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When in Rome: Maximizing credit cards and rewards in the Eternal City

Here’s how to use points to fly to Rome, book lodging and experience the city’s best dining and attractions


From the city’s zest for life and friendly people to its magnificent churches and unmatched history, Rome is absolutely a city you must see at least once in your life. Here’s how to get there with credit card rewards.

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One of my favorite trips ever was to see Rome for the first time.

Romans truly enjoy a different way of life. They live atop of ruins of ancient Rome and pass them by as part of their daily routine.

From the city’s zest for life and friendly people to its magnificent churches and unmatched history, Rome is absolutely a city you must see at least once in your life … and I hope to return many times.

If you can use the right credit cards and loyalty programs to make getting there and exploring the Eternal City cheaper and easier, all the better. Here are my tips for making the most of credit cards and travel rewards in this city of all cities.

See related:  5 best rewards cards to book a trip to Italy

Flying to Rome

My favorite way to get to Europe is to take advantage of Aer Lingus’s off-peak option to fly round-trip to Dublin from major U.S. cities like New York, Boston and Chicago for only 26,000 miles (Avios, in their currency).

The airline’s off-peak season runs two-thirds of the year, with summer dates through mid-June and then resuming in mid-September until the holidays. We then either use more Aer Lingus Avios to fly from Dublin to Rome or book a cheap flight on the discount airline Ryanair.

Our family typically makes the drive to Chicago from Indianapolis (about two-and-a-half hours from our home) to fly to Dublin, or we fly to New York or Boston on Southwest and take the Aer Lingus flight from there. A perk of the second option is it shortens your flight to Europe, since you’re on the east coast, which is nice. Keep in mind you will pay fuel surcharges even though you are flying on miles.

Great card options that allow you to earn Aer Lingus Avios or transfer points to Avios include: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Aer Lingus Visa Signature, British Airways Visa Signature Card, Iberia Visa Signature and the Marriott Bonvoy cards. Aside from the Aer Lingus and Marriott cards, these points all transfer to Aer Lingus at a 1:1 ratio.

The Marriott rewards points transfer to British Airways at a ratio of 3 Marriott points to 1 British Airways Avios, which you can then transfer to Aer Lingus at a 1:1 ratio. A great perk of Marriott’s program is the ability to earn a bonus 5,000 miles for every 60,000 Marriott Rewards points you transfer to any airline.

See related:  U.S. travelers likely to benefit from E.U. swipe fee deal

Dining and travel

My personal favorite card for spending on dining and travel is the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which earns 3 points per $1 on these expenditures. This quickly builds a bank of Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which we like to use for free flights on Southwest or for future Europe flights on Aer Lingus.

If you’d rather not incur this card’s $550 annual fee, you can instead opt for the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which earns 2 points per $1 on dining and travel expenses for only a $95 annual fee.

If you’d prefer to earn cash back, the Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card earns 4 percent on all dining expenses, as well as 4 percent cash back on entertainment expenses like tourist attractions, theme parks, movies and plays.

Hotels and accommodations

Our two favorite properties in Rome were the Hotel Indigo St. George on what is supposed to be Rome’s prettiest street – the Via Giulia – and Aleph Rome Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton, near the iconic Spanish Steps.

You can book the Hotel Indigo starting at 50,000 IHG Rewards points per night, though I’d advise booking many months ahead of time, as the points options go away the closer you get. In cash, it starts at around $188 euro ($211 in US dollars). The Aleph Rome Hotel books at 80,000 Hilton Honors points per night. Both are high-end and feature amazing rooftops for outstanding views of Rome!

I’d also highly recommend a vacation rental in the Trastevere neighborhood, which is utterly charming. Try HomeAway, Vrbo or Vacasa for availability and options during your trip. Vacation rentals are a great alternative to hotels that allow you to do some light cooking, have separate bedrooms and even finish a little laundry. Plus, I always feel more like a local when staying in a vacation rental.

See related:  The best credit card perks for summer travel

Attractions and tour companies

There aren’t too many cards that reward you for spending at attractions and tourist destinations. However, the Citi Premier Card is one option that grants you 3 points per $1 on spending with tour operators (I highly recommend the Roman Guy’s Colosseum and Catacombs tours) and attractions. The Capital One Savor card also includes tourist attractions in its entertainment category, which offers 4 percent cash back.

Outside of this, I recommend a card that earns you a flat number of points per $1 for all expenditures, like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which earns 2 miles per $1 on everything. You can then redeem your miles on any travel expenses. This can be great when purchasing vacation rentals, which don’t have an associated loyalty program like hotels.

Are you ready to go to Rome? Want to take me with you?

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