How a Family of 4 Can See Italy for $1,000 or Less

By Holly Johnson on 9 July 2018 0 comments

Italy is one of the most visited countries in the world, and for good reason. This boot-shaped nation boasts ancient ruins and historical landmarks, world class art, towering mountains, beaches, and wineries. You can see the famous works of Michelangelo one day, hike a cliff that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea the next, and tour the world-renowned Colosseum or Roman Forum shortly after. And all these wonders are only hours away at any given time.

Plus, the sights and landscapes in Italy are only part of the allure. The food is also a huge draw. Tourists flock to Italy for the world's best pizza and pasta, amazingly fresh produce, and of course, award-winning wines.

There are about a million reasons to visit Italy and only one to avoid it — the cost. As with many European countries, Italy can be expensive to visit.

Fortunately, Italy is a country with modern transportation, inexpensive lodging options, and plenty of airports. You can fly into nearly any corner of the country, visit all the must-see destinations via high-speed train, and opt for an affordable bed-and-breakfast if you want.

Food doesn't have to be expensive, either. You can dine at Michelin-star eateries overlooking famous piazzas, but you can also pick up a piece of pizza or a sandwich for a few euros. At the end of the day, you can spend as little or as much as you want on your Italian vacation; it all depends on your choices and where you choose to splurge.

But what if you could cover the entire trip with travel rewards? For the average family of four, we think it's possible to get this trip for $1,000 or less. Here's how:

Cover your flights with airline miles

One of the most expensive components of any trip abroad is airfare, and there's not a lot you can do to bypass this expense other than rack up airline frequent flyer miles. The good news is, there are several ways to earn enough miles to get to Italy on miles alone — even if you're traveling with four people.

One of the best programs for flights to Italy from the United States is Air France/Flying Blue, the loyalty program for Air France, KLM, and five smaller regional carriers. This is partially because Air France tends to have plenty of award availability for economy flights to Europe, but it's also because it's easy to rack up miles for this program. While Air France/Flying Blue doesn't have its own co-branded credit card, you can transfer points to this program from multiple other credit card rewards programs. (See also: Best Airline Rewards Programs for Trips to Europe)

One-way economy flights to Europe are typically just 25,000 miles plus government-mandated taxes and fees of approximately $125 per person. For a family of four, that means you would need a minimum of 200,000 miles plus up to $500.

While 200,000 miles sounds like a lot, this sum can be earned fairly quickly with some time and the right combination of rewards cards. If both spouses can sign up for several cards that offer 50,000 bonus points, for example, they could earn 200,000 flexible travel points or more in a matter of months.

Plenty of other airlines fly to Italy, however. You could focus on racking up American AAdvantage miles with co-branded credit cards, for example. Since SAAver awards to Europe start at just 45,000 miles round-trip, this program offers solid value for families, provided they can find award availability. And while the Delta SkyMiles program no longer publishes an award chart, you can frequently find round-trip flights to Europe from the U.S. for as little as 60,000 miles round-trip. (See also: How to Score a European Cruise for $1,000 or Less)

Get your hotels covered with flexible travel credit

Once your flights to Italy are covered for $500 out-of-pocket or less, you'll need to get your accommodations covered with rewards. This is where things get tricky when you're traveling as a family of four. While you might be inclined to pick up a co-branded hotel credit card to cover the expense, you may regret it if you do.

In Italy, it is extremely rare to find a hotel with a loyalty program that offers rooms that sleep four. You can check across all the major hotel brands with co-branded credit cards — IHG Rewards, Marriott Rewards, Hyatt, and Starwood Preferred Guest — and the story is the same. Finding a room that sleeps two is a piece of cake if you have enough hotel points, but a room for four is a unicorn indeed.

Your best bet in Italy is loading up on flexible travel credit cards and points in flexible programs. While these two types of rewards may sound similar, they are actually very different.

Flexible travel credit is a travel benefit you can earn with fixed-value rewards cards. Travel credit cards that fall into this category typically offer an upfront sign-up bonus and up to two points for each dollar you spend. On the redemption side, you can cash in your points for statement credits against just about any type of travel at a rate of one cent per point. (See also: Best Credit Cards With Easy Travel Redemption)

Flexible travel credit is great if you have a larger family and need to book a place with more space. You can rack up points to redeem for an Airbnb with a few bedrooms, for example. Doing so can make your family travel experience a lot more comfortable than if you were stuffed in a single hotel room. Plus, having a kitchen can help you save money if you prepare some meals at "home" instead of dining out.

The other kind of flexible travel programs we speak of include programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou rewards. These programs let you rack up points that can be transferred to hotel and airline programs or used to book travel through their respective travel portals. (See also: Best Credit Cards That Transfer Points to Airlines and Hotels)

This strategy can be beneficial since these portals make all kinds of hotels available — not just hotels with the big brands. You can frequently find smaller bed-and-breakfasts or boutique hotels that sleep four in "family rooms" with these programs, and for fewer points than you might think.

Recently, I booked a room for five at the Hotel Del Golfo in Naples, Italy for just 10,058 points per night. You do have to dig to find properties like this, but they absolutely exist.

No matter which strategy you choose, it's possible to get all your hotels or rental condos in Italy covered with rewards. Just like with your flights, you'll need to sign up for a few different travel credit cards and plan it out as you go. (See also: How to Vacation in Greece for $300 or Less)

Covering excursions with rewards

Getting your flights and lodging covered is great, but what about everything else? When you're so close to so many sites of historical significance and famous art, you absolutely have to go.

Fortunately, you can also use rewards to cover day trips and excursions. One strategy to consider is using flexible travel credit to book your own excursions and tours through a website like Viator. This booking site connects you to options that span from day trips to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to guided tours of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and food tours in Rome. (See also: Once-In-A-Lifetime Experiences I've Earned With Credit Card Rewards)

You can also book many of the same excursions available through Viator through a popular credit card rewards portal, which can be a smart move.

If you employ all of these strategies, you should have your flights, lodging, and excursions covered for $500 or less. This leaves you with $500 to spend on food and other attractions, which is a real possibility if you're willing to eat cheap.

A fancy restaurant overlooking a famous square may tempt you, but your money will stretch further if you dine off the beaten path. And the best souvenir is one that's free — the memories you'll be left with for a lifetime.

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How a Family of 4 Can See Italy for $1,000 or Less

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