Alitalia’s MilleMiglia loyalty program has some gems on its award chart and is an oft-overlooked American Express transfer partner. Highlights include:
- North America-Southern South America 75,000 miles roundtrip in business class
- North America-North Asia 90,000 miles roundtrip in business class
- North America-Tahiti 90,000 miles roundtrip in business class
- North America-Southeast Asia 95,000 miles roundtrip in business class
- North America-India 100,000 miles roundtrip in business class
While not last-seat availability, MilleMiglia also offers “standard” awards if you have less flexibility in your travel plans. For example, North America-Europe is 200,000 miles roundtrip in business class. Not a sensational deal to be sure, but helpful in a pinch.
Alitalia award flights can be booked online, but SkyTeam partners require a call to Alitalia’s call center (1.800.223.5730) to book. The good news is that there is rarely a hold required to speak to an agent. But that’s about the only upside…
Agents are generally friendly, but extremely incompetent and extremely constrained in what they can do. I had a client who wanted to send his father from Los Angeles to Taipei on China Airlines. Only 90K on the Alitalia award chart compared to 180K with Air France/KLM Flying Blue or 120K with Delta Skymiles.
He had tried to book it himself and got nowhere with the telephone agents before turning to me. It took me a few calls, but I finally found an agent who was willing to let me walk him through how to book it–put in the city pair, put in the airline code for China Airlines (CI), put in the dates, then search for the specific flight numbers. The space was found and ticket issued. A confirmation from Alitalia was received almost immediately with the booked flights.
But the agent could not provide the China Airlines record locator. Whenever I book an award with a partner carrier, I wait just under 24 hours then check with each of the partner airlines to make sure the respective flights are properly reserved in their own system. If there is a problem, it is best to catch and correct it early.
China Airlines has limited call center hours in its U.S. (Los Angeles) office and the following day after about a 20 minute hold I reached an agent who confirmed the flights were in the system. All set. Or not?
A couple days later, my client e-mailed me and said he had called China Airlines to try to assign seats for his father and they said there was problem with the reservation. I picked up the phone and called CI. The agent pulled up the reservation and stated that Alitalia had never confirmed the reservation and therefore the space had cancelled.
I thanked her and called Alitalia back. An agent empathically stated, “The reservation is fine. China Airlines cannot see it because it is an Alitalia reservation.”
Next call–the agent was quite argumentative, stating that the reservation was intact because the flights still showed confirmed on his screen. He refused to check with a supervisor.
I knew I would not get far with Alitalia, so I called China Airlines back. I reached a great agent who, after listening to my story about Alitallia’s refusal to help, sold the flights in the reservation and somehow re-issued the ticket herself. I do not know how she did it, but everything was now fine, no thanks to Alitalia.
Fast forward a couple months. The client’s father decided to postpone the trip to the fall and called upon me to change the reservation. I verified space on the Flying Blue website and called Alitalia back to make the change (date changes on an award ticket are complimentary).
The first agent claimed the space was not there after taking about 10 minutes to search for it. I could not help but to wryly ask him to revisit his training manual before taking the next call. The next agent found the space and re-issued the ticket. I again received a copy of the updated e-ticket almost immediately.
But the next day when I called China Airlines, the old flights were still in the system. The agent refused to update the travel dates (rightfully so) and directed me back to Alitalia. Alitalia was again no help at all. They claimed the reservation was in order, new dates confirmed, and that the problem was with China Airlines.
A back and forth ensued, with me finally conferencing in both parties. Even that was not productive — I had to find another CI agent willing to rebook the space for me. It took a few phone calls, but finally I did. The reservation is now in order.
What I did — and the China Airlines agents did for me — was not proper protocol. Alitalia, as the issuing carrier, should be the carrier that makes changes up until departure and I’ve never seen a partner airline intervene, as China Airlines did here. But I am thankful they did.
Be warned if booking Skyteam partner space on Alitalia: it may not be a straightforward process.