Like most people, we love visiting Italy. With so many historic cities, quaint small towns, vibrant culture and delicious food, Italy is one of the few places we've visited that compels us to visit again and again.
Unfortunately on our most recent visit, our trip was memorable for the wrong reasons.
We purchased economy tickets on Alitalia for flights that seemed decent – direct, round trip New York to Rome. The website buying process was straightforward and at no point during the checkout process did it say anything other than that we were buying Economy tickets.
Once booked, our email receipt looked standard as well, indicating we had purchased 3 tickets that each included 1 checked bag (up to 23 kgs), per leg of the flight.
It wasn't until we arrived at the airport to check in that the scam revealed itself.
our fare receipt, clearly outlining 1 included checked bag per person
Alitalia coded our fares as ‘Light' on their system.
Never mind that our email receipts said nothing about light – only Economy Promo – and that our receipt clearly stated we were allowed checked bags. The gate agents refused to provide boarding tickets unless we paid for bags.
And how much was the cost?
A whopping $60 USD per bag, per leg. Thankfully we were flying direct but if we had a layover, the sticker shock would have been worse.
Shrugs at the Gate
We attempted to show our email receipt to the gate agents, and they agreed that the receipt indicated we should be able to include a bag, but pointed to the computer and said it was a system code. They kept claiming Light fares did not include booked seats or checked luggage.
Now, we had been able to pick our seats and the computer did show our seat assignments. When we asked the gate agents how we could have possibly chosen seats if our fare was ‘Light', they didn't have an answer.
The Alitalia gate agents advised us to file a complaint with the company upon our return, in order to get a refund and resolve the overcharge.
One agent even muttered to her coworker, “They (Alitalia) gotta fix that”.
We asked if this situation happened often and she said with a sheepish shrug “all the time”.
The entire situation felt designed to be purposely misleading.
We paid the bag fees and made our way to the gate, extremely annoyed. If we had known the fares didn't include bags, it would have been simple enough to travel carry on only. We do that all the time.
The airline leads you to believe your international fare includes 1 checked bag, then jumps you with a sky high fee once you're at the check in counter, at a point in time where there is nothing else for you to do but pay. After all, you've already booked your vacation.
What, are you going to turn around and go home?
What happened next made us realize it was widespread.
As we waited at the gate, a family sat down on the seats across from us, and kept looking back and forth at their ticket and printed booking receipt, whispering among themselves.
We had a sneaking suspicion they had also been overcharged bag fees and struck up a conversation. It turns out they also had purchased Economy tickets, only to be told at the counter that Alitalia considered their tickets Light fares, without bags.
We commiserated over the bag fee charges and shared the customer service number that the gate agents gave us, passing on the information about filing a complaint.
At this point, I had a bad feeling that 6 people were not the only ones to be taken advantage of by Alitalia. I jumped online and had a look around to see if anyone else had been coerced into paying for bag fees twice, and found a whole host of eerily similar complaints:
Alitalia Better Business Bureau Complaint
This Woman Flew 1 Route Fine, but Alitalia Overcharged Bag Fees on the Return
Yet Another Alitalia Economy Ticket that *Surprise* was a Light Fare
A Situation So Eerily Familiar I could have Written This
Selling Fares and Hiding the Bag Fee Situation
The same exact scenario, over and over. A customer books an Economy fare, all the receipts and documentation say “ECONOMY” and some receipts even say “1x23kg CHECKED BAG” and yet what does Alitalia say?
“On our system, its displaying a Light fare.”
It's almost laughable how the airline lies to its customers in a blatant money grab.
I suppose Alitalia thinks its customers are mind readers and should read the word “Economy” but substitute it for the word “Light”.
Or maybe “please steal from me” would be more accurate.
our Alitalia ticket receipt that could not be more clear – the Economy fare includes 1 checked bag up to 23 kg
An Overcharge of the Overcharge
On our return flight, from Rome back to New York, we were again overcharged for bag fees that were supposed to have been included with our Economy ticket.
I showed the Italian gate agent our ticket confirmation, which said, “Checked Bag: 1 x 23 kg”
She stared at the confirmation, thinking of something to say. Finally, she responded with a dismissive shrug, saying “but it doesn't say free”
I was speechless. The fine print clearly states that the baggage box would outline 0 PC or NIL if we had purchased a Light Fare, and not 1×23 kg.
