In general, I try to stay out of the business of ragging on other points and miles blogs. There are a handful of blogs that I actively hate (and, to be honest, sometimes hate-read), but I don’t go out of my way to talk about them. In general, the bigger the blog, the trendier it is to hate it. I don’t necessarily agree – two of my favorite blogs are also two of the biggest around (One Mile at a Time and View from the Wing). With The Points Guy, I have a love/hate relationship. I don’t think you can deny that TPG himself is an engaging personality who is great at what he does. I enjoy his Instagram stories and Facebook live videos, even if they’re a little “lifestyles of the rich and famous” for me. I realize he has to make money (and if it’s money you’re into, check out the Bank of America Premium Rewards card, which can earn you $500 cash back if you spend $3000 in 3 months!), but I do get annoyed that he pitches himself as the premier resource on all things points and miles while steering people to bonuses that are lower than other publicly available offers.
Maybe I’m in a bad mood today because I spent last night dealing with major work drama that erupted right as I was getting ready to close up shop for the week, but TPG’s “Points & Miles guide to Rome” really bugged me this morning. There’s nothing specifically offensive about the post – it’s a perfectly fine surface examination of traveling to Rome, although it continues the trend of the blog purporting to give you amazing advice and instead giving you very little besides links to credit cards. And the problem isn’t the links to credit cards on their own — it’s the quality of the content around those links.
One passage in particular sent my “Jordan irrationally gets angry about innocuous things” meter into the red:
Alitalia, a SkyTeam partner, has a hub at Rome’s main airport, Fiumicino (FCO), though it recently filed for bankruptcy. Despite rumors that Ryanair would purchase the airline, it seems things are still up in the air for Alitalia. It’s currently business as usual, with flights operating from US getaways like New York (JFK), Miami (MIA) and Boston (BOS), but you may want to avoid booking anything too far in the future. TPG Editor-at-Large Zach Honig recently flew Alitalia without any issues, but it may still be best to consider a Delta flight from Atlanta (ATL) or New York (JFK) instead if you want to fly SkyTeam.
American Airlines offers nonstop flights from Charlotte (CLT), Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), New York (JFK) and Philadelphia (PHL). If you have a stash of AAdvantage miles, try to find a MileSAAver Off Peak economy award for 22,500 AA miles or 57,500 in business one-way.
Another option is Star Alliance. United flies nonstop to Rome from Newark (EWR) and Washington Dulles (IAD). Try searching for a saver award, which costs 30,000 MileagePlus miles in economy or 60,000 in business one-way.
Why would this advice make me mad? It’s all true, after all, and there isn’t a single credit card pitch. Well, it’s the instruction to “try to find” a saver award on one of American or United’s direct flights to Rome. Here are a list of things you may want to try instead, since you’d have a better chance of success: getting a good pair of rocket boots and running there yourself, convincing a Southwest pilot to divert to Rome instead of Tulsa, commissioning Elon Musk to build you a watercar that you can drive over the ocean, etc. Because I’m annoyed and hell-bent on proving my point, I decided to count the days where United shows saver premium cabin saver availability on their EWR-FCO flight. If you can plan a trip in the next week, you’re in luck – there’s a seat on 11/25 and on 11/30. After that, there are ZERO saver awards between 12/1 and the end of the calendar.
Searching IAD-FCO, the availability is so bad that some months the calendar don’t show a single saver award seat in any cabin, so it defaults away from the “Show non-stop flights only” option. You get a momentary spike of hope that United is actually opening saver award space on multiple days, only to realize that all the space is on Star Alliance partners via their hubs. Just like the EWR flight, aside from a few days in November, it’s a big fat goose egg for the rest of the calendar. (United will show you a handful of days in December with nonstop saver seats, but don’t worry, it’s phantom availability.)
American is a little better, because there are more options. I didn’t search the every route, but from what I could find, there are a handful of days every couple months with saver seats out of the ex-US Airways hubs. Don’t get me wrong, there are still months-long dry spells without any saver seats in any cabin. Oh, and what about Delta? Well, you better have a shitload of Sky Miles, since saver seats out of Detroit and Atlanta are similarly scarce. Because Delta has so many award pricing levels, that could maybe work in your favor if you’re okay spending 86,000 or 110,000 miles on a one-way Delta One award. Even those awards are hard to find during some periods, though, and there are long stretches where no awards dip below 225,000.
