Best Ways to Get to Italy Using Points and Miles
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Between pasta, pizza, wine, beaches and some of the world’s fastest supercars, Italy is the perfect pace for both a relaxing getaway and a jam-packed adventure. One of the most populous countries in Europe, Italy is home to dozens of different historical and tourist destinations. All three of the US legacy carriers fly to Italy, and there is even a cool fifth-freedom route you can fly to make your trip a little more exciting.
Today we’ll take a look at the best ways to get to Italy on points and miles.
Airlines That Fly to Italy
While Italy has a number of major airports, today we’re going to focus on the three most popular international gateways: Rome (FCO), Milan (MXP) and Venice (VCE). Note that both Rome and Milan offer alternative airports, but if you’re booking from the US, chances are quite good that you’ll arrive into or depart out of one of these three. And other than a few exceptions (which we’ll talk about later), your award tickets will cost the same, no matter which destination you pick and regardless of whether you’re flying from the East Coast of the US or the West Coast.
To make this list a little more approachable, I’ve broken it down by the three major alliances as well as notable non-alliance carriers.
United has a number of different routes from the US to Italy. It flies to Rome from its hubs in Newark (EWR), Washington-Dulles (IAD) and Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), and from Newark to Milan and Venice.
The following Star Alliance carriers also fly to Italy:
- Air Canada flies from both Montreal (YUL) and Toronto (YYZ) to Venice and Rome, and also from Toronto to Milan
- Austrian flies from Vienna (VIE) to Milan, Venice and Rome. Flights to Rome are operated by Eurowings
- LOT Polish flies from Warsaw (WAW) to Milan and Venice
- Lufthansa flies from its hubs in both Frankfurt (FRA) and Munich (MUC) to Milan, Venice and Rome
- SAS flies from its hubs in Copenhagen (CPH), Stockholm (ARN) and Oslo (OSL) to Rome and Milan, and from Copenhagen to Venice
- Swiss flies from Zurich (ZRH) to Milan, Venice and Rome
- TAP Portugal flies from Lisbon (LIS) to Milan, Venice and Rome
- Turkish flies from Istanbul (IST) to Milan, Venice and Rome
American Airlines flies a number of routes from the US to Italy. The carrier flies from New York-JFK, Charlotte (CLT), Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) to Rome, as well as from JFK and Miami to Milan and Chicago to Venice. And while we’re focusing on Rome, Milan and Venice for the purposes of this guide, it’s worth nothing that American is launching service from Philadelphia (PHL) to Bologna (BLQ) starting June 6, 2019.
The following Oneworld airlines also fly to Italy:
- British Airways flies from its hubs in London-Heathrow (LHR), London-Gatwick (LGW) and London-City (LCY) to Rome and Venice, and from Heathrow to Milan
- Finnair flies from Helsinki (HEL) to Milan, Venice and Rome
- Iberia flies from Madrid (MAD) to Milan, Venice and Rome
Delta serves all three of the main Italian destinations from its hubs in New York-JFK and Atlanta (ATL). It also flies from Detroit (DTW) to Rome.
The following SkyTeam airlines also fly to Italy:
- Alitalia, the financially-troubled Italian flag carrier, flies from Rome to New York-JFK, Boston (BOS), Miami (MIA), Washington Dulles (IAD) and Los Angeles (LAX). It also flies from Milan to JFK
- Air France flies from Paris (CDG) to Milan, Venice and Rome
- KLM flies from Amsterdam (AMS) to Milan, Venice and Rome
Air Italy has been expanding its route network and improving its onboard product. The airline isn’t a member of any of the three major alliances, but Qatar owns a 49% stake in the carrier and has been influencing Air Italy in more ways than one. Air Italy currently flies to the following North American destinations, though note that most flights do not operate daily:
- Los Angeles (4x weekly)
- Miami (5x weekly)
- New York JFK (daily)
- San Francisco (4x weekly)
- Toronto (6x weekly)
Even though Air Italy isn’t a member of an alliance, it’s possible to redeem both British Airways and Iberia Avios for flights on Air Italy, but more on that later.
