I try to take two longer vacations a year, and then several shorter ones, making the most of my four weeks of paid vacation. I realized I hadn’t planned anything for summer 2012 yet, and if I was going to want to use miles and have flexibility, I needed to act fast. Summer travel to Europe can be a great use of miles– if you can get the flights you want on dates you want. And after 3 calls to the Delta Gold Medallion line, I finally did.
For a while, I’ve been saying I’d love to go back to Israel – a country I haven’t been too since my junior year of high school in 2000. I’ve also never been to Italy for more than a two hour layover en route to Istanbul. Luckily for me, Alitalia is an entirely underutilized Delta partner, with plenty of nonstops from New York (JFK and EWR) to Rome (as well as JFK and Miami to Milan, and Miami, LAX, and Boston to Rome). Alitalia tends to have pretty good business class availability on transatlantic flights.
I flew business class (“Magnifica”) from Newark to Rome two years ago on an Alitalia 777. Although the seats were recliners and not lie-flats, I had a very positive experience, with delicious food and wine, and a fairly empty business cabin. My experience was fairly similar to the Points Guy’s on his Rome to Miami flight. On some older A330s (formerly operated by AirOne) and 767s, Alitalia has an angled lie-flat product. But Alitalia has several new A330s, currently operating from JFK and Miami to Rome and Milan, with a full sweet lie-flat. Even better, Alitalia is rolling out this product on other routes, including Newark-Rome, as of this Spring, and refitting all of its long-haul flights with these new seats.
So I decided I’d take advantage of Delta’s stopover rules and try for New York – Rome (stop) – Tel Aviv, and Tel Aviv – New York on the return, making it to Tel Aviv for Tel Aviv Pride, either direct or through any of the possible SkyTeam hubs (CDG/NCE on AF, AMS on KL, FCO on AZ, BCN on UX, SVO on SU). I headed over to Awardnexus.com (which is currently only available to Flyertalk members, but the same info I found is available on AirFrance’s website for anyone with a free FlyingBlue login), and saw availability on the dates I wanted on Alitalia in both directions. Perfect.
Unfortunately, Delta’s agents, even on the Gold Medallion line, do not know how to work with partner airlines. Knowing this, and knowing there was availability, I called up explicitly telling the agent what I wanted, that I wanted to book specifically on Alitalia. At first I was hopeful, as he didn’t try and put me on Delta flights. Delta flights are priced at low availability, middle availability, and high availability, but all partner flights are priced at low availability. He found the Alitalia flights I knew had availability, put me on hold, and then told me that there was no availability on *any* of them. That just made no sense, so I said “Thank you,” hung up, and tried again.
My next agent just didn’t want to put me on Alitalia flights. “Oh look, there’s a Delta nonstop to Rome on May 30.” “Well, yes, but can you check Alitalia for June 1?” “Oh, I don’t see anything.” He put me on hold, and came back and said “Okay that will be 175,000 miles.” “Um, what will?”, I asked, knowing that he hadn’t checked Alitalia for anything, and that an all-Alitalia booking should have been 120,000 miles. “For the Delta nonstop to Rome, and then Alitalia to Tel Aviv, and then nonstop Delta back to JFK.” “Yes, can you check Alitalia, as I believe there is availability.” This agent clearly didn’t want to do the work, so when he came back and told me he booked me on the Alitalia return and it was 120,000 miles, I was content and he sent me the confirmation.
I had forgotten though, that he had put me on the May 30 nonstop Delta as opposed to June 1 Alitalia. And while I theoretically could do a 13-day trip, it would limit my ability to do smaller trips the rest of this year, both in terms of days off and hotel expenses. I decided to call back a third time and see if I could switch the flights and maybe get the change made for free.
Sure enough, I got a wonderful agent on my third time. I explained the situation, and said I had a feeling the agent had not properly checked the Alitalia inventory and could she please just look to see if there was availability on the June 1 flight out of Newark. 30 seconds later, she confirmed there was, and apologized profusely for the previous agents. She explained that Delta is making changes to how Alitalia awards are booked, and soon it will be more automated- a la KLM and Air France — without the need to get Alitalia to “release” specific seats. She also said that this change would mean that you will be able to do seat assignments on the Delta website for Alitalia flights – which would be awesome, given Alitalia’s website makes seat assignments difficult as well.
So now I have the trip I wanted (more or less), and all on Alitalia, with lie-flat seats on both Atlantic crossings. Of course there may be schedule changes to come that screw up my plans, but we shall see. A $4,600 flight for 120,000 miles — not the most amazing (particularly compared to the 80,000 mile South American adventure I have coming up) but certainly not bad.
I don’t really know what I’ll be doing in Italy. Right now, I’m leaning towards 2 days in Torre del Lago on the Tuscan coast, and 2 days in Rome. But I’m open to other suggestions. Rome hotel prices also seem insane, so I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for deals there.