My wife and I just returned from a two-week trip to Italy. We had talked about the idea for this trip for several years. Megan once spent an undergraduate semester in one of the Tuscan hill towns studying architecture and was yearning to go back. I had also visited while backpacking through Europe after college, coming away more frustrated after experiencing Italian infrastructure. But since I’ll be finishing my MBA program this summer and starting a new job, it was apparent that spring break could be our last opportunity to take a long trip like this.
We only solidified our plans when a great fare materialized on Emirates to Milan via Dubai. For roughly $3,000 per person we got to take four first class flights on the A380, an experience on many frequent travelers’ bucket lists because of the on-board shower and general reputation of Emirates for providing an over-the-top experience.
I would not normally spend so much. Even after using points to defray the cost of our hotel stays, the out-of-pocket cost for this trip was about $9,000 excluding lunch, dinner, and museum tickets. (There goes my signing bonus…) That’s $6,350 for our flights and ~$2,700 for hotels.
However, the ability to earn over 30,000 elite qualifying miles and 100,000 redeemable award miles (per person) through Alaska Mileage Plan made it seem more reasonable and are worth, in my view, about $4,000 total. Had we booked a more traditional award ticket by redeeming miles, the taxes and fees to travel to Europe would likely still be at least $500 and could even exceed $1,000 if we flew British Airways, which tends to have the most availability. The marginal cost for our flight turned out to be pretty reasonable. And over two weeks, I think $2,700 qualifies as average for accommodation in major tourist destinations. While it’s great to travel for free with miles and points, it can be much easier when they are used to simply stretch your budget.
I will spend more time discussing my experience flying Emirates later. With four flights in a two-week period I felt that I got a good idea of the product and how variable it can be. My review will consolidate all of that into one post since there is no point in reviewing four flights on the same aircraft type and same seat in separate articles.
What I will say now is that it’s probably not an experience I’ll repeat. Redeeming miles for travel in Emirates first class can be expensive and is rarely a good value, but there might be another cheap paid fare. The more relevant cost was our time and the inconvenience of backtracking to reach our destination in Milan. It was worth it this time; in the future I will want to take a more direct path. The lack of a convenient routing to my destination is actually the biggest reason I had not flown Emirates until now.
Instead, I plan to lead this trip report with reviews of our hotels. We spent much more time in each of these properties than we did on the plane. Our trip included stopovers in Dubai and Milan before making longer visits to Venice, Rome, and Florence. It was our first time to Dubai and my first trip to Florence. I’ve already written most of these reviews and so — unlike so many other delayed trip reports — they should actually go out on-time.
Expect to read about several excellent hotels, but we used points (predominantly Ultimate Rewards points earned from Megan’s business travel) to defray the total cost of the trip. We’d already paid so much for the flights, and I was not eager to make this a five-figure adventure. That said, I planned the trip more around experiences with less concern over price. I’ll share tips where I can on which costs can be avoided or are more difficult to justify.
Here’s a summary of our itinerary and spending in one place since I don’t always detail this information in every post. All prices include taxes. Because we have a Sapphire Reserve credit card, Ultimate Rewards points can be redeemed a rate of 1.5 cents each.
Flights from Vancouver to Milan, via Los Angeles and Dubai for $3,176 per person. In addition to the miles earned with Alaska Mileage Plan that I mentioned above, we also got ~30,000 Membership Rewards points for booking directly with Emirates and using my American Express Platinum Card. Travel from Vancouver to Los Angeles was on WestJet, advertised as economy but actually in Plus, WestJet’s premium economy product. I was pleasantly surprised and thought it was superior to most European carrier’s intra-Europe business class product.
One night at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport booked with 16,034 Ultimate Rewards points ($240.51 in value). This hotel is directly connected to the terminal with its entrance opposite the WestJet check-in counters. We both liked it a lot, but $200+ for an airport hotel?
One night at the Sofitel Dubai Downtown booked on the Sofitel website for $308.18 with breakfast. I wanted something convenient to the Dubai metro and the Dubai Mall/Burj Khalifa. I think we overpaid and would choose something else in the future, but the location did work well.
One night at the Park Hyatt Milan booked with 30,000 World of Hyatt points (typical rates are around $600-700 per night). These were mostly orphaned points transferred from another account, and I topped up my balance by purchasing 2,000 more. Although Megan and I both think Milan is a bit boring, the hotel was one of our favorites. Megan has instructions to recreate the bathroom when we finally design our dream house.
Three nights at the Gritti Palace in Venice booked with 85,922 Ultimate Rewards points ($1,288.84 in value). Our points redemption included a one-level upgrade to a Venetian room, and while it didn’t quite match the online description the service and the hotel were outstanding. I can’t imagine staying anywhere else when we return to Venice in the future.
Four nights at the St. Regis Rome, which is at the tail end of a major renovation. I purchased and redeemed existing points for a Cash & Points stay, then accepted an upgrade offer before arrival that included breakfast. Following a complaint after our first night, the service recovery included a further upgrade. I’ll get into the details later; suffice it to say we paid $1,780 and redeemed 23,000 SPG points for a Junior Suite. (Rates start around $600, but this suite costs $2,000.) The biggest issue with the St. Regis may be its location. On the other hand, that same location could be an asset if you’re tired of going to the Colosseum or other major tourist sights on your third or fourth visit to the Eternal City.
Three nights at the Hotel Brunelleschi booked with 45,606 Ultimate Rewards points ($684.09 in value). Our base-level room included breakfast, and you could hardly ask for a better location just one block away from the Duomo. This independent property is rated four stars by Forbes Travel Guide and has amazing restaurant like il Mulino Fort Lauderdale, one even with a Michelin star. That said, various electrical issues made it difficult to sleep on the first and last nights.
To get between cities, we traveled in business class on the Frecciarossa, Italy’s high-speed train network. It’s not exactly new, but it wasn’t an option the last time either of us was traveling in Italy. More than anything else this revealed how much had changed over the last decade. Our most expensive tickets between Venice and Rome cost €70 when booked a month in advance, but be aware that seats on the original Frecciarossa 500 are more comfortable than on the newer, faster Frecciarossa 1000. Brad has already reviewed the Frecciarossa 500 from a previous trip.
I’ll end there for now. If you have any specific questions concerning these hotels or flights, let me know now and I’ll do my best to address them in each review before they’re published.