Other Non-alliance Airlines
- Emirates flies a fifth-freedom route from New York-JFK to Milan.
Best Mileage Options
Given how much of the market share between US and Italy is dominated by US airlines and their European partners, its easier to think about your top mileage options in terms of which alliance you’re using as opposed to which specific program offers the best sweet spots. Once you’ve found award availability, you can then determine which program offers the best combination of mileage rates and out-of-pocket costs.
We’ll start with Star Alliance, for a couple of reasons. First, it offers the most extensive routing options from the US to Italy, and second, it provides a variety of different loyalty programs through which you can book, many of which are quite easy to obtain. Round-trip award costs are shown below:
|Program||Transfer partners||Round-trip mileage costs|
|ANA Mileage Club||Amex||
|Aeroplan||Amex, Capital One, Marriott||
|Avianca LifeMiles||Amex, Capital One, Citi, Marriott||
|Singapore KrisFlyer||Amex, Capital One, Chase, Citi, Marriott||
|United MileagePlus*||Chase, Marriott||
* United recently announced that it was removing its award chart and moving to dynamic pricing for flights on its own metal beginning November 15. The prices shown here are for Star Alliance partner flights, which continue to utilize a fixed award chart (at least for the time being).
ANA offers the lowest mileage rates as it does for many destinations, but there are a few caveats to point out. The first is that you must book a round-trip award, which isn’t a problem for most people but gives you a little less flexibility. In addition, ANA also adds fuel surcharges to award tickets, which can get expensive on select partners like Lufthansa, especially in premium cabins. However, you are allowed both an open jaw and a stopover, meaning you could fly from Chicago to Frankfurt on Lufthansa, stop for a few days, and continue on to Milan. You could then make your way down to Rome before flying back to Chicago, all on the same ticket. That gives you three destinations for the price of one, an absolute steal.
If you’re willing to redeem a few more miles, you can book with Aeroplan and have the flexibility to book one-way awards instead. Aeroplan also passes on fuel surcharges, though only on select carriers, so you’ll want to check out this guide to see what you can expect to pay with various partner airlines. While Lufthansa first class for only 70,000 miles one-way is a great award, the $840 in taxes really hurts the value of a free award ticket.
You might be better off opting for Swiss business class and its ~$20 in taxes for the short overnight flight.
Another program worth considering is Avianca LifeMiles, which has rapidly emerged from the shadows to become one of the most popular (and cheapest) Star Alliance loyalty programs. While it doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges and offers incredibly low award rates, its customer service leaves a lot to be desired. If you think you might need to change or cancel your ticket, it might be worth paying more to book with a different program.
For business and first class flights to Europe, Avianca awards cost marginally more than Aeroplan, but the lack of fuel surcharges more than makes up for it. For the same Lufthansa first class award that costs $840 with Aeroplan, Avianca charges only 84,400 miles and $40. Now this is even lower than you might have been expecting, as the LifeMiles award chart says first class flights to Europe should cost 87,000 miles each way. In a little-known yet wildly consumer-friendly move, Avianca will actually discount mixed cabin awards. Since the second leg of the flight is in business class, not in first, you don’t have to pay the full first-class award rate across the entire itinerary. This actually makes it cheaper to fly New York-Frankfurt-Milan than just New York-Frankfurt, but you won’t hear many complaints about that.
Of course we can’t discuss Star Alliance booking options without talking about United’s decision to move from a fixed award chart to variable pricing, beginning on November 15. Thankfully this only applies to United-operated flights for now, while Star Alliance partner awards will continue to operate based on a fixed award chart. This chart was never the most generous option out there (though like Avianca, United doesn’t pass on fuel surcharges), but it was a good option for people looking to redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points. If you’d been stockpiling United MileagePlus miles in anticipation of a specific redemption, you should check out this post for ideas on how to adjust your strategy appropriately.
