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Airfare from SFO to Italy-Inexperienced international traveler Need help

Hi folks. I live in San Francisco Bay Area, California. I would like to go to Italy May 2012. What is the shortest air route? What is a good price range from SFO? When should we pull the trigger? We dont have any frequent flyer miles, will just pay for the ticket. We want to go to Rome, Tuscany/Florence, and Cinque Terre. I need advise on best way to fly and finding a good price. And any thoughts on the best order to do this. We would prefer to sit in the 2 seat section and have no one sitting with us. thanks

Posted by
3580 posts

You can go to Expedia.com or another site and compare airline fares. I fly United Airlines. To get to Rome, one way to go is SFO to Washington DC (IAD), then IAD to Rome. You can start shopping now. If you don't feel up to doing the online search yourself, consider using a travel agent. When I fly to Europe, I usually fly non-stop to London Heathrow (LHR), then travel on from there either by plane or train.

Posted by
2788 posts

I would recommend that you get a copy of RS "Europe thru the Back Door" book and read it. It is a good primer for European travel. You need to do some more research on your own to better define your itinerary and then come back to this web site with specific questions. You should also get RS Italy Guide Book for information on the places you are thinking about visiting there. Otherwise, without a lot more effort, I would suggest you go to a travel agency who can do much of the planning for you. Happy travels.

Posted by
16479 posts

Kayak.com will show you all the airlines, ranked by price, low to high. Use the "my dates are flexible" feature to have it show you the price for lots of date combinations. Picking random dates in May, it looks like roundtrip SFO to Rome is around $1400; a bit less ($1354) for US airlines with a stop in the US (JFK, Philadelphia, Chicago, etc.) and a bit more ($1424) for European airlines that make their first stop in Europe (London, Paris, etc.) Personally, flying from the West coast of the US (Seattle), we always choose a Euroopean airline that makes its first stop in Europe, not in the US. Among the choices that pop up I would look at Swiss, which flies direct to Zurich, where you change for a plane to Rome, The Zurich airport is very easy to navigate; you won't see it on the list of "most hated airports." You can check the seating configuration of any airline and specific aircraft on Seatguru.com. A 2-seat configuration is hard to find in Economy on the overseas flight; you might need to go Economy Plus. For Rome, Florence/Tuscany and Cinque Terre, you could fly in and out of Rome, or into Rome and out of Pisa or maybe Florence. Or even Milan, which is often less expensive (but the price of hotels in Milan may offset that!)

Posted by
16479 posts

Some more thoughts for the "inexperienced traveler": opinions may differ, but as one who has flown to Europe from the West coast many times, I strongly prefer a flight that leaves late in the day and arrives late the following day. This way you get a "short" night, but you can get some sleep (unless you are totally unable to sleep on planes). On arrival, you have a few hours to check in to your hotel, walk around and explore, refresh yourself, have a bit to eat, and then go to bed at a reasonable time, local time. With this schedule we awake the next day ready to hit the ground running. The Swiss flight I pointed to above departs SFO at 7:35 pm and arrives in Rome at 7:05 pm, which I would find pretty ideal. Many other airlines (United, British, American) offer flights that leave SFO in the morning, around 9 am, and arrive in Rome around 9 am the next day. This means you spend what would be your normal daytime waking hours on the plane, and arrive with another whole day to stay up and be active if you want to adjust to local time. That would not work for me. The Swiss flight uses an Airbus A340-300, with a 2-4-2 seating configuration in economy. So you can have the privacy you want on that plane. As for when to buy, before we started flying on miles, we bought when we committed to the trip, around 6 or 8 months in advance. Prices from Seattle in high season do not fluctuate much, at least for the type of flight we want, so there is no benefit for us in stressing out over when to buy. I hope someone with specific experience in flying from San Francisco can advise you if that market is significantly different.

