Dilemma: Do I Book A Business Class Flight On An Airline That May Go Out Of Existence?


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Ok, you’re going to have to bear with me here as the question posed in the headline isn’t quite as dumb as it probably sounds. What I’m looking at right now is a great Business Class fare for travel between Europe and Los Angeles that suits my purposes perfectly…..except for the fact that the carrier I have to book through may well not exist by the time it comes for me to fly. While that sounds like a straightforward decision that I have to make it actually isn’t that simple.

I’ve been looking for a good Business Class fare to get back to LA for some time and the other day I finally found one using Google Flights….and it looked promising.

On the face of things the booking would be with Delta (or KLM) and would be routing me through JFK. Stopping in New York isn’t ideal as it serves no purpose but to lengthen the journey time…..but for $1,839 roundtrip I’m not about to complain.

The flights are for the exact days I’d like to fly and, almost unbelievably, I’d be getting in to LA within 20 minutes of a friend of mine with whom I’m planning to meet up – so I really, really like this option.

However….

All the joy I’d felt when I first saw this fare soon dissipated when I clicked through to select the return flights of my journey.

Ugh! Did it have to be Alitalia?!

I guess it would have been worse if airberlin had appeared on my screen….but not by much!

To make things worse it looks as if the fare needs to be booked through a travel agent or Alitalia itself (I would have preferred it had the booking been through Delta).

In case you’re not up to speed with airline news, Alitalia has been going through a major funding crisis for about the thousandth time in its existence and, while it has survived these crises before, this time things aren’t looking promising.

Back in May the airline declared bankruptcy (for the second time in 10 years) and a special administrator has taken change of the airline with the view to saving it….possibly.

Here’s how Bloomberg summed up the news:

The administrators will take over the business and present a new strategy that may entail asset sales, reduced operations and job cuts aimed at making the airline viable within two years. If a turnaround isn’t possible, the administrators may order the carrier to be liquidated. The Italian government has already ruled out a bailout.

A turnaround would be great but a liquidation would be anything but.

So….I guess you’re probably wondering why on earth I would even contemplate purchasing a fare that included an airline in as bad a state as Alitalia.

Well, there are two reasons.

Firstly, (and this is the more minor of the two reasons) finding good Business Class fares to/from LA for the time of year I’m looking to travel isn’t easy at all. I can’t even get semi-reasonable fares to Vegas, San Diego, Phoenix or San Francisco around the time I’d like to travel so I really want to give this fare all the chances I can.

Secondly there’s the matter of insurance.

Ideally I would book all airfares with my Amex Platinum card to get the 5 points/mile that the card offers…but the Amex Platinum doesn’t appear to come with trip cancellation/interruption insurance (at least it doesn’t appear on the card’s benefits page)

But the Chase Sapphire cards (I hold the Reserve card) do offer insurance and it looks pretty good.

Here are the important bits from the relevant page:

Trip Cancellation provides reimbursement if a covered loss prevents you from traveling on or before the departure date and results in cancellation of the travel arrangements.

Trip Interruption provides reimbursement if a covered loss on the way to the point of departure or after departure causes interruption of your covered trip. It can also provide reimbursement if a trip is postponed due to a covered loss and certain fees are incurred if a new departure date is set.

The information below applies to both benefits. Reimbursement can be provided for pre-paid, non-refundable travel expenses including passenger fares, tours and hotels.

  • Covers trips when travel arrangements for a pre-paid tour, trip or vacation have been purchased with an eligible Chase card or with rewards earned on an eligible Chase card
  • Reimbursement is in excess of any travel insurance purchased, or reimbursement from the occupancy provider or common carrier such as airline, bus, cruise ship, or train

Most important is this line where Chase discusses what is actually covered by the insurance:

Financial insolvency of the Cardholder’s travel agency, tour operator, or travel supplier

So it would appear that, as long as I pay for my fare with my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, I’m covered if Alitalia disappears before or during my trip.

The coverage amount is “up to $10,000 per covered trip” so there’s no issue there…but I still don’t know if it’s worth booking.

There are number of issues:

  1. If Alitalia only drops out of existence shortly before my trip the cost of a replacement fare will be extortionate – insurance will pay for any loss but I don’t think it will pay for me to fly on a $3,500 – $4,000 Business Class fare just because I still want to go to LA.
  2. The T&Cs of the insurance mention that “pre-existing conditions are not covered” and while I’m pretty sure that’s meant to refer to passenger health and not the state of an airline, I wouldn’t put it past an insurance company to try to wriggle out of the coverage on the basis that I should have known that Alitalia was a bad bet.
  3. Ethics – is it really ethical to book a fare when I know there’s a good change the airline will disappear ?

Alitalia has survived bad times before but everyone seems to agree that things look worse this time than they have in the past. Historically the government or another airline have jumped in to shore up the mess but that doesn’t look so likely now.

The Italian government is on record as saying that it would like to see Alitalia sold as a whole company and not in parts….but then I’d like a Porsche 918 and that isn’t going to happen anytime soon either!

With a number of interested parties circling the crippled airline ready to pick at the carcass I don’t hold up all that much hope that Alitalia is going to come out of this whole and be around to fly me back to Europe so I should probably just walk away….but then I really, really like this fare 🙂

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