Italy is the land of romance and history and a desired destination for many Americans. The most important part of any international travel plan is to factor in the cost of air travel. There are many different tricks and factors to consider when planning a trip to Italy, and learning how to control the cost of airfare will have you well on your way.
The time of year you travel to Italy affects the price you pay for airfare. For example, summer is the peak season for travelers; families with children and college students have June, July, and August off and tend to do the most traveling then. For a family of four, travel to Rome from New York City in these months could cost between $1,200 and $1,700 each, as of 2008, round trip. Comparatively, the same family traveling in October would expect to spend between $600 and $1,200 round trip, which is at least half off regular air travel. If you are looking for a good deal, consider pulling the kids out of school (or skipping a quarter) and heading out in the off season.
The different air carriers also play a factor in determining the price paid for air fare to Italy. Some air carriers, particularly European carriers, are subsidized by their government, often sparing the cost overhead that American air carriers have. For example, a trip to Rome in October might cost $1,153 per person if booked through Continental Airlines. On the other hand, the same flight booked through Air Canada is only $1,050, Air Portugal is only $892, and Iberia Air (the Spanish airline) is $695.
Geography influences airfares considerably. For instance, a flight in October from New York City to Rome is almost half the price of a flight from New York City to Florence, Italy ($1,100 to $1,300). Likewise, flying from a different airport such as Los Angeles to Milan, Italy, also will boost the price at least several hundred dollars ($1,400-$1,500). Most travelers do tend to arrive in Rome, mostly because it is Italy's largest airport, and then travel either by train or another flight to their final destination. But if you do not want to contend with catching trains or other airplanes in a foreign country, it might be best to just absorb the cost difference up front.
Most flights quoted so far are economy (coach) class. Some people prefer to travel in style and insist on first-class tickets. The price difference, however, may be intimidating to the average budget. The average ticket price for a first-class seat to Rome from New York City can range from $4,000 to more than $8,000.
Those prices are not set in stone. By working with a travel agent, you can request a seat in the "F," "A" or "P" cabin or request to "Y-up" your seat. This could potentially allow you to fly in first class for slightly more, or slightly less in some cases, as to fly in coach. There is limited availability for these seats and upgrades, however, and the season affects their availability even more; summer has less of these upgrades than winter, for example. Though your chances of getting these upgrades may not be reliable, it never hurts to ask.
Be sure to find out whether your ticket includes taxes and fees associated with international travel. Some ticket vendors, particularly online ticket retailers, will omit these extra fees which can range fore $20 to several hundred dollars. Travel agents and mainstream online ticketing agencies like Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz usually note these fees clearly in their pricing schemes.
Booking in advance is always a good idea as last-minute trips can be costly (though not always). If you do book in advance, be sure to get a refundable ticket; some tickets sold are non-refundable. If for whatever reason you can't make the flight, you will be stuck trying to haggle your way into an exchange at a later date at best or a worthless piece of paper at worst. Some airlines offer "ticket insurance," which means that, in the event of an emergency you can't make the flight, you have one or two years to use the ticket on a similarly priced flight. This insurance may be extra, of course, but the peace of mind may be worth it.
Finally, as fuel prices fluctuate, so do airfares. Booking right before a fuel shortage may work to your advantage as your price is locked in, but those are hard to predict. You should usually assume that fuel prices will go up and budget accordingly for your airfare.