Getting to Rome — Flying the Friendly Skies

Getting to Rome can be an expensive affair. With oil prices higher than they have ever been, airline costs have increased dramatically which means…higher ticket prices!! Finding the best deal for your airline ticket might be harder to do with the price of oil hitting record highs each day. I’ll outline some tips, tricks, and tools for getting to Rome by air.

How Much Is This Going to Cost Me?
A ticket to Rome during the peak season is going to run you between $850-1500 per person. A low season ticket can range anywhere between $450-700. Always shop around to find the best deal! The earlier you buy, the cheaper it will be. Your plane ticket to Rome (and your hotel) is going to be your largest expense.

Sidestep And Other Booking Tools
Sidestep comes to mind as being an excellent tool for finding a cheap flight. That’s how I found my $489 deal to Rome in January — so it’s not impossibile to find a cheap fair. Sidestep is a great tool. All you do is put in your departure date, your return date, number of passengers and presto! The web site will pull back hundreds of possible flights that meet your search criteria.

Take care when using Sidestep if you do choose to buy your ticket. Often Sidestep will display options for airports that are near you, but what you consider near and what Sidestep considers near are two different things. So watch the screen carefully – if you’re not paying attention, you could end up buying a ticket that’s unusable or too difficult to use. Pay attention to the results that are returned and check your purchase carefully before you buy. Sidestep is a great tool if you’re not picky about which airline you fly and are looking for the cheapest flight you can find.

There are other tools online that all do relatively the same thing as Sidestep. Booking Buddy is another great tool.

Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz and Airline Web Sites
The web has turned the airline industry into a more user friendlier place. Maybe you can’t remember the days of booking over the phone…spending 20-30 minutes or more on the phone with an agent trying to find the best flight possible. The internet has made price comparison shopping so much easier, and many travel web sites have tools that show you cheaper alternatives as you are booking your trip.

Expedia is a personal favorite of mine, but I also use Travelocity and Orbitz too. I tend to go with whatever site has the best deals as a particular time. When purchasing an airline ticket, sometimes you have to forgo your loyalty to save a few weeks. All of them have flight tools that will notify you when a particular fare drops, and all the sites will retain your booking info for future travels, such as your seat preference, credit card details, name, address, passport information and more.

NB: Some travel booking web sites charge a booking fee, which usually appears as a separate charge on your statement. It can range between $5-$20. If the fee exceeds $20, buy your ticket elsewhere!

When Loyalty Counts
If you fly a particular airline or airline group for the points and are undecided on whether to save $50 on the tickets or take the points…here’s a good rule of thumb. First, find out how many miles this trip is going to net you, and if it will get you closer to a particular award goal. Second, divide the number of miles you’ll earn into the cost of the ticket, and that will tell you the cost per mile. Which is cheaper? The cost per mile for your ticket or the cost of purchasing the miles? If you are only, say for example 5000 miles away from your next award, could you buy the miles to make up the difference? Many airlines offer this service where you can purchase miles. Most have restrictions on the number of miles that can be purchased per year and almost all airlines charge a fee for this service. If it costs less to purchase the miles than your itinerary, consider buying the miles necessary to get to the next award level and trying to use your award travel. Check with the airline before you purchase the miles to make sure that the time you want to travel is not blacked out.

If the cost of buying the miles exceeds the ticket price or you cannot buy enough miles to reach the award level you need, then a good rule of thumb is this: if you can save $75 or more going with a cheaper fare and forgoing the miles, then put your loyalties aside and opt for the cheaper fare. Use that $75 savings towards some souvenirs or doing something fun while in Rome. If the savings between the cheaper fare and your loyalty airline is less than $75, stay loyal and collect those miles.

Airlines That Fly to Rome
In the United States, American Airlines, Delta, United, Northwest, Continental and US Airways fly direct to Rome. Some airlines only have direct flights during the summer so it is best to check each airline’s web site. Direct flights can be found leaving from JFK, Newark, DC, Philadelphia and Chicago. Other cities are available during the summer months. Alitalia operates direct flights from a few US cities direct to Rome or Milan (then connecting to Rome). Other European airlines offer connecting service to Rome: British Airways, Austrian Air, KLM, Air France, Lufthansa, TAP Air Portugal, Czech Airlines, Swiss Air. Air Canada is also a viable option, connecting through Toronto.

