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On a recent trip to Italy, TPG Contributor Jason Steele and his family spent three nights at the Comfort Inn Bolivar in Central Rome. Here’s what they found.
Our family loves to visit Italy, but it can be very difficult to find family friendly accommodations there. Italian law requires hotels to collect passport information from all guests, and they’re extremely strict when it comes to enforcing the maximum number of guests permitted in a room. Hotel staff will claim this has something to do with fire codes, but it’s pretty clear that selling additional rooms is part of their motivation.
In the countryside it’s easier to find family accommodations (for example, at guest houses on farms known as Agriturismos), but there are very few family friendly hotels in the cities. That’s why we were pleasantly surprised to find the Comfort Inn Bolivar, which features rooms that sleep four in the heart of Rome. Better yet, this property is extremely affordable when you book it with points, and as I’ll explain, this deal is one of the rare cases where it makes sense to purchase points for an award night.
How to book
Comfort Inn is part of the Choice Hotels group, and can be paid for with points from their Choice Privileges program, which is my favorite option for hotels in Rome. For example, during the high season, our room for four sells for 330 EUR per night, which works out to about $434 US. That’s pretty pricey, even for Rome, but it’s not unusual for Italian hotels that essentially price rooms on a per person basis.
This where the Choice Privileges program comes in. It allows members to use their points to book any room in the hotel (other than suites), so our family room was just 10,000 points, the same amount as the smaller rooms. Furthermore, Choice Privileges offers award nights in any unsold room with no blackout dates or capacity controls, so booking this hotel in Rome during the high season was not an issue. The biggest restriction that travelers face is that you can only book these rooms 60 days in advance, and just 30 days in the U.S. and Canada, although Platinum and Diamond elite members can book 75 and 100 days out, respectively.
If you have Choice points from staying at a Choice hotel, or from their Choice Visa card, this may be one of the best properties in the world to use them. American Express Membership Rewards points can also be transferred to Choice hotels. Finally, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards or Starwood points to Amtrak Guest Rewards, which allows transfers to Choice at an amazing 1:3 ratio (that is, one Amtrak point to three Choice points). However, the transfer option is only available to members with Amtrak Guest Rewards Select, Select Plus or Select Executive tier, and Members who are active cardholders of the Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard issued by Chase with an Amtrak travel spend on the card of over $200 per calendar year. See more details here.
Even if you don’t have any points in the Choice Privileges program, you can just buy points for 1.1 cents each, which means that our room would have cost just $110 a night. Unfortunately, only 10,000 points can be purchased at a time, with a limit of 20,000 points per account, per year. But since award nights can be reserved for immediate family members, there’s an easy workaround.
For more information, check out this previous post about Maximizing Choice Hotels Privileges For European Travel. In our case, I was able to purchase 32,000 points during the Amex Daily Getaway earlier this year for just $118! Just note that there is a city tax of 3 Euros per night per person (over age 10) that is collected on all rooms, including award bookings.
About the hotel
The location of this hotel might be its best feature. Its within a mile of the main tourist attractions including the Pantheon, Colosseum, and Trevi Fountains, and is just a mile from Termini, the main train station in Rome. At the same time, we could walk just a few blocks and find neighborhoods with shops and restaurants that appeared to be frequented by Romans, not just tourists.
Nevertheless, we had to pay a steep 48 Euro ($64 USD) cab fare from the airport, on top of which there was an extra charge for baggage! At those prices, couples and single travelers might be better off taking the Leonardo Express train to Termini station for just 14 EUR, even if they have to take a cab the last mile to the hotel.
The property itself is in a pleasant courtyard down a small alley off of a busy main street. This allows it to be exceptionally quiet, even in the center of the busy city. Upon check-in, the front desk staff was quite friendly, and we were even allowed to check into our room after an early arrival, which is often a problem for North American travelers who arrive before the official check-in time after an overnight flight.
I can’t say our room was spacious, but it did have two separate single beds and a double bed, just as promised. Beyond that, it was clean, quiet, comfortable, and tastefully decorated. The television was just a small, flat-panel computer monitor that picked up a handful of Italian channels, but as we needed to remind our kids, we didn’t come to Italy to watch television. Free Wifi turned out to be a far more useful amenity. The hotel didn’t appear to have any parking, alth0ugh I can’t imagine why anyone would rent a car in Rome.
Another highlight of this property was breakfast, which is included for all guests. Located on the fifth floor, the Comfort Inn Bolivar features a charming breakfast room with an exceptional view of the rooftops of the surrounding city. The offerings included juice, coffee, cereal, eggs, meats, and yogurt. It wasn’t extravagant, but more than sufficient for a quick meal before a busy day of sightseeing.
Other Choice hotel properties in downtown Rome also feature rooms that sleep four and can be booked for 10,000 points a night, including the Clarion Collection Hotel Principessa Isabella a little to the north and the Quality Hotel Nova Domus near Vatican City. The Bolivar had the best location for us, and also happened to be the most expensive if we had paid in cash.
Tours and activities for families in Rome
When we visited in mid-July, Rome was overwhelmed with tourists, but we were determined to make the best of our three days there. To that end, we booked tours with Walks Of Italy, including their Rome Food Tour and Best of Rome: Colosseum & City Highlights Tour. The Best of Rome tour was fantastic, and was probably the highlight of our time in Rome.
There are several advantages to booking tours rather than going alone. First, you don’t have to worry about planning your day or navigating the city, since the tour guides lead you around. The best part is that the tour guides arrange tickets in advance and use a separate entrance, so you get to skip the interminable lines. Second, you actually learn a lot about what you’re seeing, rather than just taking photos. In fact, we found our tour guides showing us aspects of the sites that we would never have discovered on our own. Finally, the tour gives you a chance to ask the questions that inevitably come up, and know that you’re getting real answers.
Sadly, we missed out on the food tour after several of us came down with some traveler sickness. Later, we also took their Uffizi Gallery Tour in Florence, which was also top notch. Other activities we enjoyed in Rome were a visit to the Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica, which is free, and some time out in the Time Elevator attraction, which is a motion ride and movie for kids that’s at least mildly entertaining for parents as well. While this premium card has one of the highest annual fees on the market, it has several valuable perks that could make it worthwhile, depending on your travel patterns. These include a $200 annual airline rebate, lounge access, free Hilton Gold status and free Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status.
While this premium card has one of the highest annual fees on the market, it has several valuable perks that could make it worthwhile, depending on your travel patterns. These include a $200 annual airline rebate, lounge access, free Hilton Gold status and free Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status.