If you’ve been planning a trip to Italy, it’s easy to get more than enough miles for a round-trip flight with the current offers on American’s cobranded credit cards. New applicants on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® can earn 60,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening, while applicants to the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® can earn 70,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 4 months of account opening. That’s a perfect sum, as round-trip awards on American Airlines or Oneworld partners cost the following amounts:
- Economy: 45,000-60,000 miles
- Business: 115,000 miles
- First: 170,000 miles
The best deal here would be landing an off-peak economy award and saving a full 25% (or 7,500 miles each way). 2019 off-peak dates to Europe are from November 1-December 14, and they pick up again starting January 10, 2020. You can see that as soon as the calendar turns over to November, one-way economy awards drop from 30,000 miles to 22,500.
You can also consider using distance-based programs like British Airways Avios or JAL Mileage Bank, though these are best for travelers based on the East Coast or to catch a short, intra-Europe flight. Longer flights, or flights that require a connection, noticeably increase the cost of your award. No matter what program you book through you’ll want to actively avoid flights on British Airways metal or with a connection in London, as those come with some very nasty taxes. If you choose to book a flight with Avios, you should aim for a direct flight on American from the east coast. JFK to Milan is just under 4,000 flight miles, meaning it should cost 20,750 Avios each way in economy or 62,000 in business class. When you factor in the frequent Amex transfer bonuses to British Airways, you can potentially get a good deal here.
While United was the most recent carrier to shift to dynamic award pricing, Delta led the charge with its 2015 decision to remove award charts. This makes it hard to talk about award rates through the carrier’s SkyMiles program in consistent terms. Economy awards might cost 25,000 miles each way, or they might cost 70,000. The only way to know is to fire up delta.com and see what price you get on your desired date(s) of travel.
Business class can get even scarier, with the lowest fare for the entire month of May 2020 pricing out at 320,000 miles one-way from New York-JFK to Rome. Ouch.
Before booking any of Delta’s egregiously-priced flights, you should check with Virgin Atlantic, as the carrier’s Flying Club program can get you some terrific value on Delta-operated award tickets. For example, on February 10, 2020, Delta wants 80,000 miles for a one-way business class award from New York to Milan, while Virgin Atlantic will sell you the same flight for 50,000 miles.
While you can get Delta SkyMiles through transfers from Amex, Virgin Atlantic partners with Amex, Chase and Citi ThankYou Rewards, giving you an array of options for boosting your Flying Club balance.
Another SkyTeam option for flights to Italy is Flying Blue, the loyalty program of Air France, KLM and a handful of other (smaller) carriers. Unfortunately, it too switched to a variable pricing model in 2018, so there’s no longer as much value to be found. You should start with the program’s award calculator to get an idea of the starting price for your trip, though if you’re looking to fly a premium class, prices can vary significantly. You’ll also be subject to fuel surcharges on many carriers.
Your best bet for leveraging Flying Blue might be the program’s rotating promo awards. Current North American options include Minneapolis (MSP), Salt Lake City (SLC) and Toronto (YYZ). This allows you to book flights in specific classes of service from select cities to Europe for 25-50% off the standard award rates. When you consider the fact that Flying Blue partners with Amex, Capital One, Chase and Citi, you have an array of options for quickly earning a large number of miles to put toward these redemptions.
A final option for locking in SkyTeam award flights is Alitalia. However, the program did implement a new award chart at the beginning of the year. Round-trip awards from the US to Italy used to require 50,000 miles in economy or 80,000 miles in business class, but now those same tickets will set you back 60,000 miles or 140,000 miles, respectively.
The good news is that Air Italy flights can be booked directly on the British Airways website, though the usual considerations apply. Fuel surcharges are incredibly high, and flights departing from the US are more expensive (~$550) than flights originating in Europe (~$200).
Award availability is fairly generous, with many flights having four business class awards available. Under British Airways’ new partner award chart, flights to Miami, New York and Toronto will all cost 25,750 Avios in economy and 77,250 Avios in business. Meanwhile, flights to LA or San Francisco will cost 31,000 Avios in economy or 92,750 in business.
While economy prices are the same between British Airways and Iberia, business class awards are cheaper through Iberia. Flights to the East Coast and Canada only cost 62,500 Avios, while flights to the west coast price out at 75,000 Avios in business class. Of course, this comes with three major caveats:
- You can only book partner awards as round-trips through Iberia.
