With a vet bill that will take months to pay off and a recovering dog that delayed my anticipated trip home, I was left with the minor nightmare or major nuisance of having to change a lot more than just my plane fare. As I pointed out in Part I of this post, I took advantage of the internet to get a leg on a number of tedious purchases that would have required standing in line in the impossible heat wave that is enveloping both Bologna and Venice.
Trying to make changes or get refunds once again pointed out the good and bad of my native country. So, should any of this ever happen to you, here is what you can expect.
I had purchased a weekly vaporetto pass and wi-fi connection from veniceconnected.com which I was still intent on using but on different dates. What had started as the easiest website to navigate when buying these services turned into an incomprehensible portal when trying to figure out if and how I could make changes. Eventually I realized I could open a ticket with a help desk and, 24 hours later, Lucia answered saying that she had changed my wi-fi usage dates and Marta let me know that I could use my travel pass at any time, up to a year, from the date of purchase. Mind you, none of this was self-explanatory when navigating the site but major brownie points to the Venetians – I suppose they have good business practice in their veins.
On the other hand, if you do want a refund, you are completely out of luck.
trenitalia.it, the website of the national railway system, could not retrieve my confirmation number when I tried to change my ticket. I then asked for a refund and same answer – NOT FOUND. An extremely stubborn and gracious Italian friend, bent on fighting the system, called the 800 number of my behalf. It turns out there are different tiers of tickets these days, much like plane fares: super economy – hard to book because limited and very, very cheap, which clearly state that no refunds are available; economy – which is what I have – that can be changed but only at a train station and with no refund; regular ones, that give you more flexibility. I probably didn’t read the fine print but why couldn’t they state that when I was trying to retrieve my booking? I still recommend travelling by train – in a country where not many things work as they should, trains tend to arrive surprisingly on time and, if your high-speed one is over 30 minutes late, you are entitled to a partial or full refund, pro-rated according to the lateness. All you have to do is to go a ticket counter when you get off the train.
So far so (somewhat) good. That leaves my horrific experience with Alitalia. Frankly, they should just dispense with the whole national airline and let the damned thing go. After changing my outbound reservation for $270 (somehow a sick dog didn’t qualify as a family member, a point I would be happy to argue), I never received the confirmation I was told to expect within 24 hours. 72 hours later I call them again – and I am opening an aside, every phone call requires an average of 10 to 15 minutes wait, listening to some horrid and not very soothing flamenco music – and I am told my credit card was denied.
“Were you planning on letting me know? You have my e-mail address and phone number”
“Well, it’s the week-end” the call center employee ostensibly called Nico replies, while his name is probably Vikram and he is sitting in Bangalore, not terribly caring about my plight. “Call your credit card and let them know to expect these charges”.
Not a fan of credit card companies, the bank nonetheless answers the phone in 30 seconds and lets me know that no charges were put through and much less declined. It figures. After 3 more phone calls to Alitalia, different employees in Bangalore, the constant mention of some mythical back office that is handling my case, this morning I finally received my new ticket.
It all sums up Italy: at times convoluted but functioning, at times bureaucratic and maddening, and often inept and requiring patience and knowledge at how to navigate it. All things I tend to forget in super consumer friendly USA.