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Monday, August 28, 2017

So many changes, and the next trip to Italy comes into place

I haven't posted since the end of the last trip to Italy, and much has changed in my life.  I've retired from my job, and we have moved in with my father in Vermont.  One feature of being in New England is that we're closer to Europe.  Margaret had urged us to go on a trip to Italy this year; I had my hesitation.

We had the American Airlines miles for two of us to go, but I was thinking of waiting the usual two years before using them up.  We were seeing enticing fares from Boston, and in May when I happened to search the Hopper app I found a round trip fare of about $450 each in September, and it could be done with a stop on the return in Düsseldorf, where we could see friends.  I messaged the friends to see if they could be seen that date; the affirmative reply came in, and I was ready to book.

The airline of this trip gives its name as airberlin, but I guess it's normally read as Air Berlin, as the media calls it, so I'll write it that way or as AB.  I would normally book on the airline's site, but it was giving error messages when I tried to force the overnight on the return.  I was hesitant to make such a big purchase on a smartphone (the Hopper app) but that might have been a good way of doing it.  I used Kayak and Momondo to search itineraries including the return overnight: many of the third parties they directed to had bad reviews.  I found, which I know people to have used with success, and booked through them with, I think, a $25 fee.

AB charges for advance seat assignments, with varying categories according to the type of seat.  With such a low fare, we decided to spring for €99 extra legroom seats on the overnight segment going over.   I made the booking at the start of my June credit card billing period, and got an error message after entering the payment information.  After that, I called up the reservation and it showed the seat assignments, making me wonder: did we get these seats without paying?  I used the online customer service form to clear it up, and the first reply said no seat assignments were showing and went over the basics of getting them.  I replied with a screen shot of the seat assignments that were showing, and got a reply asking for the confirmation code, which showed in the correspondence that that agent had quoted back.  After about a week of no reply to that (we were in the July billing period by then), I made a phone call to the U.S. number, but during German business hours since the call reportedly goes to Germany, and there can be long hold times outside business hours.

The agent I got said that the seats had been requested but payment not completed, so I completed payment on that, and the non-XL seats we wanted for the other segments were given without a charge, because of Margaret's disability category (something I learned from the first otherwise unhelpful reply).

Then, in mid-August, came the news that Air Berlin had filed for insolvency, under German law more severe than U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which most U.S. carriers have used to reorganize and eventually continue operating (some of them merging).  AB was out of money and could have left many travelers stranded at their summer vacation destinations, and the German government gave them a loan to assure operations for three months, so we're hopeful that our flights will operate.  Still, the general thought is that the airline will cease operations after the three months are out, and we'll have to expect low staff morale.

Beyond that, to keep the trip one year after the previous and not spend too much, just about the whole trip will be at our house in Umbertide.  We have two hotel nights in Rome booked using Chase points, and a car rental.  We're hoping for a nice one.