Each Wednesday I receive TravelZoo’s “Top 20″ List via email.  This is a list of the very best deals TravelZoo has uncovered from the thousands of available vacation packages, hotel and airline deals around the world.  The Top 20 usually offers solid deals, but during the ’08-’09 recession, some of them are outright crazy.

Deals like roundtrip airfare and a 5 night stay in a four star hotel in Dublin for $699 a person…

This has gotten Mrs. Hacks and Yours Truly thinking about a trip to Europe sometime next year.  We’ve generally focused on Ireland and Italy because, well, I’m Irish and she’s Italian.  (We are really imaginative!)

In any event, last week’s missive from TravelZoo included a package deal from Sceptre Tours that we found intriguing:  round trip air from NYC to Naples, 6 nights in a 3 star hotel in Sorrento (on the gorgeous Amalfi coast), and a rental car, for $799 per person.  Depart from Boston, add $20 per person.  Chicago?  Add $100 per person.  Travel between January and March.  Same trip in the spring, and the cost of course goes up.

BA Visa sign-on bonus - 100K milesI priced it from Chicago, going in mid May, and the total including taxes was right around $2700. So I began checking reviews of the particular hotel included in the package, weather in May-June timeframe, reviews for Sorrento restaurants, and so forth.  In other words, I was slowly working myself into a frenzy, and my wife was getting equally excited.

We’d decided by Saturday night that we were going to go, and mentioned it to friends over dinner that evening.

Then, against all odds, I had a particularly lucid moment Sunday morning over coffee“I wonder if British Airways flies to Naples or Rome,” I mused.

Regular readers will recall that British Airways and Chase are offering a crazy Visa Signature Card sign-on bonus which nets you 100,000 miles for doing not much more than having a pulse.   Knowing that I in fact possess a discernible pulse, I immediately logged onto the BA site and discovered that rewards flights to London and other “Zone 1″ cities require 50,000 miles.  Naples however, is in Zone 2, and that requires 60,000 miles per ticket.

So…  I applied for a BA Chase Visa Signature card and will get 100,000 miles with BA.  The other 20,000 miles?   I know a Mint that will sell me $1 commemorative U.S. coins at face value.  All I need to do is buy $15,000 worth of coins, spend $5K on “stuff”, and I’ll have the 120,000 miles for two free round trip tickets from Chicago to Naples.

And so we’re offMy goal is to try to hack a trip to Italy, spending as little as possible by utilizing as many legal techniques/tricks as possible.

One caveat, and frankly a potential flaw in this plan:  we have no interest in staying in a hovel.  Wherever we stay it must be:

  • Clean
  • Convenient to town
  • Reasonably quiet

The ability to accommodate parking a rental car is also a plus.  After looking at dozens and dozens of reviews of Sorrento hotels, this is clearly going to be one of the toughest aspects of the trip.  I’ve mostly used reviews from Venere, VirtualTourist, and TripAdvisor, and to say that even the nicest properties have mixed reviews would be putting it mildly.  We may opt for renting an apartment right in Sorrento.

So the adventure begins;  I’ll update you all periodically.  If you’ve had any experiences or have any tips that you think could help the cause, please comment!

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1 Comment on Hacking Italy: One week in Sorrento – How low can we go?

  1. Berg says:

    Sweet, I love travel hacking! With your BA card, and a little research, you should be able to spend a minimal amount of money on “must” items like accomodations.

    May is a popular month for travel because of the weather. If you can travel earlier in the Spring, or in the Fall, prices may be cheaper, and things will be less crowded. But, May is nice, so if that’s when you can go, so be it. :)

    As far as travel reviews, I take them with a grain of salt, depending on the complaint. If a hotel has 30 positive reviews but 2 bad ones, I tend to think it’ll be a good place to stay, especially if the two bad ones run along the lines of, “The hotel wouldn’t cater to my every need and let me check in early and check out late, and wouldn’t give me a bigger suite for free, woe is me.”

    I almost always disregard complaints about the size of room, since most hotel/motel rooms outside of the U.S. are “cozy,” if not comically small (in the single I stayed in in London, I could lay in bed, stretch out my arms, and just about touch each wall of my room). I also disregard complaints about things that don’t bother me but may be dealbreakers for others, i.e. lack of room service, lack of valet, lack of free breakfast etc. I pay attention to words like “clean,” “quiet,” “convenient,” and “safe.” Also, look at the dates of when reviews were written to see if the hotel is being worked on currently, since that’s almost a guaranteed way to have a bad stay.

    I like TripAdvisor because they let you check prices & availability through more than one website (hotels.com & expedia.com tend to be cheaper than travelocity in my experience). Pictures of the rooms are useful on TripAdvisor, and often a requirement for me to consider staying somewhere.

    Also check for other discounts like AAA. Every little bit you save on one thing is another pint of beer you can buy in Dublin!

    But you may know all that stuff already. I just happen to have spent all day yesterday online booking hotels, so it was on the brain. ;) Good luck!

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