How Alitalia Misled Me (Or: Economy Plus Is Not What You Think)

As problems go, this is a relatively small one.

I want to lead with that, lest you think I’m being overdramatic. Don’t worry, I know that the world has bigger fish to fry. That said, for a certain segment of the population, this could still be a problem, and thus it’s one I want to illuminate. Anywho…

Recently, I found myself booked on an Alitalia flight to Barcelona via Rome. I’m using Delta SkyMiles for this flight—30,000 miles plus $25 for taxes and fees—meaning that Delta sold me the flight even though it’s operated by Alitalia (not a codeshare or anything, you fancy airline pros, but an actual Alitalia flight).

Because of the way the Delta computers talk to the Alitalia computers—or the way they don’t talk—you need to make your seat reservations directly with Alitalia. I got the numbers I needed and called Alitalia to make the arrangements.

The agent on the phone answered quickly, and seemed eager to help. In fact, she mentioned, I could even upgrade to the airline’s “Economy Plus” offering for just $95. Considering how little I paid for the flight, that seemed like a bargain. I was in!

Quick background.

Alitalia calls their economy offering “Classica”. Their premium economy offering is called “Classica Plus”.

If you’re familiar with Alitalia, you might see right where this is going. But I wasn’t, and didn’t; this will be my first flight on Alitalia, not to mention my first ever award flight.

Back to the story.

Happy to have snagged a $125 flight to Barcelona in relative comfort and style, I cheerily went about my life. Until today.

Checking over my flight information again, and cross-referencing it with the cabin map on SeatGuru, I noticed that my assigned seat was in the economy cabin, not the premium economy cabin that I thought I was in. The $95 charge hadn’t posted to my credit card either, so I assumed a mistake had been made and my booking hadn’t been updated.

I gave Alitalia another call.

This time, they were still quick to answer, but as I explained the situation I was in it was clear today’s representative was in a very different mood. (I wonder if she had received similar calls in the past and was gearing up for the inevitable fight?)

You see, you may have noticed earlier that I was offered a seat in “economy plus”, not, as the airline brands it, “Classica Plus”. It turns out that although Classica is the Alitalia equivalent of economy, “Classica Plus” is not synonymous with “Economy Plus”.

Now if you’re a regular Alitalia customer, this might be obvious to you. But remember, this is my first Alitalia flight. I’ve also informally polled a few friends, and they all agreed: if Classica was economy, naturally economy plus would be equivalent to Classica Plus.

I won’t go too much into the “bedside manner” of this latest customer service agent, except to say that she was immediately defensive and acted shocked that this would have confused me. In fact, she seemed downright insulted that I would dare to question the policy. She was quick to place the blame squarely in my lap. And, of course, there would be no way I could get my money back and downgrade to a regular economy seat.

Again, in the scheme of things this is not a big problem. A $125 flight to Barcelona is still nothing to be too upset about. However, I still think this is a misleading practice (intentional or not, and it is probably not) worth highlighting, to prevent future travellers from making the same mistake.

A few takeaways for Alitalia (if you’re listening):

  • Change the name of this “economy plus” offering, or change the name of “Classica Plus”. Maybe the Italian translations are more clear, but in English they are totally misleading.
  • Train your customer service associates to be nicer. Although my first experience was pleasant enough, my second was quite the opposite, and based on a cursory Google search I know I’m not the only one. (Recent FlyerTalk thread title: “Is Alitalia an airline or a joke?”)
  • Make it easier (or just possible) to get a refund. I realise that airlines love these types of upgrades because they cost so little and maximise every dollar spent—especially on award flights. I also realise that with Alitalia in relatively rough financial waters, you’re eager to maximise those dollars more than usual. However the combination of poor customer service and inflexible policies are far more dangerous than a red balance sheet. A red balance sheet can be reversed, but it’s meaningless if customers don’t want to fly with you in the first place.

So there you have it. A quick cautionary tale, in hopes that it might steer someone else in the right direction in the future. As for me, I’ll try Alitalia a few more times (I hear that their customer service representatives all seem to have different interpretations of their policies; not a good omen for the quality of service, but potentially useful for me) and hope I get someone who is willing and able to help.

Otherwise, I’ll consider it a semi-expensive learning experience, and take solace in the fact that it might help you avoid the same $95 fate.

Let’s talk about burnout

As a solo entrepreneur, burnout is easily among the most frustrating problems you can face. Unfortunately, I face it pretty regularly.

When you’re the only full-time person at your business, it’s a major issue. You’ll find your projects falling behind. You’ll realise you don’t have passion for personal or side projects. And there’s often no-one to pick up the slack.

