How to Fly to Italy Cheap(er) This Year
You say you want to be in Italy this year, but you're appalled by the airfares.
The bad news: Get used to it.
Italy isn't England, where flights from the United States leave every hour on the hour and ticket prices are startlingly low. It isn't Ireland, where Aer Lingus has slashed and simplified transatlantic fares. It isn't even France or Germany, where Lufthansa and Air France give the U.S. airlines a run for their transatlantic money and keep fares down. Italy, unfortunately, has the backward Alitalia and Alitalia is a member of the SkyTeam Alliance that includes three of the five (Northwest, Continental and Delta) U.S. airlines that serve the peninsula. This combination of cupidity and oligarchy is bad news for bargain-hunting travelers.
The good news: There are options.
Despite what you thought--or your travel agent or Web site may have suggested--you can book a flight to Italy at a reasonable price. You just need to think strategically, act tactically and be flexible. You also need to accept that the paucity of airline seats and the popularity of Italy means that it'll always cost you a little more to fly to La Dolce Vita.
With that in mind, here are some tips for flying better and cheaper to Italy.
FORGET COACH. FLY BUSINESS CLASS.
Counter-intuitive as it sounds, it may be more cost effective this year to fly to Italy in the comparatively sumptuous surroundings of business class than in the cramped, unpleasant coach cabins.
A roundtrip coach ticket to Rome, Milan or Venice--the three nonstop destinations offered by the U.S. carriers and Alitalia--will run $1,200 or more on some days during the summer. But both Continental Airlines and Alitalia are offering deep, deep discounts on their business-class cabins. If you buy 50 days in advance and stay over on a Saturday night, you can find a roundtrip business-class ticket for as little as $1,600 from New York. Delta and Northwest Airlines are making similar offers.
How do you find these great deals? You need to look for them. Sadly, most airline Web sites, third-party booking engines and bricks-and-mortar travel agencies are reflexively trained to retrieve only coach fares. On Web sites, select the "more options" link off the home page and search for business class. If you work through a travel agents, make sure to ask them to check business-class prices for you.
FORGET NONSTOPS. MAKE A CONNECTION.
The limited selection of nonstop flights into Italy isn't the only way to fly. If you're willing to accept a connection, you'll stand a good chance of getting your Italy airfares down.
Four carriers in specific--British Airways, Air France, Aer Lingus and Lufthansa--offer an extensive number of flights from the United States and a range of onward flights from their hub to Italy. This comparative bounty of seats means that you may often score a lower price to Italy if you make a connection in London, Paris, Dublin, Frankfurt or Munich. How much can you save? Two or three hundred dollars in the off-peak periods and $300 or more during peak Italy travel times.
There are extremely cost-effective business-class options with a connection, too. Aer Lingus sells roundtrips in business class to Dublin for as little as $1,900 roundtrip and it doesn't even require a an advance purchase. Onward coach flights from Dublin to Naples and other Italian destinations will cost as little as $100 roundtrip more. With a 50-day advance purchase, Air France is selling business-class roundtrips to Italy via Paris for as little as $2,200 roundtrip.
Making a connection in England, France or Germany en route to Italy has another advantage: You'll get a wider choice of destinations. Besides Rome, Milan and Venice, British Airways flies to more than a half-dozen other Italian airports, including Pisa, a great gateway to Tuscany. From Paris, Air France flies to Florence, Tuscany's largest airport, as well as cities such as Genoa, the gateway to the Cinqueterre and the Italian Riviera and Catania, a good place to start a Sicily trip.
And besides its own network of Italian flights from Frankfurt and Munich, Lufthansa is a part owner of Air One, one of Italy's major discount airlines. If you purchase a ticket to Italy on Lufthansa, you can also buy a Visit Italy pass from Air One. That program offers as many as four one-way flights within Italy for as little as $41 each.
FORGET ROME. START IN LONDON.
London is now the transatlantic gateway to low fares thanks to the roster of scheduled flights from the United States and the fast growth of Ryanair, Europe's largest discount airlines. Any major U.S. airline can fly you to London. Virgin Atlantic has extensive schedule, too. British Airways flies to London from 19 U.S. airports. That many flights means lots of bargains, with flights to London as low as $99 each way in winter and less than $250 even during some peak travel times.
