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15/06/2009 – Why Does Alitalia Grant Elite Frequent Flyer Status For Only 18 Days?
Over the past year I have frequently commented on Alitalia, the Italian national airline. Alitalia’s death has been predicted time and time again, and while I am one of the few who seems to see the genuine potential in Alitalia based on a number of factors, the airline still has a far way to go in gaining customer support, retaining loyal…and potentially loyal…frequent flyers and rebuilding the airline brand.
A simple example of one way Alitalia is failing to win over frequent flyers from competing carriers and competing frequent flyer programs is through its recent ‘status match promotion.’ Alitalia ran a brief promotion matching the status of other competing airlines’ frequent flyer programs in an effort to build passenger loyalty following its merge with Air One, and other airlines moving in on its core-market. Alitalia’s prime contender is the Germany national airline Lufthansa.
Lufthansa has made such an aggressive move into the Italian market that it has established a new carrier “Lufthansa Italia” that is based in Milan (MXP) and is dedicated to the Italian market. While Alitalia is known for strikes, poor passenger relations, delays, cancellations and one ‘oops’ after another, Lufthansa is known for being on-time, offering reliable service, being stable and having good passenger relations.
So…when Alitalia announced its ‘status match’ challenge I signed up to try and gain further insight into the Alitalia passenger experience. The requirements for the status-match was proof of elite frequent flyer status with a competing airline) and a requirement that four Alitalia flights be flown within a few weeks of the status match request. I met all the requirements (I have top tier status with BMI), and then I sat and waited…and waited…and waited for an e-mail that should have arrived in approximately 48hrs (no e-mail ever arrived).
…so where does Alitalia really fail to won over potentially loyal frequent flyers during this status match promotion? I’ll tell you.
On the 14th of May Alitalia mailed me an envelope from Rome thanking me for taking part on the airlines MilleMiglia Program, and informing me of my new elite frequent flyer status with the airline, Freccia Alata Club (equivalent to “Gold.”)
The letter that was mailed on the 14th of May arrived at my home in Connecticut, USA, on the 12th of June, almost a month after it was sent. In reading this welcome letter and looking at the attached frequent flyer card, I noticed the expiration date was June 2009. More specifically my elite frequent flyer status with Alitalia expires on the 30th of June 2009, just 18 days after I received the frequent flyer card.
While I am scheduled to travel on airlines within Alitalia’s airline alliance (SkyTeam) between the 12th of June and the 30th of June, there is no opportunity to achieve the required miles flown to maintain my Freccia Alata Club (Gold) status within 18 days.
I have read the letter a few times and it does say I can extend my status by a further six-months by flying Alitalia or Air One four times between ‘now’ and June 30th. I have already flown Alitalia four times since I signed up for the program, as specified in the status-match requirements, Alitalia does not deny that I have flown my four flights…however my status is only valid until June 30th…no further explanation has been provided.
Sure, I could purchase a round-the-world business class ticket, at a cost of roughly US$9,000…and the restriction that travel must take a minimum of 10 days, to maintain my Alitalia status. Normally with a status-match of ‘status challenge’ you must fly a certain number of miles, or flights, to maintain your status for 1 year giving you the opportunity to fly enough miles to maintain your status.
It seems that I did all the paperwork, sent the required faxes to Rome and credited two trans-Atlantic flight and two-intra-Europe flights to the Alitalia program (rather than my Air France-KLM frequent flyer account) only to receive elite status with the airline for 18 days.
While I still see significant potential for Alitalia’s future based on hubs, fleet, route structure and ground services assets, the airline seems to consistently overlook one important key element…airlines depend on repeat business. The passenger experience and passenger loyalty generates income. Had Alitalia granted me status for more than 18 days I would have credited my miles to their program and probably flown them again on certain trans-Atlantic routes. However with only 18 days to rack up another 31,019 miles I am forced to place my frequent flyer loyalty back in a program that clearly values me as a passenger rather than one that does not value me as a frequent flyer.
Maybe airline-geek extraordinaire Brett Snyder, who writes Cranky Flier, summed it up well with his opinion “I guess it’s only good for a month, because they don’t know if they’ll still be around after that.”
Below is a photo of the letter I received from Alitalia and a highlighted section from that letter.