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Julia waiting for a cab to leave Torino, 2015.

Travel News:  (1) I bought summer plane tickets. (2) I pricelined a Chicago hotel room for the weekend to visit Julia’s vision therapy doctor and her naturopath.

Travel News Fallout:  Julia, on hearing of the travel plans, is ready to spend our entire week in England exploring Harry Potter related sites.

I have been hunting and gathering for a few weeks.  I waited a week too long and saw airfare prices creep up, not by much, but, related to that, flights filled up.  There was slim pickings for our seats to Milan.  After I chose ours, there were another 8 seats left in the economy section and the only two seats together did not recline.  I bought ten weeks before travel.  There were no incredible deals that I could find after the  twelve week point.  And definitely less choice.  To be sure, there are last minute deals to be found if one could wait it out but I begin talking to Julia about a weekend in Chicago a few weeks before we go.  A month in Italy is not something to spring on her.

Separate seating on planes is not a possibility for us.  Even for a short flight, I sit between her and any stranger.  Ideally.  She has entertained some strangers when we’ve been put in a middle row and she was unwilling to sit on the aisle.  Once a very nice young man was willing to listen to her from Milwaukee to New York; another time, a 40-ish woman told Julia that she never talked to people on planes.  Perhaps a good teaching moment; however, Julia is going through an extremely chatty time right now.  Lots of social bidding with no boundaries.  No idea of boundaries.  So, a seat by a window with me in the middle is ideal.

And just to be clear, I have always hated sitting in the middle seat of a plane but it is a cost of travel with Julia.  And so, I am in the middle.

I usually scribble down flight information and cost for weeks before I buy.  This year I’ve learned how to use spreadsheets and it was handy and rather geeky to use it for air fare price comparisons.

I began with some general searches to find out what prices were being offered.  The first two groups of prices are from expedia.com and momondo.com.

NYC to Milan (round trip) $920
NYC to Rome (round trip) $1007

Both of these would need another leg, probably South West to Milwaukee ($114), plus parking ($308) and gas ($15-20).  These were not direct flights.  Air Lingus had the lowest prices this year but there was usually a stop in Ireland and a substantial layover.  The flight from NYC to Milan is 8 hours when flying direct.  Air Lingus (and other airlines) had flights from about 10 hours to 25 hours.  I considered flights up to 12 hours just based on how we’ve managed that in the past.

Then I looked at arriving and leaving from different places in Italy. I found more direct flights and/or flights with a brief stop in Canada.

NYC to Milan/Rome to Milwaukee $1300
NYC to Rome/Milan to Milwaukee $1240-1345

At this point, the best prices were from United Airline.  Plans also began to gel—we could spend a week in England with Cheshire at the beginning of August.  She will be coming over for a wedding.  We could also see some cousins and friends in London. We were leaving from NYC because I had already bought one-way tickets from Milwaukee to NYC for the end of June so that Cheshire and I could see “Hamilton.”  I decided we would take a bus to Milwaukee for the first leg of our journey so that we could fly straight to the Dane County Airport, which is minutes from our home, on return.  The cost of parking in Milwaukee for six weeks was weighed against a bus from Madison to Milwaukee and the extra flight to Madison on our return.  I suspect that Julia will tolerate the bus pretty well at the beginning of the trip and landing in Madison after 6 weeks away may be like heaven for both of us!

The best fares that took travel time and number of changes into account were:
NYC to Milan/London to Madison (on united.com) $1298
NYC to Milan/London to Madison (on the Chase travel website) $1378-1447

I looked on the Chase Travel Website because I had travel miles points from my Chase Sapphire Credit Card which had the potential of being worth as much as $769 towards our tickets.  To utilize the maximum dollar value, I had to book through Chase Travel but when I searched, there were fewer flight options on the Chase Travel website.

I also had the option of cashing my points in and using them to pay the credit card bill after I bought from United, but in that case the points would be worth about $620.  There was also an option of transferring the points directly to United Airline and then using them on that site but the Chase website wouldn’t let me do that yesterday (some computer glitch), so I called Chase Travel to try to figure that out.  While I was on the phone, the agent asked why I wasn’t booking through Chase Travel and I told her about the limited flight choice.  She asked me what I wanted and then found at least three flights to Milan that did not show up on the Chase Travel website.  And she found them at a lower price, just by a few dollars, than those flights were listed on united.com.

It was time to take the plunge, and I was very happy that I had chosen to make that phone call.  I think the agent was as surprised as I was to make the sale when my aim was to find out about transferring points.  The tickets were $1375 each.  Using all my travel points to the best advantage, the tickets were $990 each.  This is a far cry from those days of Freddy Laker and round trips to and from London for under $400, but then again, we are not going to camp out on an airport floor overnight to wait on a line that might yield tickets.

And so, the getting there and back budget looks like:
Badger bus to Milwaukee $23.00
Southwest, Milwaukee to NYC (one-way) $87.00
United, NYC to Milan, London to Madison, WI  $990.00

So, total cost to get from my house to Italy and back again, with a stop in New York and London, will be $2,200 or 1,100 each.  There will be one more flight or train from somewhere in Italy to London which is yet unaccounted for.

For the time I put in figuring this out, I think I did well.  For Julia, the biggest question now is whether I will let her pack her Hogwart’s robes as well as her purple dinosaur.