How I booked round-trip flights to Italy for $220.26

Some of you know that I'm already planning to return to Italy this Fall.

Nate and I spent the month of June last year on a workaway with an Italian chef and her wonderful family.  We stayed at their home, ate meals with them, went on bike rides together and explored local villages on the Etruscan coast.  Our "work" was helping our host with cooking classes offered for travelers passing through.  

Nate setting the table at our workaway in Tuscany.

Nate setting the table at our workaway in Tuscany.

We had an amazing time.

Now that I'm settled in Denver, I'm running my own business, tipsycooks, offering private, in-home cooking classes.  Chicca, our host in Tuscany, and I still Skype every week, and together we've put together a cooking vacation.  

These weeklong experiences include cooking classes, visits to local farms and wineries as well as tours of the beautiful surrounding towns in Tuscany.

I knew I wanted to return to help if and when we booked guests, but flights from Denver to Italy were looking expensive.

Luckily, Nate and I managed to end our trip with over 100,000 American Airlines miles.

So when I was ready to book, I headed online to see what my options were for booking my flight with miles.

Unfortunately, a lot of the redemption options were on British Airlines flights passing through London.  While I have no issue with a short lay over in Heathrow, I've come to learn that this airport charges massive surcharges for refueling.  

So while I could book my flight for 30,000 miles each way (for a total of 60k), my options were still over $750 with taxes and fueling surcharges.

Blarg.

I know from Nate that sometimes calling is just easier, so I hopped on the phone to Aadvantage, American's mileage redemption line.  I was soon connected with the nicest customer service rep and asked me more about my flight preferences.

One thing I like to note when booking with miles- flexibility is key.

I knew I wanted to be in Italy for the first two weeks of October, but my dates were fluid.  (One of the perks of running your own business is never having to beg for time off from your boss!)

Prosciutto bruschetta and fresh tomato and mozzarella salad we served at the cooking school.

Prosciutto bruschetta and fresh tomato and mozzarella salad we served at the cooking school.

So I had that going for me.  I could fly in and out on any of the surrounding days.

I also let her know that I could be flexible with departing and arriving airports.  I didn't mind flying out of LA and into Pisa or out of Denver (where I live now) but into Berlin.  As long as I could get close, I knew I could book shorter, cheaper flight either domestically within the U.S. or in Europe.

So that widened the scope.

Now, she was looking for any itinerary options that didn't take me on British Airways through London Heathrow, so I could avoid those massive fuel surcharges.

WIthin a few minutes, she'd found a seat on an Air Tahiti Nui flight from Denver to Paris.

Air Tahiti whaaa?

I'd never heard of the airline but quickly googled it while we were on the phone.  She assured me that she'd booked similar legs for other clients and that they'd reported really liking the flights.

Welp, beggars can't be choosers.  I agreed.

My final itinerary with American looks like this:

Denver > LA

LA > PARIS

And returning:

PARIS > LA

LA > DENVER

The damage? 60,000 American miles and a grand total of $84.06.

What. a. steal.

So this itinerary put me in Europe, but it doesn't get me to my final destination, Pisa, which is an hour drive north of the cooking school where our cooking vacation will take place.

From here, I hopped on Google Flights, my number one go-to for booking all flights.  (It used to be Expedia, but they don't show all airlines, and I've been having better luck finding deals of Google Flights).  

I started searching for roundtrip flights from Paris to Pisa, and voila: 

While I was tempted by the $81 Ryanair flights, the timing didn't work out, and I noticed a tiny little detail.  Those flights are in and out of BVA... as in Beauvais–Tillé Airport, a full hour north of Charles de Gaulle where my international  flights take me.

This is a good tip when booking separate legs like this: Always, ALWAYS check the airport code.  I knew Paris had more than one big airport, and I'd heard of Paris Orly (ORLY), but never of BVA.

So I did some quick googling and found out that, while a shuttle runs from BVA into Paris's city center, there's no way I would have enough time to connect to my flight to PIsa.

In the end, I went for the more expensive flight out of Paris Orly that not only gave me more time and an easier cross-city connection, but it means I'll be okay checking a bag.  Some you know that Ryanair flights are as cheap as they are because of their massive restrictions.  While that's usually okay for me, I didn't want to get hit with hidden fees if my pack ended up being slightly larger or heavier than their carry-on rules allow.

Flying from La Paz to Cape Town last year on the trip.

Flying from La Paz to Cape Town last year on the trip.

I ended up being really happy with my return from Pisa to Paris.

My return flight from Paris back to LA leaves at 11:30 AM, which really limited me on when I could fly into Paris that morning.  I knew I'd need to be checked in and at the airport several hours before this long, international flight, and I couldn't get a flight from Pisa to Paris that would put me in early enough that morning.

BUT.

I found a return flight the night before that has me landing in Paris at 5 PM.

On our big, round-the-world trip, I spent 10 days on my own in Lima while Nate returned to the U.S. for a job.  While I loved the freedom, I didn't feel like it really counted as a "solo trip" as I was just hanging out alone until he returned.

This entire trip is not only just me, but my flights will allow me a night alone in Paris, a city I've never explored (except from a CDG terminal).  

I'm really excited to find a hostel downtown and take myself out for a nice dinner alone in the City of Lights.

All in all, my international flights to Paris and those smaller legs into Pisa cost me a total of $220.26 and 60k American miles.