- Once an award is ticketed, you can’t make any changes to it.
- You must call to book Air Italy awards using Iberia Avios.
It’s up to you to decide whether those restrictions are worth the savings to you or not. There are also cases where Iberia doesn’t seem to be passing on the complete fuel surcharges for Air Italy flights, which could amount to several hundred dollars of savings. There doesn’t seem to be much consistency around this, though it primarily happens on flights that include a connecting segment on Air Italy.
Emirates Fifth-Freedom Flights
While it’s not the cheapest way to get to Italy, Emirates’ fifth-freedom route between New York-JFK and Milan is certainly the most luxurious way to make this trip. The flight is operated by the airline’s flagship, double-decker A380, featuring fully enclosed, gold-studded first-class suites, an onboard shower and a walk-up bar. That’s a lot of entertainment packed into an eight-hour flight, and it might be too tempting to party all night instead of resting and hitting the ground running.
Still, Emirates isn’t just all flash and no substance; it’s earned its reputation by providing top-notch food and service in addition to its world-class hard product. If you want to try it for yourself, you can book one-way awards at the following rates. Note that most of these programs will tack on about ~$550 in fuel surcharges for first and business class awards, but that’s a small price to pay for a bucket-list flight.
|Frequent flier program||Transfer partners||One-way award costs|
|JAL Mileage Bank||Marriott||
|Emirates Skywards||Amex, Capital One, Marriott||
|Qantas Frequent Flyer||Citi ThankYou, Capital One, Marriott||
|Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan||Marriott||
If you’re looking to plan a trip to Italy, what’s the best strategy to ensure you earn enough points and miles to cover your flights? I’d personally recommend going after transferable credit card rewards like American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. Many of these programs’ cards appear on our list of top travel rewards credit cards, and the best part is the flexibility each one offers. Instead of being locked into a specific currency, you can earn points that can be converted into a variety of airline programs when you’re ready to book. This minimizes the risk of a sudden devaluation and allows you to potentially choose the perfect combination of miles and taxes/fees for your award ticket.
Some of my personal favorite cards that can help with this endeavor include:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450 annual fee): Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. You’ll enjoy 3x points on travel and dining along with a $300 annual travel credit, Priority Pass Select membership and primary car rental coverage (among many other perks).
- The Platinum Card® from American Express ($550 annual fee, see Rates and Fees): Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first three months — though be sure to check and see if you’re targeted for a 100,000-point bonus through the CardMatch Tool. You’ll earn 5x points on airfare booked directly with the airline and enjoy an array of perks like Priority Pass membership, Delta Sky Club access (when flying Delta), Centurion Lounge access and a $200 annual airline fee credit.
- Citi Premier Card ($95 annual fee): Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months of account opening. Enjoy 3x points on travel purchases (including gas) and 2x points on dining and entertainment.
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card ($95 annual fee, waived in year one): Earn 50,000 bonus miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. You’ll earn 2x miles on purchases. Miles can be redeemed directly for travel or transferred to various airline partners.
For more details on how these programs can help you book awards across the major carriers, check out the following posts:
- Best ways to redeem Amex points: Star Alliance, Oneworld, SkyTeam
- Best ways to redeem Chase points: Star Alliance, Oneworld, SkyTeam
- Best ways to redeem Citi points: Star Alliance, Oneworld, SkyTeam
- Best ways to redeem Capital One miles: Star Alliance, Oneworld, SkyTeam
- Best ways to redeem Marriott points: Star Alliance, Oneworld, SkyTeam
Despite the small number of airlines that actually fly nonstop from the US to Italy, there is a plethora of options for redeeming your travel rewards to reach this popular destination. You can opt for a nonstop flight for convenience or leverage an alliance partner like Lufthansa to experience a world-renowned foreign airline. However, if you’re originating in New York, you should absolutely consider splurging for an Emirates first-class award.
Regardless of how you choose to get there, however, your hard-earned points and miles will have you saying, “Ciao!” to an Italian vacation before you know it.
For rates & fees of the Amex Platinum, please click here.
Featured photo by Apexphotos / Getty Images.
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