Is this enough compensation? A $225 check for my lost luggage — you’re kidding!

Maybe we should start calling this the lost luggage column. Last week, we tried to untangle the case of a skier who lost his gear in Telluride, Colo. Today, meet Rita Rosenfeld, whose luggage was misplaced by Alitalia on a trip to Italy.

Lost luggage on Alitalia? Big shocker, I know.

But Rosenfeld feels the airline shortchanged her in a major way, offering her just a fraction of the value of the items she had to buy during her trip.

This is an older case — it happened in December 2009 — but it was just brought to my attention a few weeks ago. Rosenfeld’s luggage was lost on her outbound flight to Milan, Italy.

I was told to repurchase everything I would need to continue my week vacation because they could not get my luggage to me until Saturday, December 19. I was returning home December 20.

I was assured that I would be reimbursed as long as I kept all my itemized receipts and submitted a claim when I returned to the States. I did that, and I clearly itemized everything.

After almost 4 months, I didn’t hear from them, and when I followed up, they lied and told me that my luggage was returned to me the following day, and then denied my claim. They offered me $225, instead of the $1,465 they owe me.

Rosenfeld says she tried to watch her expenses when she bought replacement clothes, shopping at discount apparel stores and drugstores to get he bare necessities. She says she did nothing wrong, and doesn’t understand why she has to pay for Alitalia’s mistake.

Alitalia’s website is silent on the issue of maximum compensation, at least in the high-traffic areas. You have to dig deeper to find out that its liability is limited to 1131 SDRs (SDRs are a kind of composite currency.)

It appears Alitalia short-changed Rosenfeld.

I contacted the airline. Alitalia’s policy, it said, was to cover only “$75.00 per day for necessities.” And according to the airline’s records, her luggage was only lost a few days — not for the duration of the trip. But after reviewing her case, it sent her another check for $375.

I think that’s much better, but Rosenfeld is still out more than $800 for the clothing she had to buy. If Alitalia had explained to her that she was limited to $75 a day for necessities, then would she have limited herself to that amount? I’m sure she would have tried.

Rosenfeld filed disputes with American Express and asked the Better Business Bureau to intervene. Both turned her down.

Is $600 enough? I asked a similar question last week, when US Airways essentially split the difference on a new set of ski clothes with a passenger.

I’m not sure about the answer, but Rosenfeld is. She says Alitalia has repeatedly lied to her about her luggage claim, and claims it is lying now. She hasn’t received the second check yet, and isn’t holding her breath.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • sirwired

    I’m not sure why airlines feel that this “split the difference” is at all acceptable. The maxes are currently $1800-ish (Chris, why didn’t you publish the US-equivalent in the article? The conversion factor isn’t hard to find, but still…) Alitalia told her to buy what she needs, she did, and it’s well under statutory maxes. End of story.

    That said… $1400? Was this another ski trip? Because while clothes in Italy aren’t cheap, that does seem a bit beyond “bare necessities.”

    Lastly, if the itinerary originated in the US, would the FAA be any help?

  • Absherlock

    I don’t think I have enough information to vote. On the one hand, six hundred dollars total for a week’s worth of stuff seems pretty reasonable (especially if she shopped frugally as she suggested). On the other hand, it’s not clear if there was a need for any special clothing (for say a wedding or a ski trip) that would have increased her need to spend.

  • Tom

    Airlines should ensure the baggage check fees are high enough that they are able to fully reimburse people for their losses. If the $25 per bag fee doesn’t cover it, raise the fee to $50. That way anybody who is without their lugguage for a few days and has to buy thousands of dollars worth of replacement garments can be fully reimbursed.

  • D65gto

    How much is a new suitcase…. that was probably 25% of the total right off the top.

  • Arizona Road Warrior

    What was the nature of the trip (i.e. business or pleasure)? When was the trip (i.e. spring, fall, summer, winter)? Was there any special needs for clothing?

    Alitalia has a poor record in lostdelayed luggage (i.e. I think the highest ratiopercentage among the major worldwide airlines) as well as customer service. It is my recommendation to avoid this airline.

    If you have to fly Alitalia then it is my recommendation to purchase a travel insurance policy. Yes…you shouldn’t have to purchase a travel insurance policy if Alitalia fullfill its policies, etc. but they don’t.

    Another suggestion is to have a digital tape recorder with you, or use your camcorder if you have one, or use your digital camera if it can record video or use the video device of your cellphoneiphoneetc. to record the conversation with the customer service agent. If they don’t want to be recorded or put something in writing then it tells me that there is a probability that they are not going honor what they told you.

  • Matilda

    $1,465 for a week’s vacation?! Am I reading that right? I would love to see an itemized list of things that she bought because that seems way over the top to me. I think what the airline paid her ($600 total) should have been more than enough to cover what she absolutely had to buy, especially if she really was shopping at discount stores. I really feel like we need more information though, because it feels like there is a lot we don’t know or can’t understand based on what we’re given here in the OP.

  • cjr001

    Again, maybe if airlines would stop losing luggage… But I know, that’s apparently too much to ask.

