Strategic Value in the Alitalia Frequent Flyer Program

Head for Points asks if Alitalia has ‘the worst frequent flyer scheme’?

Some programs have expiring miles (you have a certain number of years or months to use the points you accumulate). Examples here are Singapore Airlines Krisflyer which gives you 3 years to use miles you’ve earned, and Aeroplan which gives you seven years.

Other programs have expiring accounts after 18, 24 or 36 months of inactivity. Any activity at all tends to be enough to extend the life of the account, resetting the clock on all of the miles you’ve earned. United and American are at 18 months, Alaska is at 24 months, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are at 36.

My favorite whipping target, Delta Skymiles, does not expire its miles or make its accounts go inactive — although that policy was implementing after being one of the earlier adopters of early-expiring miles, and when they implemented the no expiration policy (after reaping the balance sheet benefits of accelerated breakage) they didn’t retroactively go back and unexpired accounts of course.

But Alitalia actually expires their entire program every 5 years.

Very few people realize this if they haven’t been around for awhile. And when someone points it out in the terms and conditions it’s usually met with skepticism, who would do that?

The current program ends on December 31, 2012 and a new program begins January 1, 2013. There’s a six month grace period such that all miles earned by December 31 must be redeemed by June 30, 2013 or forfeited.

In the past when they’ve ended the program they’ve offered an opportunity to re-earn account balances as bonuses for Alitalia flights.

This is one way to eliminate points liability, it’s a very consumer-unfriendly way, although my understanding (and I am no expert in this area) is that it’s designed to comply with Italian law. Whether Alitalia pushed for that law, or lobbies against is actually to me relevant in terms of their moral culpability. But they would argue, I think, that they have no choice in the matter.

So if you have any Alitalia miles sitting around, redeem them right away and certainly do not accumulate any more for the rest of the month if you can possibly avoid it.

Still, is Alitalia the worst frequent flyer scheme? No, not at all.

First, the actual worst is Spirit Air’s Free Spirit program, since the terms and conditions actually require that

FREE SPIRIT Miles will expire when an account becomes inactive for a period of 3 months or more. An “inactive” account is one that has no miles credited to it from any source during the preceding 3 months.

That’s three month expiration, and only accumulation of miles resets the clock, redemption does not.

Second, it just means that Alitalia miles aren’t a currency you want to bank. It’s actually a reasonable program to use for accumulation and then immediate redemption.

Alitalia is a Starwood Preferred Guest transfer program (1:1 and 5000 mile bonus for transferring in 20,000 miles) and also an American Express Membership Rewards transfer partner.

As Lucky observed last month that Alitalia award chart has some real sweet spots for business class redemptions:

  • North America-North Asia 90,000 miles roundtrip
  • North America-Southeast Asia 95,000 miles roundtrip
  • North America-India 100,000 miles roundtrip
  • North America-Southern South America 75,000 miles roundtrip
  • North America-Tahiti 90,000 miles roundtrip

Alitalia adds fuel surcharges to awards, only offers roundtrip awards and you’re limited to six segments, and requires that the one allowable stopover have a stay that’s shorter than your time at the destination. And Alitalia’s telephone agents are downright awful.

There’s one additional benefit, though, that some will dismiss and others will consider to be a killer app and that’s something introduced in 2012: double mileage awards that offer most seats available for redemption. Those are SemiFlex and SuperFlex awards..

It’s a common feature of U.S. programs, but not offered in many European and Asian programs. You’re limited to flying Alitalia metal of course but if you earn Membership Rewards points with big bonuses (such as at 4.5 points per dollar with $30,000 in spend on the American Express Premier Rewards Gold that offers 3 miles per dollar on airline tickets) paying double isn’t terrible when you absolutely positively want to fly non-stop to Italy.

Alitalia allows you to combine different award levels on the outbound and return, so you may find saver space one-way and need flex space the other, you’re just averaging the cost of the awards. US-Europe, then, would be 150,000 miles roundtrip if booking saver one-way ad SuperFlex the other.

It’s a feature that most American Express transfer partners don’t have, and it’s relatively ‘reasonable’ at ‘only’ double miles considering comparable availability on Delta often costs triple. And very few people I’ve spoken to realize it’s there.

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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  1. The worst customer service you can get! The supervisor told me that Etihad is not a partner even after I referred him to web site he said that the web site has incorrect information. Ooppssy but this is your own web site!

  2. Nice write-up, Gary. Thank you. Looks like Alitalia award chart is good through 12/31/2012. Have you seen a version that will become effective 1/1/2013? Is there a risk that the miles will be devalued?

  3. @worldtraveler2018 – they certainly could introduce a new award chart. but i wouldn’t be saving any miles i had now for redemption later, and i wouldn’t transfer in any miles now either.

  4. Gary,
    Two questions:

    1. Do they allow you to route to asia via europe like US Air&Air Canada?
    2. Is it 6 segments total, or each direction?

    Very useful post, thank you.

  5. Very interesting perspective- never thought about the Alitalia program that way…

    Is the website any helpful for searching/booking award tickets for Alitalia and its partners or does everything need to be done over the telephone?

  6. Arghhh. I am actually trying to book flights from NYC to Tahiti right now, so I called to ask about award availability. I was told that they are not accepting award bookings to Tahiti “right now” and when I asked what “right now” meant, the agent responded “Not like at this moment, I mean for a long time… we are changing the rules on those flights.” Anyways, I probably should have asked for more details but my patience with his dismissive attitude was wearing thin.

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