to avoid getting too over-your-head on credit card stuff.  So with that in mind, let’s take a stab at the three big items you’re going to need to plan for:  air fare, hotels, and in-country transport (trains, car rentals, etc.).  For this entry, we’ll just look at air fare.

So, how can you fly to Italy on the cheap?  


Briefly, there ain’t no such thing as a “cheap” flight to Italy.  Economy fares range from “Good lord, how much?” to “black market organ donations required” levels, while business/first class prices will make you wonder if they’re planning on throwing in a Fiat or pair of Vespas as a free gift with purchase.  Rules of thumb are:
  • Aside form getting one of the biggest individual expenses of the trip out of the way early, there’s really no huge benefit to reserving many many months in advance.  We saved a bit due to increases in fuel costs that trickled in a few months after we booked, but all in all you won’t see lots of savings by booking 6 months out
  • Flights are least expensive during the off-season, September through March (excluding travel around the major holidays)
  • Insanely expensive pretty much all of the rest of the time
  • Flights from the east coast are slightly less expensive that those from the central US or west coast.
  • If you’re planning on visiting other parts of Europe, it may be somewhat less expensive to fly in London or Paris, then use the trains to visit Italy.  If you were thinking of hitting England, France, Spain, etc. anyway, check to see if flying into/out of these countries saves enough to offset the travel time between countries -- Paris was typically about $100 less, while London often saved $200-300.  You'll need to factor in the cost of inter-country transport and the time spent in transit to determine whether these are "real" savings for you.  More on that when we discuss train travel ...

What We Did:

Since we planned on sticking with destinations inside of Italy, we just bit the bullet and found the best prices we could on flights into and out of Rome.  This turned out to be approximately $1300 each (like I said, OUCH).  These were round-trip out of Austin, with a layover in Charlotte, NC followed by direct to Rome.  We could have saved a bit (~$75-100 per ticket) with additional layovers but frankly we didn't feel the savings were enough to justify the additional time spent stressing out in airports and airplanes. Prices going into Naples or Milan were pretty much identical as well.

Given how much cash we were sinking into plane tickets, we went ahead and bought the trip insurance for the tickets, too – about $100 more for each ticket, but frankly in this case I think it’s worth it.  YMMV.

Next up:  Hotels.

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