  • Carver

    Tom,

    That only works if the baggage fees are effectively an insurance pool where the airline doesn’t have any further pecuniary interests in the individual payments. As long as the baggage fees are a profit center, this idea cannot work.

  • Carver

    Just be careful about recordings. Different states have drastically rules about making recordings.

  • Tenerife

    I don’t know if many, if any, of the commenters live in Europe and how many of them are women, but $600 is equivalent to about €400 and, NO, that no longer (nor did it in 2009)would buy very much in Italy. And if Ms. Rosenfeld happens to not wear the equivalent of a U.S. size 8 or 10 then there is not much to be had cheaply in europe. If we are talking about everything, including underwear, outerwear (slacks and tops etc.), maybe even a pair of shoes, plus toiletries etc. the sum would not cover replacing necessities for a week’s vacation, and even less so if she had business appointments.

  • JD

    She did better than I did! When I moved to a foreign country several years ago, I paid extra to fly 5 large bags with me on Alitalia so that I wouldn’t have to ship them and deal with Customs. Alitalia lost all 5 bags for almost a week until they finally found them still in my origination city (and lied continuously about where they were and when they would be delivered to me). When I did finally get them, there was about $500 worth of stuff missing – not even anything valuable – stupid stuff like an old exercise video and a small office kit with staples and paper clips, but it all added up. Supposedly according to policy and local exchange rates, I received the equivalent of around $10. I appealed to the local manager as well as a customer servive manager in Italy but had no success because everyone blamed everyone else – anyone but themselves. They finally blamed me for packing such “valuable” items in my checked luggage!

  • JJWeldon

    Over $1400 seems excessive. I’ll bet she went on a spending spree when she found out. Probably made some “hit the lottery” jokes. Also remember, the clothes she packed were most likely not “new” and unworn, and she got new clothes in return. If I smash my 2007 car I don’t expect the insurance company to buy me a new car.

  • Walt Blackadar

    It’s most likely not enough compensation.

    1. $600 is only 400 euros. 400 euros certainly won’t get a week’s worth of clothing, including shoes, socks, undies, shorts, pants, shirts, a jacket and toiletries. Add in an acceptable outfit for a nice dinner or two and you’re easily going to be over $1000. Anyone who thinks that $600 is enough for a few days’ worth of clothing in Italy doesn’t have the slightest clue on the relative prices of items.

    2. The amounts paid seem rather arbitrary. It’s as if Alitalia is just throwing numbers at her. And their quoted $75/day? Absolutely unacceptable.

    Get involved, Chris, and see if you can make Alitalia pony up what’s really owed.

  • Arizona Road Warrior

    I always ask for permission to record the conversation.

  • Wrona

    Tom, this was an international flight. Airlines generally don’t charge baggage fees for international flights. Please don’t give them the idea to start doing so.

  • Pat

    If she was there as a tourist with a new hotel every day. I would say $600 is not enough. The $75 per day for necessities is about right but then you add costs for outerwear and shoes for December weather and a suitcase, it would be closer to $1465 than $600.

    If she was at the same place every day, $600 could be a reasonable amount.

    But I voted it is not enough for one reason. She was flying Alitalia. I am guessing she was on a tour and the flight was booked by the tour operator as part of the package. Most Americans would not book a flight on Alitalia on their own, they would fly an US based carrier they know.

  • Carver

    Its sounds like alot until you realize that she has to replace everything from toiletries, to undies, to perhaps warm clothing as its Christmas time.

  • cjr001

    She was told to buy what she needed because they would not be getting her luggage to her. The airline has no one to blame but themselves.

  • Carver

    Agreed. I was in Paris. the absolutely cheapest pair of casual shoes that would fit my American 11 wide cost 110E. The cheapest big and tall men’s shirt cost 55E.

    Had I had to purchase business attire, the costs were substantially higher.

  • Carver

    JJ

    The analogy does work because there really isn’t a substantial market for used adult clothing.

    But add it up. Remember, she’s in Europe, not the US with its generally cheaper merchandise. There’s a reason why Europeans come to the US for shopping.

    If I were to pack for a week’s European trip, I would have at least

    2 pairs of jeans
    (100e)

    7 casual shirts (280e)

    1 pair of dress slacks (100e)

    1 pair of dress shoes (150e)

    1 dress shirt
    (75e)

    1 tie
    (35e)

    1 pair casual/sneakers
    (100e)

    10 pairs of undies
    (100e)

    and sleeping attire
    (30e)

    and toilettries (50e)

    and as its Christmas time, I need a warm jacket (200e)

    That’s a very rough estimate of 1200.00E

    Of course no one spends that much because we bring our clothes with us. But if you were to travel empty handed that’s what you can expect to pay.

  • Crissy

    Since Alitalia did not give her the daily allowed amount I do think they need to pony up more money. While $1400 does sound a little high, $600 wouldn’t get you far in Italy depending on what type of trip this was. While I don’t agree in “splitting the difference,” I can see airlines having limits on spending – as long as they are clearly stated. Then if the person chooses to spend more money they can make that choice they can – afterall it is clothing they they can use after the trip too.

