On the morning of New Year’s Eve 2022, Pope Benedict XVI died. The late pontiff had long been an important spiritual figure and role model to me and, upon receiving the news, I felt called to pay my respects at his funeral in Vatican City.

Steps of Saint Peter's Basilica, with Pope Francis seated in front of the coffin of Pope Benedict.
Funeral of Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Square, January 5, 2023.

With airfare and hotel rooms each priced in the thousands of dollars, it seemed like this last-minute trip was out of reach. Rather than forking over huge sums of money, I decided to piece together a trip using frequent flyer miles and hotel points — a strategy that I hoped would bring my out-of-pocket expenses down to a more reasonable figure. I’ve outlined the steps I took to book the trip below.

Planning a schedule

Pope Benedict was scheduled to lie in state in St. Peter’s Basilica from January 2 to January 4, with a funeral Mass in St. Peter’s Square on January 5. I wanted to attend both events, but the earliest I could depart was January 2, with an arrival in Rome the following day.

My ideal itinerary was to depart on January 2 and spend 3 nights in Rome, returning to Boston on January 6, the day after the funeral. Given the truly last-minute nature of my trip and the spike in demand for flights to Rome, I understood that some flexibility might be required.

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Booking flights from Boston, MA to Rome, Italy and back

I rarely search for round trip award tickets — most airlines allow travelers to book one-way tickets using frequent flyer miles without a cost penalty.

Although I hoped to fly to Rome in business class, there was no availability on my preferred dates and I opted instead to fly in economy class. The award ticket from Boston to Rome (with connections in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia) cost only 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles plus $5.60 in taxes and fees. The itinerary departed on January 2, with an arrival in Rome the morning of January 3 — aligning perfectly with my desired schedule.

John seated in an airplane seat during flight while wearing a Wheelchair Travel logo t-shirt.

Securing a return flight proved to be a bit more complicated. At the time of my initial search, there was no availability for a January 6 departure from Rome. I continued searching, but didn’t find a return ticket until after I had started my journey to Rome. Risky, I know!

I ultimately booked a business class ticket from Rome to Boston (with a connection in London) for 57,500 American Airlines miles plus $387.95 in taxes and fees. The taxes and fees were expensive because I flew on British Airways, which assesses a high fuel surcharge even on award tickets booked through its partner airlines.

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My total airfare costs were 87,500 frequent flyer miles and $393.55 in taxes and fees — a much better result than spending thousands on a last-minute cash fare and I got to fly home in business class!

Booking an accessible hotel room in Rome with points

There are a large number of hotels that can be booked with rewards points in Rome, but I found a fairly good deal at the Sina Barbini Bristol hotel. Located on Rome’s Piazza Barberini, the 5-star hotel is part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection.

Screenshot of hotel reservation details for a booking with points.

For 135,200 Marriott Bonvoy points plus 21 EUR of taxes and fees, I was able to book 3 nights in a wheelchair accessible hotel room with a roll-in shower. Cash room rates at the time of booking were 521 EUR per night, equivalent to about $564 U.S. dollars. The use of points saved me just shy of $1,700 USD, so I consider it a big win! My Titanium status in the Marriott loyalty program provided an additional benefit of free daily breakfast valued at roughly $100 over the course of my stay.

Tallying up the total cost of a last-minute, 3-night trip from the United States to Rome, Italy

Since I was using points to cover flights and a hotel, my goal was to keep total out-of-pocket expenses to $1,000 or less for this trip. Here’s a complete account of my spending:

  • Flight taxes (Boston to Rome) — $5.60
  • Public transportation fare to Boston airport — $2.40
  • Premium cocktail in American Airlines Admirals Club — $11.00
  • Leonardo Express train ticket from Rome Airport — $14.99
  • 3 Pepsi Max soda pops — $4.53
  • 5 restaurant meals in Rome — $113.85
  • Hotel room taxes — $22.73
  • Hotel mini bar charges — $7.18
  • Flight taxes (Rome to Boston) — $387.95
  • Wi-Fi on British Airways flight (Rome to London) — $6.01
  • Wi-Fi on British Airways flight (London to Boston) — $14.44

The total cost of this trip came to $590.68. Although the $1,000 budget I had set was a soft one, I’m nonetheless excited to have met my goal.

Don’t hail Caesar, celebrate the power of points and miles!

Points and miles democratize travel. They are a great equalizer, allowing people who may not have a lot of money to purchase airfare, hotel rooms and more at a significant discount. Used properly, they afford everyday people the opportunity to gain experiences that might otherwise be unattainable.

The truth is, as much as I wanted to travel to Rome for this special (albeit somber) occasion, I wouldn’t have spent the money. I collect points and miles precisely for this purpose — so that, when the pope dies, or when my college football team plays in the national championship, I won’t need to worry about the cost — points and miles can take me there.

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