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.

Published by

Chris Van Patten

I’m an entrepreneur, designer, theatre producer, and tea aficionado. I love helping artists achieve their digital potential through custom websites, apps, and more. I own and operate Van Patten Media, a boutique web agency in New York.

  • Michael Riosa Nielsen

    I wonder what did you get for the 95$? priority boarding? food on board?

  • James P Robinson

    Premium Economy is a godsend for long-haul Internation flights and I believe a complete waste of money for in Europe flights. I had a completely different experience:

    Many people enjoy basing Alitalia as the red-headed stepchild of the airline industry, but Premium economy is a great way to fly long to medium-haul international flights. Some of the negative reviews are probably well warranted in the age of airlines in general giving you less and charging you more. Some of them are based entirely on an anti-Italian bias such as she was too skinny and she did not come back and give me some more free Prosecco. As a new Yorker and well-seasoned international traveler; I ask you to take this into consideration when reading Alitalia reviews.

    The Facts:

    Booked 2 tickets from JFK to FCO on 3/31/2015 with Alitalia using their Premium economy product.

    This product puts any American carriers domestic first class to shame. They cordon off the entire Premium economy seating area which is limited to 24 seats or less. Offerings include a free amenity kit which depending on the time of year can be from a famous Italian designer. Priority boarding access and de-plaining are afforded to guests who use this product. Special meals which are HOT and taste good are included. We were fed four times and offered enough free drinks for us to consider going to a AA meeting. If you want something more merely ask, and the flight attendant will do their best to accommodate you. As someone who is disabled the Flight attendants insisted I use the first class bathrooms as they did not want me to walk very far. That was very considerate of them, and overall as a disabled person felt that they really went out of their way to make me feel welcomed and did everything in their power to show that.

    Checking in was a breeze, as you use the special line for first class as well.

    I believe this product is perfect in price if you want to feel like your flying first class but not spend a ton of cash for it.

    I would definitely say it was worth the $1800.00 round trip price from JFK to FCO and believe it was money well spent and will definitely would do it again. Great marks on Alitalia’s handling of a disabled passenger and their guest.

  • funkynewname

    Maybe some of the details of this post still apply to short haul flights within Europe, but when I go to Alitalia’s site at https://www.alitalia.com/en_us I see the following sub-menu:

    TRAVEL CLASSES
    Get an Upgrade
    Business Class Long Haul
    Business Class Medium Haul
    Premium Economy
    Economy

    Anyway, Premium Economy is clearly different from Economy in several ways for international long haul:
    https://www.alitalia.com/en_us/fly-alitalia/travel-classes/premium-economy.html
    https://www.alitalia.com/en_us/fly-alitalia/travel-classes/economy.html

    Also see: https://thepointsguy.com/2014/12/best-airlines-to-fly-international-premium-economy/