In Australia, Qantas no longer has direct flights to Rome. Travelers must fly to Hong Kong (sometimes via Sydney or Brisbane) and then connect (usually via Cathay Pacific) to Rome. Cathay Pacific offers flights from Australia to Hong Kong via Rome. KLM and Austrian Air provide service to Rome via Australia either through a codeshare agreement or direct flights. Emirates is also a possibility.

In the UK, you have British Airways, Alitalia and several low cost alternatives, such as Ryanair and Easy Jet. Connections are possible with other European airlines.

Fly Direct?
Be careful when people tell you that direct flights are more expensive. This may or may not hold true, depending upon the market conditions and ticket availability when you buy. I would suggest flying direct with European airlines. The reason for this is that each time you land in/take off in a European city, you’re going to pay departure fees and airport taxes, and these can be quite high, especially in the UK where the British Pound is worth almost twice that of the dollar. These fees are tacked onto your ticket price and passed onto you, the consumer. A base fair of $300 could end up being almost $600 (or more!) after taxes and fees are worked into the ticket price. If you have to connect in Europe, try to do so in Amsterdam or some of the less busier European airports. Schipol is a huge airport and delays are generally minimal, and if you do get stuck there, there’s always something to do!

If you’re flying from the US, do all your connecting in the United States to save money. For example, I live in Raleigh, North Carolina. A direct flight to Rome is impossible. So I connect to JFK or DC and then continue onto my destination. I save money (airport/departure fees are cheaper in the US) by doing my connecting flights in the US rather than flying to London (although sometimes you have to take what flights you can get!).

Flight Schedules
Flights to Rome from the United States tend to leave in the early evening to late evening (between 4pm and 11pm), with a next day morning arrival in Rome (starting at 6am-11am). Flights from Rome back to the United States tend to be morning flights with late morning/mid afternoon same day arrivals (between 7am-11am departures, 12pm-5pm arrivals). Chances are if you got a good deal on your flight, you’re leaving early. If you’re connecting through a European city, such as Amsterdam, chances are you’re on the first flight out which means you should be at the airport by 5am!

When traveling in Europe, be on time and be early! If you miss your flight in Rome, the airline is not entitled to rebook you, and you may find yourself buying a new ticket. While most airlines will probably rebook you out of courtesy, if the flight is full and seats are tight, you might find yourself out of luck. Plan accordingly and get to the airport on time!

Starting in London, Ending in Rome – Avoid Backtracking!
If you plan to bum around Europe and don’t want to backtrack to your starting point, consider purchasing a ticket with a different origination and ending city. Yes, you can do this. For example, two friends of mine want to go to Germany’s wine region this fall and then head to Florence for three days and then return to the United States. However, because they only have a week to squeeze all this in, I advised them to fly back to the United States from Rome rather than spending hours backtracking all the way to Frankfurt for a return flight that they might miss.

The good news with this approach is that you can sometimes save money, believe it or not. So if you plan to start your trip in London and finish up in Rome (or vice versa), consider arriving in London and returning home through Rome at the end of your trip. You’ll be surprised that you might actually save some money. You’ll save money that you would have otherwise spent on airport taxes and departure fees. Most travel booking web sites allow you to book multi-city itineraries!

Bucket Shops
In my opinion, bucket shops are overrated and hard to use. This is just from my experience. Stick to the web or even possibly a travel agent to find the best deal. However, if you’re up for the challenge, you can often find listing in some of the larger newspapers. Your local newspaper may have advertisements in the travel section for some good deals. However, with a little patience and earnestness, you can probably find just a good a deal on your own with your mouse and your PC!

When To Buy Your Ticket
BUY EARLY!! With today’s fuel prices, the deal you find today might not be there tomorrow. I wouldn’t gamble that fuel prices are going to plunge anytime soon. If you wait too long, you could find your options limited, and a last minute ticket to Rome during the high season could fetch anywhere between $1000-2000! Airlines make the bulk of their money during the peak travel summer months (late May – August) so if you plan to do any travel during that period, consider buying your ticket in early February to capitalize on any deals. If you wait until the last minute, check out Priceline.com or Hotwire.

Do I Endorse Any Airline?
People always ask me which airline they should fly and which ones are better than the other. I have no opinion one way or the other regarding the airlines. Please remember that any opinions expressed on my site are simply opinions and are not endorsements of any kind. I fly one or two of the same ones each time for the miles that I can accrue. I try to take advantage of frequent flier programs when I can. I fly exclusively economy class because, well, it’s the cheapest and have better things to spend my money on than a business or first class seat. So if you’re unsure of which airline to travel on, do some Google searches on airline quality and airline safety and then make a decision based on your own comfort level.