Posted by
705 posts

As has been already stated, the shortest air route is one-stopeither in the US or in Europe. You should "pull the trigger" when you are comfortable with the price, schedule, etc. I just checked RT SFO-Rome departing 2 May and returning 23 May and got $1014 from cheapoair.com (with an overnight layover in London) and $1034 for the same dates from beststravelstore.com. (Disclaimer: I know nothing about these sellers.) Order: If you fly into and out of Rome you can make a loop. Study a map and it'll help you decide. Several Airbus and Boeing planes have a 2-3/4/5-2 seat configuration and are used on long haul flights. Select a flight and use seatguru as was suggested. Enjoy planning and good luck.

Posted by
14580 posts

I agreed with Lola's assessment and comments, except I rather land in London, Frankfurt, or Paris after a ten hour flight in the morning local time, or at the latest by 1300. Depart from SFO in the late afternoon, non-stop, arrive ca. noon.

Posted by
2829 posts

I'd rather take a flight from SFO to Europe, and connect there to Italy (if so) than flying elsewhere to US and getting a flight to Italy. But that is just a matter of preference: I prefer to take a longer flight + shorter flight than the other way around.

Posted by
265 posts

I find it best to connect in Europe for two reasons: 1: connection is far easier on the return to the US since you can have your bags checked through. If you connect in the US, on the way back, you have to retrieve your bags at your connection point and recheck them. With immigration delays adding on to this, connections from international flights can be stressful. 2: Not specifically related to connecting in Europe, but connecting in Europe often means using an European airline (although not always). I usually prefer European airlines across the pond because of better food and free wine. Also the use of US based airlines often means additional security on the return leg due to TSA requirements. TSA only impose this on US based airlines.

Posted by
2829 posts

Cristophe, all US-bound airplanes have additional security measures imposed. In some airports, like Heathrow, there is an exclusive area in the terminal for US and Israel-bound flights. In Malpensa, companies operating flights to US have even specific check-in positions for US flights. What may make you think otherwise is because, for obvious reasons, US airlines only fly to US, whereas European airlines fly to other destinations as well.

Posted by
16479 posts

Fred-yes, you can get to London, Fraankfurt, or Paris in 10 hours by direct flight. But Leanne is going to Italy, and as far as I know there are no direct, non stop flights from SFO to Italy. They will have to change planes and take a connecting flight. So a 14 hour flight time, including the time to change planes, is pretty much the minimum.

Posted by
146 posts

Hi Leanne, Good advice above to fly from SFO to Europe non-stop. No plane transfer, just a straight shot. On Tuesday, May 1st, on Momondo.com, I see a SwissAir direct flight, SFO to ZRH (Zurich,) for $1,130.00 round trip. After arriving in Zurich, (on Thursday,) I see an Air Berlin flight from ZRH to Rome Fiumicino, (FCO) for $106.00 one way. Train it around from there, until catching a flight back to Zurich to fly back home. Something like that. But this is your holiday, and you're the one that's going to have to do the homework. Things that I may like, you may not. (I really don't see that, as my tastes are impeccable, but, :) As mentioned above, get your Rick Steves guidebook, maps, travel skills video, moneybelts, etc. The planning stage can be really fun too! You have this huge blank canvas of Italy and you get to paint in all the colors, getting to pick anyplace you want to see. In finding flights we have a big white board, and we start looking 125 calendar days ahead of the day we wish to travel. We then plug in the "Big 8", which are the european airports that we seem to get the best prices on. We fly out of Atlanta, so we start in order, with the airport codes, AMS, BRU, DUB, FRA, LON, MAD, PAR, and ZRH. Then we keep track each week. The price fluctuations are amazing. Some rise, some drop, the closer you get to your travel date. Some are skyhigh high, then, boom, ATL to DUB on Aer Lingus, $477 or $499. Or Frankfurt drops on a Lufthansa special. Once you get a good price, try changing your travel day and return day, one day either way, and check the price again. Might go down.
Once you get your tickets, Go to SeatGuru.com, put in your flight number, and look for the best rated seats for that aircraft. Try to get those seats, or at least not to get the bad seats. Whew! I need a glass of wine now. Good Luck, Happy Travels.