Traveling from San Francisco to Venice on 6/19/14 traveling through Italy and then will be leaving to come home from Rome approximately 3-4 weeks later. Since there are no direct flights to Italy from SF, what is your personal experience on the best airline to travel, whether your first stop should be in USA or Europe? I really would prefer to only have one stop but if someone can convince me otherwise I'm open to suggestions. Thanks
I always book a connection in Europe rather than the US. If I miss a connection, my options are better if I'm stuck in a European city. I like leaving SFO in the evening, which typically gets me to my destination in Italy in the early evening. It gives me enough time to find my hotel, take a walk, and settle in for the night. I find that leaves me in the best condition to enjoy the next day... since I don't really sleep on the plane. I just shop by price and schedule. I liked Scandinavian out of SFO. Last couple of times I flew Delta (codeshares with various European airlines). The European carriers seem sometimes to have better amenities planes than many US carriers (eg, the seatback entertainment). The only one I'd avoid is Alitalia or a codeshare using Alitalia (and a number of the SFO Delta flights may be Alitalia codeshares). I had a nightmare experience with them last year returning from Italy; really, it was the worst experience I've had in decades of travel. And it was a series of human factors decisions/attitudes, things that could easily have been avoided with decent customer service.
Thanks for the info. Do you prefer to fly into UK (London) or do you prefer a different country to connect to Italy?
After over 35 round trips from SFO to Italy, I will give you my 2 cents. You should try to fly directly non stop from SFO to a European hub, then from there proceed to Venice. I avoid the airports in the East Coast like the plague. Going through the East USA will prolong your trip by several hours over the more direct Arctic route and will greatly increase the risk of missed flights because the weather and the congestion Back East is conducive to delays. My no. 1 choice is Lufthansa via Frankfurt or Munich (also with their partner United, although UA makes you pay for alcoholic drinks, while LH is free). In part because I have United miles, but also because SFO is a United hub and they are Lufthansa partners, therefore there are lots of options to Germany (3 dailies to FRA and one to MUC). Swiss (part of Lufthansa) via Zurich is also another good choice from SFO. AirFrance via Paris CDG is another good option (especially if you have Delta miles, since they are partners). KLM (part of AirFrance) via Amsterdam is another good choice, however I don't like the old plane they sometimes use off season from SFO To AMS (an old McDonnell Douglas MD11), In summer they use a B747 though. Alitalia doesn't fly to SFO anymore, so that's not an option. British, via London Heathrow could be an option to Rome but not so good to Venice. They have only one daily flight from Heathrow to VCE (most are from Gatwick) and I would hate to have to change airports in London by bus (unless you plan to stay in London a few days). Scandinavian via Copenhagen, as Sherry suggested, is not a viable option for similar reasons. There is only one daily flight from CPH to VCE and by the time your flight from SFO arrives at CPH, that flight has already departed and you would have to spend the night. Unless you plan a visit for a few days in Copenhagen, I wouldn't do it.
A quibble, and slightly off-topic: KLM does not fly L-1011s anywhere, according to the airline's website https://www.klm.com/travel/gb_en/prepare_for_travel/on_board/seating_plans/index.htm
Having said that, I find KLM cabin crews to be unfailingly amiable and prefer Amsterdam as a transfer airport.
Roberto's superb reply has almost all you need. The one thing he omitted: Go to http://www.kayak.com, and choose "multi city." Put in your flight segments (SFO to VCE, then FCO to SFO) and your dates. See what comes up. Then, on the left, you can filter the responses by number of stops, connection airports, layover times, etc - very handy. Kayak searches a number of websites to find fares; usually, you then book directly with the airline (if you have a choice of booking with the airline or with another site, use the airline's site). I'll also add that, while everyone has a different experience, the consensus seems to be that for connecting, Amsterdam and Munich are best, then Frankfurt, while Paris and London are the worst (of the ones you can choose from on this trip). Do heed Roberto's points about being wary of changing airports and needing to stay overnight; these problems can be a bit hard to see on Kayak, so you have to look for them. And, good plan to start in Venice and end in Rome, rather than the reverse. As Roberto often points out, flights out of Venice often leave very early and getting to VCE at early hours is a pain. Flights out of Rome can leave later, and even if yours doesn't, getting to FCO at early hours is easy.
I have no specific airline suggestions but when I have to book a trip that involves a stop, I try to book on 1 airline all the way through. That way, the airline has a vested interest in seeing that you make your connecting flight. I have had some unfortunate instances when I used 2 different carriers so I now only book on 1 airline for trips that involve a stop.
I meant KLM flies an old McDonnell Douglas MD11 to SFO in winter, not a L1011. I corrected my post accordingly. Whoever doesn't believe me can come to my office in winter and see all airplanes landing into SFO. They all fly in front of my window before touch down. I am that close. Munich is also my favorite for connections. Unfortunately on the way from SFO to VCE the timings aren't too good and there is a 4+ hour layover in MUC, therefore going to VCE the FRA option is better (the FRA-VCE gate is close to your arrival gate, we just did that). Coming back via Munich would work. That was our choice: going through FRA returning via MUC.
Thank you all so much! Last question.........I have found tickets right now to be very expensive for our trip at the end of June 2014. Any tips on the best time to buy tickets, since we're almost a year out? We're also fairly flexible.
Look at this thread, with very similar questions (except from Seattle instead of SFO): http://www.ricksteves.com/graffiti/helpline/index.cfm/rurl/topic/108130. If you scroll down, you see my reply, which also applies to you. In summary, look now, get to know the prices and routes, sign up for e-mail alerts, discuss the options with your travel partners, and be ready to buy right away when you see a price you want.
I usually buy tickets 2 to 4 months in advance. I have an Italian friend also living in the Bay Area, and also flying to FLR, who buys them just a couple of days ahead. She always gets better deals than I (albeit with longer itineraries). so go figure!