  • Chris in NC

    Its not enough, but I don’t think Alitalia is going to offer anything else. However, I’m not sure the compensation claim process would have been any different had she flown any other carrier, except the bags may not have been lost in the first place.

    Something for the chuckle department
    ALITALIA – always late in takeoff, always late in arrival
    ALITALIA – airplane lands in Turin, all luggage in Antarctica

    These acronyms have been around for years, and no I didn’t come up with them.

  • Teresa

    Is this potentially a case for small claims court?

  • http://twitter.com/jerryatric1 Jerry

    $1600 for a few days? Your kidding! If she really shopped at discount centers she could have done it all for the $600 easily.

  • Pat

    $600 at $75 per day is 8 days without her luggage, not a few days.

  • http://www.travelenvogue.com/ Kailyn

    Well, it could have been worst. It could have cost you $225 to check your luggage. :-)… At least they reimbursed you something.

  • Lindaj

    Having lived in Italy and knowing how things are done in this country, it doesn’t surprise me that they are not paying the full amount of her receipts. I seriously doubt she will ever see the balance due. On a trip from Naples back to Dulles my bags were ransacked and the few items I had purchased in Italy were gone. I didn’t have room in my carry on for all my purchases so I put the least expensive items in my suitcase with a lock. Gone! It happens. I received no compensation because they argued it happened in the U.S. Not so! I had a wait of over 2 hours in Naples and plenty of time to go through my suitcase. I will NEVER EVER fly Alitalia again!

  • Dave

    I would say she’s not being offered enough, although I don’t agree she needs to be reimbursed for new outerwear (as in a coat) — surely she was wearing that during her trip! One is enough; I don’t care what the fashionistas say.

    Slightly off topic of the specific question, but I do agree that airlines need to be held more accountable for baggage that doesn’t arrive with the passenger. Delayed arrival should be automatic compensation of some amount, failure to locate within 24 hours adds to it, and failure to deliver within 72 hours means a hefty — and I mean hefty! — payment. And all numbers double if the passenger was required to pay for either of the first two checked bags.

  • Abhi

    Wrona, some of the airlines do charge for second checked bag on international flights. For example, AA has different bag fees based on which part of the world is involved in the itinerary.

  • Tenerife

    She may have done her best to shop conservatively, but — surprise — there are really NO discount centers in Italy (I think there is one outlet “mall” in the entire country). Walmart couldn’t even survive in Germany — they tried. As someone mentioned previously, there is a reason that all the europeans shop in the U.S. when they visit.

  • cjr001

    Not to mention the old adage: time is money.

    Nobody wants to spend their valuable vacation time having to go shopping to replace clothes because the airline is incompetent.

  • Clare

    I’m an American living in Italy right now. I regularly buy ALL my clothes in the US and have them shipped here, for two reasons: (a) I’m 5’9″ and they don’t make women’s clothes in Italy for anyone that “tall,” and (b) the prices here are absolutely insane. A flimsy polyester dress like you might find in JC Penney for $40 costs maybe 80-100 Euros (almost $150). At chic specialty stores, you can buy a normally $30 pair of Levi’s for 100 Euros IF you’re lucky enough to find your size! And pantyhose? HAH, forget it!

    If I had to buy a week’s worth of clothes in Italy, I am 100% sure I couldn’t do it for as little as $1,465–I’d probably have to hire a seamstress to custom-sew some things to be long enough.

    Unfortunately, as any ex-pat here can attest, Rita’s story is classic Italian: the employee assures you X, the company doesn’t honor it, the employee is never penalized for (as you realize too late) feeding you a line of BS because there is no accountability whatsoever, and the company couldn’t care less whether you’re a satisfied customer or not. Welcome to Italy.

  • Carver

    Dave,

    Consider this, over the course of a week, weather can change substantially. The clothing you wore on the inbound flight may or may not be sufficient for the weather 5 days from now

  • http://badbadwebbis.wordpress.com/ badbadwebbis

    My sister lives in Zurich, and I am horrified at the prices she routines pays for clothes – children’s shoes cost over $100, a cheap top at H&M is about $50-60. So I am not surprised that this poor woman spent that much replacing her things. Plus,
    it’s not as though this woman knows where the cheap clothes can be
    found, nor can she necessarily drive out into the suburbs to find these
    places.

    I’m not sure why some of these stories prompt unsympathetic comments from readers – it’s almost as though they don’t like the thought that they too could get ripped off unfairly, so by blaming the victim it reinforces the idea that the reason WHY they got ripped off is because they are somehow responsible – no travel insurance, they were taking advantage of an airline….sometimes travelers get screwed. That’s why Chris has this particular job.

  • http://badbadwebbis.wordpress.com/ badbadwebbis

    ‘routinely’ – should have edited first.

  • Jess

    Possibly warm boots, as well. Also, clothing is more expensive in Europe and the euro does not have a favorable exchange rate to the dollar. And, she’s on vacation, should she really be expected to comparison shop to a ridiculous degree since she would want to be enjoying her trip?