Bottom line, if you looked at the above guide to getting to Rome on points and then set out to book a trip, you’d never get to Rome. (Also, “look for saver seats on the three main airline alliances” is the most generic award booking advice you could possibly give.)
I’ve been researching this a lot lately, since I’m actually in the process of planning a trip to Rome right now. So, please allow me to augment the advice on TPG with some tidbits from my personal experience.
- Don’t count on finding saver awards on United, American, or Delta. Duh. While I’d obviously prefer to connect in the US and then arrive in Rome after a longhaul flight, it’s looking like this won’t be possible unless I can be extremely flexible about when to go (and I have a small window for this trip, so there goes that plan).
- Like any European destination, the best option is to identify European gateways that are easy to get to and then to connect through them. To minimize the overall trip time time, ideally you’d want something closer to Rome (like Zurich instead of Dublin, for instance). For me on the West Coast, the top candidates are Madrid (SFO-MAD on Iberia using American, although availability isn’t great) or Zurich (SFO-ZRH on Swiss using Aeroplan – and while availability has been good in the past, it’s pretty bad right now).
- In the European gateway game, there are fall-back options that often have good-to-great availability, such as British Airways (bad seat, long connection in LHR, insane fuel surcharges) and Air France/KLM (potentially bad seat, long-ish connection in CDG or AMS, considerable but not insulting fuel surcharges through FlyingBlue).
- Don’t forget about Norwegian. (This seems like a missed opportunity for TPG… why not mention Norwegian’s direct flight from Oakland and use it as an excuse to pimp the BofA Premium Rewards card as a means to cover the cost?) Anyway, they offer a direct flight from a convenient airport that’s usually cheap both in economy and premium economy. As I mentioned in my Charles Schwab post, you can even use Amex points to get one of these flights for around the same cost as a saver seat on a normal airline.
- Finally, as is so often the case, Turkish has great availability from the US, as long as you aren’t put off by the idea of transiting Istanbul. (And given Rome’s geographic position, the connecting flight from IST is pretty short.) Due to the political situation there, I’d be nervous about incorporating it into my trip plan, but I’m kind of a nervous nellie that way.
On the hotel side, I have to wonder how naming a single hotel from SPG, IHG, and Marriott constitutes a points and miles guide. (This seems like another missed opportunity for TPG given that they currently have an exclusive offer on the Amex Surpass Hilton for 125,000 points and the Waldorf Astoria in Rome was recently named one of the best hotels in Rome by Condé Nast Traveler.) I don’t know how much to add here, except that you should probably search all the hotel chains and find a hotel that fits your overall points strategy, whether that’s specific to one chain or spread across all of them. I mean, sure the St. Regis sounds amazing, but given how hard SPG points are to earn, it seems like most people would have a hard time coughing up 20k per night unless they were only going for a day or two.
Because of the luxury hotel options available (assuming you want to stay in a luxury hotel in the first place), Rome looks like a good market to leverage a credit card sign-up bonus or anniversary night. To wit: Hilton is coming out with the new Aspire card in January, and you automatically get a free night when you open the card, plus whatever the sign-up bonus is. You also get a $250 credit to use at any Hilton Resort, and the Waldorf in Rome counts as a Hilton Resort. Right there, that’s 1 1/2 free nights (depending on the price of the room when you book). There’s also a really promising-looking Hilton Curio property right in the center of Rome, which is where I’m planning to stay on our trip. I figure that I can make a pretty good stay for myself between whatever free nights I can leverage from the Aspire Card, the points I currently have, and the Diamond status I’ll pick up when I get the new Amex. Of course, this is only one option, and if you’ve been paying attention to your hotel strategy all along, you will have plenty of options in Rome (unless you’re solely focused on Hyatt, in which case you should to in Milan instead).
Has anyone else been to Rome? Do you have anything to add that I should consider when I’m planning my own trip? Do you also let yourself go down rabbit holes of frustration and irrational anger on holidays where you’re supposed to be thankful for everything you have?