I Travel To Italy At Least Once A Year. Here’s Why I Won’t Go Without My Chase Sapphire Reserve – Forbes Advisor

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I’ve had the great privilege of traveling to over 80 countries across six continents. And while my desire to explore new destinations remains strong, so too does the pull to return to the places I most love. If I had to choose just one place to return to again and again, it would be Italy. In fact, I already do that since I visit at least once a year, oftentimes more. There’s something magical about finding a place that speaks to you, that keeps you coming back for more; a true home away from home.

While I’d likely find a way to go to Italy regardless of my circumstances, there’s no denying that my Chase Sapphire Reserve® adds something great to every visit. Whether it’s renting a car to explore small towns and being guaranteed auto insurance, dining at restaurants with hard-to-snag reservations and gaining a bucketload of points as a result or simply using points and miles acquired to book my flight, it would be tough to justify any future trip to Italy without my Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel throughRead More

This card offers superior points earning rates if you spend frequently on travel and dining out. The $300 travel credit justifies much of the annual fee, and redeeming points for travel through Chase Travel℠ nets you a 50% bonus.

My base is New York City, and though I can fly out of Newark International Airport (EWR), my preferred airports are John F. Kennedy (JFK) and LaGuardia (LGA). While this is mostly because of the dreaded commute to New Jersey, it’s equally attributed to the fact that JFK and LGA have a coveted destination within themselves: the Chase Sapphire Lounges.

Because I have a Chase Sapphire Reserve®, I am granted unlimited access to Chase Sapphire Lounges. Even if I find myself in an airport that doesn’t have a Chase Sapphire Lounge, which is likely since there are only four in the world, there’s probably another lounge I can visit. My Sapphire Reserve also grants me a complimentary Priority Pass Select membership (enrollment required), meaning I have access to over 1,500 lounges worldwide.

The Sapphire Reserve has one of the best points and miles transfer programs in the game. A 1:1 transfer ratio to over a dozen travel partners is a pretty sweet deal. While I am not particularly loyal to one airline, I do tend to use United Airlines for Chase points transfers to add to my ever-growing MileagePlus account. United flies to various cities in Italy, including but not limited to Rome, Milan, Venice, Catania, Palermo, Naples and Bari.

I don’t always use United, however. While I get a thrilling satisfaction every time I transfer my points, I’ve also used the Chase Travel℠ portal to redeem my Chase Ultimate Rewards® for flights, where each point is worth 1.5 cents with the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, which far outclasses virtually all other redemption options. This particularly helps when I need flights once I’m already in Italy—like a short jaunt from Milan to Bari, for example. When I use the Chase Travel portal, I can search through various local European airlines to get the best value.

Now that I’ve sipped a cocktail in the lounge and boarded my flight booked on points, it’s time to reach my Italian hotel. The Chase Travel portal is my go-to search engine for booking hotels all around the country.

One of my favorite properties I’ve personally stayed at is the Grand Universe Lucca. I personally think Lucca is where tourists should base themselves in Tuscany instead of Florence. Other top recommendations include Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa for a quieter Tuscan retreat and La Roccia Wellness Hotel in Cavalese, which has an infinity pool overlooking the Italian Dolomites.

All of these hotels can be booked using the Chase Travel portal. You can also use a combination of points and cash and you’ll earn 10 points per dollar on the paid portion of your hotel bookings.

Part of what keeps me coming back to Italy is the cuisine, which is globally recognized as one of the world’s best. It’s nearly impossible to get a bad meal in Italy, whether it’s a quick street “suppli” (snack) in Rome or a tasting menu at one of the country’s many fine-dining establishments. And by paying with my Sapphire Reserve card, I earn 3 points per dollar on all these delicious meals.

My favorite culinary destination (not only in Italy but in the world) is Modena, a small city in the Emilia-Romagna region which is known for tortellini. I’ve been several times and have eaten tortellini in all its forms during my visits.

I particularly enjoy the traditional tortellini en brodo at Trattoria Pomposa. At Franceschetta58, a restaurant in the Francescana Family, the tortellini (swimming in a decadent Parmigiano Reggiano crema) was so good that it made me cry. The dish is made in collaboration with Tortellante, a tortellini school where children and adults with autism learn how to make the traditional pasta, run by husband-wife duo Lara Gillmore and Massimo Bottura.

Speaking of Massimo Bottura and tortellini, after trying for eight years I finally got a reservation at his Osteria Francescana this past spring and was able to try the innovative “Tortellini or Dumplings?” dish. It’s a Korean twist on tortellini en brodo. Safe to say, tortellini consumption has earned me a lot of Ultimate Rewards points from my seemingly bottomless appetite for the circular pasta, whether at an old-school trattoria or one of the best restaurants in the world.

No visit to Italy is complete without visiting at least one winery. Recently, I visited Filodivino Wine Resort & Spa, an organic wine resort located in the Marche region. I used my Sapphire Reserve to purchase some bottles of sparkling rosé to take home, knowing that whether the purchase counted as travel or dining I’d earn triple points for my boozy souvenirs. And I can use my card with abandon thanks to one of the most underrated perks the Sapphire Reserve offers: no foreign transaction fees.

Italy is known for having an efficient train system; and in the majority of my past trips, I’ve purchased a Eurail Pass to navigate it. However, on my most recent visit to Italy, I finally faced my fear and rented a car to explore off-the-beaten-path Italian destinations.

While I was admittedly anxious about driving, using my Sapphire Reserve to book my rental car gave me some peace of mind since primary auto insurance is included. Not to mention, I used the Chase Travel portal to book my rental car which earned me 10 points per dollar. With the flexibility of having a car, I was able to visit several towns I would have otherwise missed, including Moresco, Morro d’Alba, Treia and Corinaldo. All of these villages are designated “borghi,” or protected historical towns, by the Italian nonprofit I Borghi di Piu Belli d’Italia.

Renting a car allowed me to embark on a personal quest too. The Italian Foreign Ministry declared 2024 the year of “Roots Tourism” which inspired me to go back to my great-grandmother’s town, Pignola, to search for missing documents needed to apply for Italian citizenship. Located in Basilicata, this venture would have been nearly impossible without the flexibility of a vehicle. And thankfully, despite the narrow roads of Southern Italy, the included auto rental insurance was never needed.

The blues always hit hard on my flight home. But on the plus side, landing back in the U.S. is always a swift process thanks to Global Entry. Although there’s a cost to this program, Sapphire Reserve can essentially join for free thanks to the card offering a statement credit of up to $100 every four years for Global Entry, TSA PreCheck® or NEXUS.

Taking the New York City subway after a long flight tends to exacerbate my post-Italy gloom, so I often skip public transit in lieu of a Lyft. While promos come and go, currently with my Sapphire Reserve I can earn 10 points per dollar on Lyft through March 2025.

I’m going to Italy either way, so why wouldn’t I utilize credit card perks to the fullest extent along the way? Accessing Chase Sapphire Lounges before embarking on a flight booked with points, jumping in my protected rental car, sleeping in a luxury hotel and then quickly escaping the U.S. airport thanks to Global Entry makes every trip I take a fantastic experience.

And the best part: With my Chase Sapphire Reserve®, I earn rewards from start to finish on my Italian adventures that I can use on my next trip.

Having solo traveled to over 80 countries across six continents, credit cards enthusiast Kaitlyn Rosati knows a thing or two about travel. Her work has been featured in publications like New York Daily News and Time Out, and she runs the blog No Man Nomad to provide tips on various destinations around the globe.