I recently had a client who approached me with a somewhat outlandish request – 2 one way business class tickets from New Orleans to Barcelona with only one stop, on a very particular date. The request also required a reasonable layover since the clients were senior citizens and to boot, they only had 90,000 Amex points. I was thinking this may be one of the few requests I turn away.
The one-stop was a killer – especially coming from a non-European servicing airport like New Orleans. That left me with three options: Continental through Newark, Delta through Atlanta, or Iberia through Miami (one of their new routes).
Continental didn’t even have their high-tier “Easy-Pass” awards available, so spending a boatload of miles wasn’t even an option. Next I tried Delta, since they currently have a crazy 80% transfer promotion. Turns out Delta’s awards were ludicrously priced at 390,000 miles EACH with the domestic leg in coach.
The last option was American from MSY to Miami connecting to Iberia’s nonstop Miami-Barcelona, which miraculously showed Business class availability on the KVS Tool (which uses the Qantas award tool). I never trust just one tool, so I went to Britishairways.com and fiddled around with their clumsy award engine. I finally got it to pull in partners and it only showed the Iberia flight in coach – not a good sign.
I really wanted to get this booked with British Airways because their program allows for one way awards and business class from the US to Barcelona and it would have been 50,000 a ticket- the couple could have easily taken a free Amex Points advance to cover the 10,000 miles they needed. Additionally, Amex to British Airways transfers are instantaneous and American/Iberia awards can be ticketed online.
In case you were wondering, some of the things I dislike about BA’s program are the high fees (I recently booked a Canada to Africa trip in First class for two people and taxes and fees came out to a whopping $2,500), the fact that BA won’t include domestic first with a business class award, and they have horrible customer service (you usually need to wait 20+ minutes to speak with a US representative and they aren’t open 24/7).
Since the Iberia award space wasn’t pulling up on ba.com, I had to call. After a (albeit expected) 20 minute hold, the agents confirmed that only coach seats were available for award booking on the flight I needed. Using the tried and true method of “hang up and call again” to get the answer I wanted, I redialed. Unfortunately, the next agent was just as sure – there was no way in hell I was going to be able to use British Airways miles to book the Iberia business class seats.
Next solution was to transfer Amex points to Iberia directly at a 1400 Amex points to 100 Iberia Plus points ratio. I loaded up iberia.com and entered the flight and voilÃ - business class seats were available at a one way price of 4,720 points per ticket, or 133,000 Amex points for both. Since the online tool wouldn’t let me add an American airlines domestic first class flight to the award, I had to call.
While Iberia does have ticketing offices in the US, the only number that handles Iberia Plus is in Spain. The number is: +34-91-374-2442 and luckily I studied Spanish in college and lived in Madrid for a summer, so I was prepared (though a bit nervous) to communicate in Spanish. As luck would have it, the rep was able to speak English at an elementary level. It still took a while to walk her through what I needed, but in the end she priced out MSY-MIA in coach and MIA-BCN in business one way for 12,500 points total or 167,000 Amex. This made sense since Iberia’s awards are calculated by distance and I guess adding MIA-MSY pushed it over a certain threshold. I had the agent put the award on hold until I could consult with my client on their preference. The agent put the award on hold until one month before departure – a whopping 9 months! Now, that’s a first. I usually have to fight tooth and nail to get 48 hours and Iberia handed me a 9 month hold without blinking an eye!
To add another twist to the story, about 3 days after I put the one way MSY-MIA-BCN ticket on hold, I got a call from Iberia Plus letting me know that Oneworld one-way awards were not accepted and that the representative allowed me to hold it in error. At that point this didn’t matter, because my client decided to pay for revenue flights instead of including the American MSY-MIA leg, but I would have been annoyed if we were banking on those flights. So don’t try to book one-way Oneworld awards with Iberia points!
My client didn’t want to buy any Amex points, so she opened up a Platinum Amex and advanced herself the ~43,000 points needed to book the award MIA-BCN and bought the MSY-MIA legs for $129 each leaving the day before in order to have enough time.
I then went online to get it all booked and at checkout, I received a bizarre server error that absolutely would not let me proceed. I held the award online and went back in the next morning and still kept getting the “Problem with the Server Scorer” error – whatever that means.
So I had to call back the office in Spain to get the ticket booked and this time the guy did not know English and could not transfer me, so I had to persevere in Spanish. Luckily I just spent a week in South America, so my accent wasn’t too rusty. The representative was really friendly and we had it booked in 5 minutes, with no phone surcharges.
Total cost for 2 MIA-BCN one-way business class awards? 133,000 Amex points and $60. Not bad for tickets that cost $4,065 eachto purchase.
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