An Evergreen Story on Fare Glitches

Travel deals like $51 to Fiji or $61 to Iceland are like dreams come true; impossible fantasies for most people in the world. So who needs a news hook? The Wall Street Journal ran another piece on the Alitalia fare glitch, $33 + tax for business class Toronto to Cyprus, in its weekend edition yesterday.

    Stephen Mutkoski, a 37-year-old lawyer at Microsoft near Seattle, was thrilled recently to find a mistaken fare online for flights to Europe — just $33 plus taxes. He quickly booked trips for himself and his wife in July, August and Thanksgiving week. The catch: The flights are to Larnaca, Cyprus. From Toronto.

I love this description of Flyertalk:

    The online epicenter of travel-deal discovery is FlyerTalk, a sort of methadone clinic for frequent-flyer and hotel-stay program addicts. In its highly trafficked message forums, users exchange tips, strategies, news of the latest travel promotions, and the best ways to achieve and maintain “elite” status in various programs. They also pass along reports of pricing errors.

Although isn’t methadone supposed to wean you off of the addiction? Flyertalk just feeds it.

Friends and colleagues booked 28 of the Toronto-Cyprus business class tickets and fortunately Alitalia is honoring them and even allowing one-time changes and additions/deletions of stopovers.

But it was sure a rocky road getting there. First Alitalia began unilaterally cancelling itineraries without even informing the booking agencies who processed the tickets. People were being sent paper tickets (since the Italy-Cyprus flights were codeshares with Cyprus Airways) but in many cases didn’t have reservations.

Then Alitalia agreed to honor the tickets, and began reinstating reservations. But they also unilaterally imposed new fare rules that forbid changes and disallowed stopovers, so they started edited folks’ itineraries — once again without telling anyone — in order to delete stopovers. People would have shown up at the airport on the wrong day even.

Finally Alitalia agreed that original itineraries would be honored, and Alitalia had to go back and recreate each and every one of those itineraries. The official word is that there are 509 of them, but this seems extremely low to me given how many I helped to book and how many others I directly know of as well.

Alitalia also agreed to make one-time changes to itineraries. For a short period of time Alitalia was even allowing travelers to drop the Cyprus leg of the trip, after all that means the airline wouldn’t have to pay codeshare partner Cyprus Airways for that set of flights. And folks who had booked Toronto-US City-Italy-Cyprus were being allowed to start flying from the US City as that too would save Alitalia money. But the official word is that travel must commence in Toronto and terminate in Larnaca, Cyprus. The dropping of segments to change departing and destination cities only lasted for about 24 hours before Rome put the clamp down.

Still, I have no complaints (I was in transit back from Bangkok during that generous 24 hour period and didn’t get to take advantage of it.)

I’ve worked with Nicollo in Alitalia’s New York office to change 4 sets of itineraries so far, and he’s the nicest and most helpful guy I could possibly imagine, especially in the face of a difficult challenge. His voicemail even references, “if you’re traveling from Toronto to Cyprus…”

An amazing ride, and I haven’t even taken the trip yet!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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