But at this point, it was clear Alitalia was being purposely misleading regarding bag fees.
the fine print clearly states Light Fares will say 0 PC or NIL in the baggage box. Ours said “1×23 kg” and our ticket said “Economy”
An Overcharge of the Overcharge
Even better? This time, the Rome gate agent overcharged… the overcharge!
The Conditions of Carriage on our ticket (aka the fine print) outline the cost of checked bags. Checked bag fees from Europe to Rome cost 50 euro per bag, per leg of the flight.
Instead, the gate agent charged us 55 euro per bag, which appeared on my no foreign fee credit card statement as $60.28 USD.
In total, I paid over $300 USD in completely extraneous and unnecessary bag fees for our party of 3. I guess we should count ourselves lucky that we booked direct flights.
Filing a Complaint with Customer Service
Being charged twice for the same service really annoyed me. The dismissive attitude at the check counter felt like a hold up. But discovering how widespread the scam was got my blood boiling.
So I filed a complaint with customer service. Well, first I tweeted them, and the Twitter team told us to open a claim by emailing [email protected]
They asked for receipts and details of our flights. After submitting them, we received an automatic reply that our complaint was received and the team would take 30 days to review our case.
An entire month… okay. We settled down to wait.
Three weeks later, with nary a peep, I followed up to check on the status.
I sent another tweet, and what do you know, the customer service team got back to me over email.
After much back and forth, Alitalia apologized for the inconvenience and agreed to refund our bag fees. Their wording was odd though – as if they wanted to individually refund each of us for the bag fees.
I had paid the entirety of the bag fees for all of us, so I showed them proof of the charges on my credit card statement as well as my receipt of payment from the airline. They refused to refund me and insisted on sending individual checks to each of us.
When I tried explaining (yet again) that I had paid all the bag fees myself, and therefore any refund should naturally be refunding myself (the person that paid), they went silent.
I Knew it Was Too Good to Be True
Again, I tweeted, and again after some back and forth, they finally got back to me.
This time, they insisted in order to receive refunds for the bag fees they had scammed out of us, the other 2 people would need to sign waivers that the refunds would be issued to me, AND they would need to send along their passport as proof of ID.
On what planet does a company need personal ID to refund a credit card transaction? For a fraudulent charge that should not have occurred in the first place?
Whether its a delay tactic or Alitalia's extraordinary incompetence, who knows. We provided each of our addresses and are still waiting to hear back from Alitalia, despite sending a couple follow up emails and tweets.
So, the status of the refund is still in limbo.
My Bank Refuses to Open a Fraud Case
Meanwhile, I tried to reach out to my credit card company to open a fraud case. Not only did Alitalia overcharge for a service that was already paid for, it's customer team acknowledged the overcharge and agreed to provide a refund.
So I thought it would be straightforward.
Nope. Chase (in my opinion) was entirely unreasonable and said there was nothing they could do as the airline had “fulfilled” the service they charged for. Namely, they had transported the bags.
Nevermind that the original $2,700 ticket cost already included bags and that we were essentially double billed for one service.
So Chase and presumably other credit card companies enable Alitalia to succeed with its practice of double charging for bag fees.
In Conclusion: Still Overcharged
At this point I doubt we'll ever get refunded for the $300 in extraneous luggage fees. The entire ordeal was annoying and the final straw was discovering that Alitalia is routinely overcharging bag fees on Economy tickets.
So hopefully you'll be aware before purchasing any flights through the airline.
But honestly? Skip the headache altogether and spend your money on an airline that doesn't engage in shady practices.
UPDATE On November 18th, after several tweets and emails, Alitalia customer service agreed to mail the refunds. Their email noted it would “take up to 30 days” and that they are sending it to each of us individually.
UPDATE On December 9th, we still have not received any of the refunds. I sent an email asking for the status – perhaps there was a tracking number we could follow?
UPDATE On December 10th, I got this gem of a customer service response:
Your claim has been closed. In order to improve the services offered by our Customer Relations department, we kindly ask you to take a few minutes to fill out a short customer satisfaction questionnaire on the quality of the services offered. You’ll help us to better meet your needs and those of all our Customers in the future.”
LOL. I ask for an update on the status of our refunds and Alitalia's response is to CLOSE THE CASE. And you can imagine what scores we gave that “customer satisfaction” survey.
Still waiting for the scam charges to be refunded..
UPDATE On the evening of December 16th, we received the refund checks, 77 days after we filed our complaint.
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