How I suddenly lost 2 Iberia award tickets on the day of my flight

Jan 20, 2022

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I started working at The Points Guy as a product manager several weeks before the pandemic and have been accumulating points ever since.

The pandemic limited my travels, though, so I haven’t had as many opportunities to put my knowledge to the test.

However, that recently changed when visiting friends in Philadelphia for two days after a quick work trip to The Points Guy headquarters in New York.

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TPG staffer with the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia
(Photo by Maddie Tarr/The Points Guy)

While I took an Amtrak train to Philly, traveling from New York’s Penn Station out of the beautiful new Moynihan Train Hall to Philadelphia’s William H. Gray III 30th St. Station, I booked a one-way flight home to Austin, Texas — my first partner redemption since starting at TPG.

I used 11,000 Iberia Plus Avios — the equivalent of spending $165 in cash — on an American Airlines flight direct from Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS). One of three types of Avios loyalty currencies, Iberia’s version is often best for business-class flights to Europe, though there are occasionally great redemptions available for short-haul American routes (like the one I found).

At the time, I was delighted to discover how easy it was to book a flight with Iberia Plus Avios points, though my feelings would soon change.

It’s 8 a.m. and there’s a problem with my award ticket — for today

My departure was scheduled for 10:30 a.m., so I expected to have an easy, slow morning. I got up, packed and then considered checking in for my flight. The check-in process is so easy now that I rarely find myself checking in for a flight until I’m on the way to the airport.

The morning of my flight, I searched my inbox for the standard email alerting me that check-in is open. Instead, I found an email that was only an hour old saying that my Avios points have been refunded.

My heart sank. I was now less than three hours out from departure. Why were my Avios points refunded, and why were they redeposited on such short notice?

I immediately called customer service while opening my laptop to find out more. By the time I spoke to someone 15 minutes later, all they could do was confirm that I was not on that flight.

Suddenly, I found myself scrambling to figure out what to do, knowing that every minute mattered as the departure time neared.

On hold with customer service at 8:30 a.m.

I felt hopeless.

Customer service transferred me to someone who could probably be of more help, but I was placed on hold again.

In a panic, I looked at what it would cost to rebook the same flight: $675 for economy or 22,000 Avios for business class. While neither of these options eased my anxiety, I opted to transfer more Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book the business-class option. After all, desperate times call for desperate measures, and I was desperate to find a way home without paying out of pocket.

I nervously stared at my inbox until a confirmation email from Iberia appeared.

Phew. Crisis averted. Or, at least, so it would seem.

My gut told me this was not the end of my saga. I received this same email last time and yet found myself without a ticket.

I continued to wait on hold. However, I decided the best thing to do was get to the airport and have an American Airlines representative help me. At this point, I had no reason to believe that the booking didn’t go through.

On the way to the airport at 8:45 a.m.

On my way to the airport, I was finally taken off of hold. Unfortunately, my time spent waiting ended up being for nothing.

I learned the hard way that there is a difference between Iberia and Iberia Plus customer service. Not realizing I was in the Iberia customer support system, which is separate from the helpline for Iberia Plus and therefore cannot help with award travel bookings, I was unable to get help from the representative who answered. If I had just slowed down a bit, I likely could have saved myself a lot of time waiting on hold.

When I got to the airport, I said my goodbyes and darted to the tall woman wearing festive reindeer antlers at the AA Customer Support counter. I did my best to gather my emotions and remind myself to have patience before approaching her. Still, I was exhausted.

The representative confirmed I was not on the AA flight, so she called her AA team, advising me to do the same. Ultimately, we were both only able to confirm that I had not been ticketed for my business-class seat and needed to call Iberia again. This time, I knew to dial the Iberia Plus number.

American Airlines tries to help me out at 9:10 a.m.

American Airlines gate at PHL
(Photo by Maddie Tarr/The Points Guy)

I called, and I waited. At this point, there were just 80 minutes left before departure.

Finally, I got through to someone, so I immediately handed the phone to the support agent, who started explaining what she could see on the American Airlines side. About 15 minutes went by, but no progress was made.

It’s 9:30 a.m. and I’m on the phone with the wrong customer service team

With only an hour until the flight was scheduled to depart, I found myself becoming more and more anxious. I’d already spent 90 minutes trying to sort everything out, but it felt like very little progress had been made.

While Iberia Plus representatives found my booking and acknowledged that 22,000 Avios points had left my Iberia Plus account, they couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t issued a ticket and how to fix it. The AA agent couldn’t resolve the issue on her end since there was no ticket number showing in her system, so someone from Iberia would need to push my booking along.

Eventually, my only option, according to an Iberia Plus representative, was to call the official Iberia Plus line via its Spanish number. I knew this would likely lead to international call fees, but I only had 15 minutes left to drop the bag I needed to check, so I reluctantly hung up and started a new call.

The AA agent kept offering the cash ticket as an option, but at $675, it was simply too expensive.

I give up at 9:45 a.m.

The clock was ticking.

I dialed the new Spanish number. After more than 15 minutes passed while on hold with a new Iberia Plus representative, I began to get emotional. I just wanted to get home, and I knew my bag and I could not get on that flight.

About two minutes later, the customer service agent took me off hold and said she was able to push the booking along, if I wanted, but it was too late. My disappointment grew as reality set in: I just missed making that flight by a matter of minutes.

At 9:50 a.m., I booked a flight with cash

Knowing it was no longer possible to take this flight with my checked bag, I declined the offer and hung up. I thanked the AA representative and went to the corner of the departures entrance, plopping myself down on the dusty, white floor.

Shortly after sitting down, I received a text from Verizon noting my $83.58 charge for an international long-distance call, which would appear on my next phone bill. This additional charge felt like the final straw that would break me on this frustrating morning.

screenshot of international long distance charge
(Screenshot by Maddie Tarr/The Points Guy)

Determined to salvage what I could of this aggravating day, I collected myself before moving on to plan B: finding a new flight.

I opened my laptop and started looking for alternatives.

Sitting on airport floor with laptop
(Photo by Maddie Tarr/The Points Guy)

Ultimately, I found a flight with one stop for $300 that was leaving in a few hours, so I begrudgingly booked it, getting home five hours later than expected at 6:30 p.m. This was particularly frustrating because I had intentionally booked an early afternoon flight so I could pick up the keys to a new apartment before 5 p.m. My new flight messed up that plan, forcing me to delay my move into my new apartment by a day. 

In retrospect, I was pretty lucky. I was in my home country and at the end of my journey. I got home safely and all my Avios points were refunded. My ordeal definitely could have been worse had it happened at the beginning of my trip or while traveling abroad.

How to avoid a redemption catastrophe like this

I’m a firm believer that challenging situations produce the best lessons. This recent experience in Philly is no exception. Minimize any potential headaches you may encounter when booking a partner flight with Iberia Plus Avios by following these tips:

Make sure you get a ticket number

Although I received confirmation that my Avios points had been used to purchase a ticket, I did not get a confirmation email with a ticket for that flight. Always make sure you’ve been ticketed after booking. If getting stuck in the pipeline can happen to me twice in 24 hours, it can happen to you, too.

Call the airline you used to book the ticket

You may think calling the partner airline you’re flying is the best course of action when you need help with your reservation, but this is not the case. Oftentimes, the partner airline won’t be able to resolve any issues for you, as I learned when I spoke with AA. Instead, you’ll want to call the airline that you booked through.

Slow down and gather information

When travel doesn’t go your way, take a step back to process what’s happening and plan your next steps. I knew there must be an alternative to calling a Spanish number, but I thought I didn’t have time. This ended up being a costly decision that didn’t even solve the problem.

Check-in early

I have a tendency to take my time checking in for flights, but that did me a disservice this time around. Always check in early so you notice any problems with your booking more than a few hours before your scheduled departure time.

Pack your patience — and kindness

It’s easy to get heated when things do not go as planned, but it’s important to always be respectful to others. Customer service representatives are there to help you tackle a problem as a team. While they may not be able to resolve every problem, they can make the situation much more bearable.

Featured photo by Maddie Tarr/The Points Guy

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