Once you get to London, you can hop a flight to Italy on Ryanair. From its hub at Stansted Airport in London, Ryanair flies to 13 destinations in Italy. In many cases, Ryanair flies to smaller airports such as Brescia, Bergamo, Pescara and Rome's Ciampino Airport. They might not be as convenient to the big cities, but they are often closer to the rustic Italian countryside that so many Americans wish to visit.
Ryanair's fares are eye popping. From Stansted to Pisa, for example, the maximum roundtrip fare is about $120, but it's often as low as $30 roundtrip. Or try this: Ryanair charges just $40 one-way to fly from London to Trieste. Alitalia's one-way fare from Rome to Trieste is more than $250.
So consider spending a night or two in London at the start of your Italian vacation. Using a bargain fare to London and Ryanair's cheap service to Italy, you'll probably save enough money to cover your hotel costs in the British capital.
(A note of caution: Ryanair's low fares do not come without concessions. Most notably: Ryanair's free checked luggage allowance is just 15 kilograms, or about 33 pounds per passenger. BA and the other transatlantic carriers permit you to check up to 140 pounds for free. So if you're planning on flying Ryanair, travel light. Or check some of your baggage at Stansted's "left luggage" office. Or be prepared to pay Ryanair's excess luggage charge of about $5 a pound.)
FORGET WHAT YOU KNOW. FIND A NEW DISCOUNTER.
Europe's skies are filled with jets run by discount airlines that Americans have never heard of. In fact, WhichBudget.com, which tracks these things, says that 31 Italian airports now have discount service from at least one low-fare airline. If you're trying to get to Florence, for example, an excellent low-fare carrier called Meridiana can fly you from Madrid or Amsterdam. If you can get to Geneva cheap, a Swiss discounter called FlyBaboo will happily fly you to Florence. If you can get to Brussels cheap, an Italian low-fare carrier called Club Air can fly you from Brussels to Verona, a perfect place to start if you're looking to visit the Veneto.
So check with WhichBudget.com and see if you can match a low transatlantic fare with a low-priced onward ticket to Italy. You'll be surprised at how many options you have and how far intra-Europe airfares have fallen.
FORGET SCHEDULES. GO CHARTER.
Americans hate charters, more for historical than practical reasons. But European holidaymakers--that Eurotalk for vacationers--rely on charters all the time. They're cheap and they fly direct to where you want to go. And, these days, the in-flight experience that charters offer often matches or exceeds what you'll get on a U.S. scheduled carrier.
This summer, an Italian charter airline called Eurofly is crossing the pond. It will fly nonstop from New York Palermo, which means Americans finally have a nonstop option to Sicily. Eurofly is also flying nonstop from New York to Naples, which is a godsend for Americans who want to do the Amalfi Coast. Eurofly will also fly to Bologna nonstop from New York. You'll need to contact a travel agent to book Eurofly, but the prices are attractive: as little as $649 roundtrip. Service starts June 13 and runs until mid-fall.
FORGET "RESTRICTED" MILES. PAY DOUBLE.
Want to cash miles for a free ticket to Italy this summer? Easily done. Just pay the unrestricted level, which is generally twice the number of miles of the "restricted" awards. Think that's unfair? Too bad. What part of restricted did you think the airlines were kidding about? There simply won't be a free mileage awards available at the lower-priced restricted level this summer and very few restricted seats are available in the shoulder seasons in the spring and fall.
So why waste your time? If you've got the mileage required for an unrestricted award, spend it. Unrestricted awards are blissfully simple: If there's an empty seat on the day you want to fly on the flight you wish to book, it's yours.
One last point: Forget the upgrade gambit. Once upon a time, airlines used to allow you to buy a cheap coach seat to Italy and then use a relatively modest amount of miles to upgrade to business- or first-class. Not anymore. They either restrict the upgrade award to the highest-priced coach tickets or they charge you so much to use your upgrade--it's $250 plus 25,000 mile each way at American--that you're better off buying one of those discounted business-class seats that are available.
Copyright © 2005 Joe Brancatelli