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In his column “The Critical Points,” TPG Senior Points and Miles Contributor Richard Kerr presents his opinion on a loyalty program, card product or recent news that he believes is overlooked, unsung or the result of groupthink taking mass opinion in a direction with which he doesn’t agree. His goal is not necessarily to convince you to agree with his position, but rather to induce critical thought for each of the topics and positions he covers.

Last week Spanish airline Iberia announced a promotion offering 9,000 bonus Avios for any purchased flight, with the potential to earn up to 90,000 Avios in total by purchasing 10 flights operated by Iberia, Iberia Express or Iberia Regional Air Nostrum. With one-way regional flights costing as little as $20 when the promo was first announced, and the terms and conditions saying the Avios would be posted within 10 days of purchasing the flights — not flying the flights — a bit of hysteria took over the points and miles world.

As others reported on this promo, thousands rushed to find the cheapest one-way Iberia tickets. Iberia even jumped Amazon for the most-viewed store on cashbackmonitor.com after word got out you could save an additional $5 through a shopping portal. That’s highly unusual and gives us some perspective on the number of people taking part in this promotion.

While at first glance this all looks great, I honestly believe we’ve all fouled up this promotion. And as cracks begin to appear in the likelihood that these bonus Avios actually post, I fear this is another example of groupthink in the points and miles community.

Why Are Others Confident This Will Work Out?

I’ve seen three reasons why so many folks are confident that the bonus Avios will post and all will be fine. Let’s go through them one at a time…

1. The Tweet Heard Round The World

Many people are relying on a tweet from Iberia’s English-language account stating that the Avios will be awarded even if a flight is missed:

Sounds good, except there are a few problems here. First, how many times have we seen Twitter handles give bad info? Daily in my experience. Second, it’s not clear that the person operating Iberia’s English-language social media has any authority to confirm the details of this promotion. And finally, those first two points are reinforced by the fact that this tweet didn’t even get the expiration date on the promotion correct — the bonus Avios expire on December 1, not December 31. Even though the account did correct itself in a later tweet after being prompted, in my mind, all of this means the original tweet isn’t credible, unfortunate as it may be.

2. The Email From Iberia

Loyalty Lobby got an email from an Iberia spokesman stating the following:

“I have just sent you an e-mail with further information on our 9,000 Avios special promotion, but, please let me try to explain the doubts in your article, that I have just read

Our Iberia Plus cardholders will be able to keep the promotional Avios, if they don’t fly the purchased segments. And you can only redeem the Avios awarded through this promotion through the Iberia Plus programme. If the customers transfer these Avios to their BA Executive Club account, they will have a negative balance in the Iberia Plus programme, as those Avios wouldn’t have been spent by the date mentioned above.

Please, let me know, if you need further details on this. We would be grateful, if you can include this information in your article.”

To be fair, the Iberia spokesperson does specifically state that you can keep the Avios even if you don’t fly the flights. But this email does one other thing — bring up the concerning fact that your Iberia account balance can go negative. Most people I know have booked flights past the promotion’s expiration of December 1 with the belief that they can spend the Avios before the deadline and there wouldn’t be any Avios left to be taken away if the flights booked for the promo were skipped. But now, you could be faced with a -90,000 Avios account balance after all 10 of your flights come and go without you being on them.

3. The Promotion’s Terms and Conditions

Many seem convinced that the terms and conditions of this promotion are clear — the Avios will be awarded 10 days after flight purchase, so just be sure to spend them by December 1 and Iberia has to honor it. I’ve got two concerns here. First is this line in the terms and conditions:

“The redemption terms and conditions are subject to the general terms and conditions of the Iberia Plus programme.”

That’s basically a catchall where Iberia could easily find something in the Iberia Plus terms and conditions saying fraud isn’t allowed, we can change the terms and conditions at any time, we can delete your account or any of a dozen other arguments that lawyers come up with to make things null and void.

My second issue with this terms and conditions “evidence” is the fact that we’ve seen companies get away with changing or adding terms and conditions on promos numerous times in recent memory. Wyndham has twice in the last two years changed terms in the middle of its promotion to avoid giving out points. Groundlink didn’t like people earning too much referral credit. And don’t forget that airline error fares and hotel mistake rates are no longer required to be honored. What’s the difference between an airline mistake fare and a mistake promo?

There’s simply no authority willing to hold Iberia accountable if it decides to change, or not follow, its own terms and conditions.

Cracks Are Showing

We can all agree this is a pretty poorly designed and executed promo on Iberia’s behalf. I’m still amazed at how often companies don’t have a points and miles expert review their proposed promo so we could tell them “this is going to end poorly for you.” I want to be optimistic, but this isn’t a sustainable promotion for Iberia, and we’d be ignorant to think there isn’t some strategy going on in Madrid right now on how to avoid paying out this many Avios.

Frequent Miler reported last night that some bookings made with an Iberia Plus account number no longer show the number after booking, and you have go back and manually add it to each reservation. Then Facebook follower Rafa Barnoya sent me the following comment last night:

Rafa’s comment is in line with the Iberia spokesman email saying accounts can go negative.

The Real Problem Here

In the end, this isn’t really about whether Iberia honors the promotion or not. This is about the points and miles community potentially getting it wrong. Groupthink is notorious in our community and some folks have been to quick to push a promotion we all know at its root is too good to be true without presenting adequate warnings to readers that this is just as likely to not work out as it is to get our Avios. Yes, we wrote about this promotion here at TPG as well, and we’ve gone back and added a link to this story and noted the possible risks involved in this promotion.

But I’m asking you now, as a reader, to carefully consider whether it’s worth risking $300-$400 and all the possible ways this could not work out in your favor, especially given trends in the loyalty world in recent years. If you took the promo as presented and decided it was worth the risk, that’s completely acceptable. My fear is only that inexperienced readers skimmed a story and went for it.

As far as the promotion itself, I think there are a few ways this can play out:

  1. Iberia decides to take the hit and pays everyone 90,000 Avios.
  2. Iberia pays up but when you don’t take the flights booked, your Avios account is debited, taking you into the negative.
  3. Iberia makes any number of announcements adding terms and conditions to make you essentially have to fly to earn or keep the Avios.
  4. If you already have Avios in your Iberia account, I hope the programming is robust enough to know which Avios are from the promo and to use those first by December 1 so anything left isn’t mistakenly taken from your account.

And if you’re wondering, yes, I’m invested in this promotion myself, though not at the same amount as some others. I’ve got $100 at stake and don’t feel like going through credit card chargebacks, a refund process or monitoring my Iberia account until next April to see what happens.

I really hope we all get our Avios and if Iberia does honor this as it says, it’s a huge win for all of us and I have no idea why’d they pay for it. I’d still be just as hesitant in the future, but in the big picture, what matters more is that we all need to turn a more critical eye toward promotions that seem to good to be true. Otherwise it’s just a matter of time until behavior like this gets us all burned.

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