Borgo Pignano during our Italy 2017 trip. Cool converted Tuscan villa.
We stayed at some unique places during our trip to Italy. I didn't book them at all with Points this time around, but I did my best to get them on a deal. In addition, I signed up for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus Card which basically gives you $420 to spend on any travel. This is perfect for Airbnb stays, for example. I think the lesson is that sometimes it makes sense to use points when you can, other times, it can be worth it to save them for a future trip to get the most out of them.
HotelsNone of our Italy hotels were booked on points (but I did make the original reservations on points)
I like to book hotel rooms on points, if possible, because it feels free. However this time I had an additional criterion, I wanted to book us in places where Sarah and I could sleep separately from our son, since we all get better sleep that way. If that meant booking a suite or an extra room or a unique place, that was the goal.
Another challenge is that Italy is kind of a weird market for points hotels. Yes there are points hotels in Venice and Rome, but very few with Hyatt (best value for points in my opinion) and the Starwood hotel redemption options were super expensive (these are harder to get!) in terms of points. In some of the areas we went like the Cinque Terre, there are just plain no points hotels at all.
I made two of our reservations on points. The first points hotel we stayed at was in Florence. We stayed at the AC Hotel Firenze which is a 10 min walk from the main Florence train station. It was convenient to get on public transportation to get to the city center's historical sites and was located in a pretty quiet neighborhood. Another posh option I was looking at was the Westin Excelsior Florence on the River (Starwood), however it didn't have points rooms available when I was ready to book and it's 20k starpoints per night. I booked the AC Hotel Firenze on points at first for 35,000 Marriott points per night, but then the price dropped to below $100 a night and I decided this was better than using points. We stayed for 3 nights in Florence. The room was large enough that we just got a normal room from this hotel.
The second reservation on points was at the Le Meridien Visconti Rome. It's located near the Tiber River near the Supreme Court and not far from Vatican City. The location isn't near some of the more touristy parts, but that was ok and there's plenty of buses and taxis around. I found that taxis are pretty cheap (like 7-10 EUR to get from the hotel to Colosseo at night). This place was 12,000 points per night. However, I knew the rooms would be small, so I had the option of booking two adjoining rooms (would have cost 24,000 starpoints per night) for just around $190 per night (The "Connections Room") and so I again changed our reservation the day before we were to begin our stay there. Oh yeah! The hotel also had 3 awesome gelato spots within 1-2 blocks.
How we booked other unique places we stayedI tried Airbnb for the first time on this trip. I just wasn't finding what I wanted for points hotels in Venice. And the prices for normal (crappy Venice) hotel rooms seemed really high. On Airbnb, it seemed like there were a lot more options. I narrowed the search to whole apartments and found a nice little place in the middle of the action between Rialto bridge and Piazza San Marco. The place had a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen/living room with a pack n play for the baby. It worked well for 2 nights.
In Cinque Terre, I also used Airbnb to look up places to stay, however, I discovered that many of the places were actually rented by a vacation rental company called Cinque Terre Riviera. The price for the same unit via CTR was much less than the price via Airbnb (even accounting for the Airbnb markup). So I booked directly with them for our 3 nights in Cinque Terre. We stayed in this little place called "Petrella's Point" it had an upstairs loft and a downstairs with a kitchen and living room and bathroom seemingly carved into the stone many years ago. The price was right 110 EUR per night plus 50 EUR cleaning fee at the end. This place was right near the water and action. During the day we could hear everyone walking by, but at night, when trains stop running, the place is calm and quiet--we seemed to have the whole place to ourselves.
OK this post is getting long.
Luxury Travel Diary Auctions
Here's my favorite little lesson/secret I used for this trip. I learned about a blog called Luxury Travel Diary that holds auctions for luxury hotels and travel items. They have auctions that end every few days or so, but you can see which ones are going on up to 3 months in advance. Most of the auctions are for places I am not planning to go right now like Abu Dhabi or the English countryside or Bali. Often if it's a hotel stay, it has to be used during a specific set of dates.
Occassionally, there's one to get excited about. I saw one for Borgo Pignano in Tuscany and thought it might be interesting. It was described as a suite in this converted Villa for 2 nights worth $1080. It worked with our dates, so I rolled with it and started bidding. The way the bids work is that the auction ends at a certain time. If a high bid is entered within 10 min of the end time, the bidding is extended for 10 min. I was on there for an extra 90 minutes bidding against 2 other random people, but won the auction for 237GBP.
Here are a bunch of photos of the place, view from our room, the courtyard, library, billiard hall, bathroom, bedrooms, and cool doors to our room.
The room ended up being a 2-room "Suite with Charm" and the room came attached to a HUGE bathroom with homemade soaps, a large tub I could fit in, a shower, bidet, and two sinks.
Seriously, this place turned out to be the highlight of our whole Italy visit as Sarah has written. Beautiful views, gorgeous grounds and rooms, the best service, and nearly everything is sourced from their own farm, garden, and apiary. I can't say enough good things. They even served fresh figs in our room upon arrival from the fig tree outside! Guess who liked those. . . We all did. What an awesome place.
Oh and here's the breakfast spread: