Thursday, January 10, 2013

Travelling the Italian Way

What is loyalty, really? I know you can be loyal to a husband, a wife, a country, or a friend... but what about being loyal to an airline?

For five consecutive years I travelled from Tel Aviv to Toronto and back with Air Canada, faithfully collecting miles through their Aeroplan frequent flyer program.  After having flown with many different airlines in the past, I decided to make Air Canada “my airline” for a number of reasons - the leading reasons being that it was a direct flight and I felt I was supporting my “national” airline.

“National airline?” you say. “Isn’t that a little far-fetched? What about El Al? Surely they are more a national airline for you now. And they fly direct to Toronto, also.”

Well, yes. But I have one small, very significant problem with El Al. Put too many Israelis in a confined space and things just get nasty.

So one might call me a loyal Air Canada traveller. Well, at least until December 2012, that is,  when Air Canada and I parted ways and I travelled to Toronto and back with another airline. Did I feel guilty? A little. Did Air Canada really care? Probably not. And there lies the problem.

Over the years, I started to feel that I was being taken for granted by Air Canada. Instead of welcoming my business and adding in a few perks to reward me for my loyalty, Air Canada showed no real signs of wanting my business at all. Not once was I offered an upgrade, or a chance to exchange points for an upgrade. I never knew whether they would be offering special winter deals that year, and when they did offer, it was usually announced late in the year - in October or November. And I couldn’t wait that long before purchasing my December ticket. And when I flew to Scotland with another Star Alliance member airline earlier in the year, Air Canada wouldn’t honour the miles accumulated with that airline, providing some lame excuse. Except for the direct flight, and the feeling of “Oh Canada” as I entered the plane, I began to wonder whether there was really much of an advantage flying Air Canada. And then along came Alitalia.

Six years ago, at about the same time I joined the Air Canada frequent flyer program, I also  joined the Alitalia frequent flyer program on a whim. But when I discovered that Alitalia was experiencing financial difficulties, I decided that they were not an option at the time. However, over the years, Alitalia managed to get its act together through new financial arrangements and they began an aggressive marketing campaign. Which led one day to an offer that I found in my inbox - an offer I found quite difficult to refuse. 15% off any ticket to a destination of my choice. And not only 15% off the base fare, which Air Canada had once offered me (the base fare constituting only about a half of the total cost of the ticket before taxes and services are added on) - but 15% off the final price. The only catch was that I had to purchase a ticket between 10 p.m. that night and 5 a.m. the following morning. Usually I am not that spontaneous (ask my wife), but taking into account that Alitalia’s regular price for a round trip ticket to Toronto was already about a hundred dollars cheaper than Air Canada’s cheapest combination, and that all in all Alitalia’s price would be about three hundred dollars cheaper, I made the leap.

Now, you may say that I sold out my loyalty for $300, and in part, you may be right. But it was more than this. I felt sought after again. I felt that someone valued my business. I just hoped that there wasn’t another catch somewhere.

The only catch I could find was Rome airport where I had to catch my connecting flight. Even a Kupat Holim corridor has more seats than they have in a gate section at Rome airport. With little chance of finding a place to sit, you are left to wander the halls or sit down on the grubby floor. But it was only two hours between flights and I could excuse this small hindrance for the price offered. And when it came to flying Alitalia, I was pleasantly surprised. The flight from Tel Aviv to Rome was a bit cramped, like most flights within Europe, but the flight from Rome to Tel Aviv was spacious, with a personal screen on the back of each seat (although the movie selection was quite inferior to Air Canada’s selection).

So, I made it to Toronto. The only thing remaining was to see whether they would get me back to Tel Aviv in the new year.  And here was the icing on the cake.

You’d think that once they had “roped me in”, they would treat me with the same disregard as Air Canada. But here I was at Toronto Pearson International Airport, awaiting the return leg back to Israel, when I heard my name. “Will David Lloyd please come up to the desk for the Alitalia flight to Rome.” I walked up to the desk wondering whether they would tell me that I had only paid for half a ticket when a very pleasant woman attendant took my ticket and gave me a new one. “We are upgrading you to business class,” she said.

My first flight with Alitalia and I already got upgraded. Air Canada, suck on that! It is almost enough to get you to wave the Italian flag and learn to speak Italian. Would I fly with Alitalia again? Well, right now I see very good reason to travel the Italian way.



  1. Hi David!
    I too have given up on Air Canada, after many years of flying and 10s of thousands of miles. They cancel your miles after a year if you don't use them and in general are really nasty (the admin that is - I love their cabin crew in general). We have switched to BA, for many reasons. Having a daughter in London UK and a son and daughter-in-law and grandson in Calgary, BA gives us great options on stops and flights and schedules. Their fares are in general lower than AC, and the biggest bonus for us is that their Executive Club (i.e. frequent flyer program) has a FAMILY plan - you can have up to seven family members on the same account, and everyone's miles are available to everyone in the family. We have also transferred all our 'kochavim' and points from AmEx and Isracard to them, and now have oodles of miles to use. I really recommend joining them!

    1. Thanks for the tip, Richard. I will look into it. There appears to be growing criticism in the way Aeroplan is run and it is good to know that there are viable alternatives.

  2. You can be loyal to the airlines due to some reasons like you are very satisfy with the airline service. By the way i never had any bad experience with any airline. I can fly with any airline.