I’m going through a pretty bad case of burnout right now. In fact, I’ve been going through it for a few months now. Originally, I had planned to use my December-through-January break to rest and recuperate, but that didn’t quite work out. The “resting” I was doing was really anything but; instead of resting to restore my creative energy, I was resting to restore basic bodily functions. When I was finally “back to work”, my creative energy was (is) still out-to-lunch, leaving me in the lurch.

Even though I have my illness to blame for this prolonged burnout, it’s ultimately just a bit player. This particular case of burnout stretches back to late-November, and is just the latest revival of a long-running show. Realising that the problem wasn’t going away, I started laying the groundwork in November of last year for combatting burnout.

So here’s what I’m doing, now, in 2015, to help prevent future burnout.

Outsourcing more

I’m a huge proponent of outsourcing, so this was a good place to start. There were certain procedural tasks in my business that often weighed over me, whether I accomplished them or not. By outsourcing those, I can safely “remove” them from my brain, leaving more space to focusing on tasks I actually care about.

Raising the rates

I’ve known for a while that Van Patten Media’s standard hourly rate didn’t really match up with the high quality of our work, so late last year I decided the time had come to raise our agency rate. This has the direct benefit of reducing the number of clients I need to take on at any given time, because I’m less concerned about meeting a minimum income level. And ultimately, because I’ll be working with fewer clients, the clients I am working with will experience a higher quality of service, with fewer delays and more focus.

It also means I feel more comfortable bringing on new team members and contractors, because I know the budget can safely support it. This lets me focus on the parts of the project I enjoy, so I don’t lose my steam on things that I’m not passionate about.

Reducing work time

The other benefit (and one I hadn’t originally considered) of raising our agency rate was that I’m less compelled to work quite so much. As I mentioned in my last post, I’m aiming to confine client work to roughly 4 hours per day. It might not sound like a lot, but as we’ve improved our development processes and outsourced certain repetitive tasks, we are—as the expression goes—”working smarter, not harder.”

So those are just a few of the ways I’m aiming to fight burnout in the future. For this current case, I’m fighting it as I often have: lots of sleep, lots of tea, and lots of reading. Hopefully, with these new tactics, it’ll be the last case of burnout for quite a while.

The belated “welcome to 2015″ post

Hello, long-neglected blog. My bad. I have excuses, but they’re not entirely convincing. So where have I been?

The short version is “not working.” The long version is “not working and not by choice, sort of.” I went into the end of 2014 with a planned vacation; I wanted to give myself a month to recover from the insanity of autumn (lots of travel, lots of client projects, etc.) and work on a few personal projects. My “magic dates” were December 19 through January 19th. Or so I thought.

As always, life intervened, and while I was able to get through to the new year, I was hit with a pretty terrible illness on January 1st. I will spare you the messy details, but the PG version is that I was stuck in bed, unable to digest food, barely able to move (literally; I left my apartment maybe three times in a two week period), and completely and utterly exhausted. 15–16 hours of sleep per day was not out of the ordinary.

Fortunately, after multiple doctors visits and multiple prescriptions, I’m nearly fighting fit, and back to work. Although I didn’t get any time to work on personal projects, I’m being a bit smarter about how I structure my time this year. I’m aiming to dedicate around 4 hours a day to clients, and 3 to my own projects. I’m not sure yet how this will work, but the idea is sound, at the very least.

There’s a lot on the horizon too. Foremost in my mind is my impending trip abroad. I’ll be spending at least a month—perhaps two—in Barcelona. It’s my first major longish-term trip overseas in a few years, and I can’t wait. This is going to be a great opportunity to get the relaxation I missed while I was sick, and experience a partial winter without snow. I’m leaving in late February, which is coming sooner than I think.

In preparation for the trip I’m doing a lot of downsizing and minimising. I’ve always been a minimalist, but this travel is a great opportunity to take it to a new level. I doubt I’ll ever reach one-bag living—and I’m not sure I want to—but I still know I can do more with less. Even this blog has been hit; I’ve moved from my custom theme to WordPress’ default theme, 2015. I’ll probably make a few tweaks (namely fonts), but I’m already loving the extra breathing room.

Oh, and I’ve picked my three words for the year (though I’m not dedicating a post to them as in years past). The words are bold, brave, and fearless. Similar, yes, but they are going to help me focus on getting more assertive, forward, and direct. Fear is the root of so many problems we encounter and I want to devote this year to eradicating it from my life.

Anyway, that’s where we’re at so far, just a month in. Thanks for tuning in, as always, and I’ll talk to you soon in the comments, via email, or on Twitter.