Iberia accounts going negative and what we can take away from the promo

This past summer, Iberia ran what will unquestionably be known as the promo of the year: they offered 9,000 Avios per booking if you booked any Iberia flight (even cheap flights that were less than $20 each). This only lasted a few days, but you could have racked up 90K Avios for $200-$300 (or less if you got in early and went through a portal). The “catch” was that you had to use your promotional Avios by December 1st or you would lose them — and transferring them from Iberia to British Airways would not count as using them. In fact, Iberia warned early on that those who transferred Avios out of Iberia would see their balances go negative after December 1st. Reports indicate that they are making good on that threat — and in some cases, applying it in ways that don’t seem right. It’s messy. But in the end, I think we can learn a few lessons from the mess.

A messy situation

From the beginning, I advised against moving Avios to British Airways. Iberia ran an incredibly generous promotion and it was easy to come out ahead, even if you were only booking hotels with the Avios. While we knew that transferring to British Airways may be possible, it didn’t seem like a good idea for a number of reasons. First, Iberia has a program that can be pretty valuable in the right spots — if you have to connect on a domestic AA itinerary or you have a mixed-cabin redemption in mind, you can sometimes save a lot of miles over using British Airways Avios (See: From 11K RT on American: A sweet spot for North American flight redemptions and Searching for business class sweet-spots in Iberia’s OneWorld award chart).

But beyond that, anyone who used Iberia’s website to buy flights for this promotion and then search for award availability surely realized that IT is not Iberia’s strong suit, so it was hard to know what would happen to any unused or transferred Avios after December 1st. Early on, someone asked me what would happen if they already had Iberia Avios in their account before the promotion began. For example, let’s say that Joe Flyer already had 100K Avios in his Iberia account before this promotion . He then collected an additional 90K promo Avios through the promo. Iberia required that the promo Avios be used by December 1, 2018 or they would be forfeited. Let’s now say that Joe redeemed 90K Avios to book an award ticket during the promotion. How would Iberia determine which Avios were used to book the award?

There were a couple of possibilities:

  1. The soonest-expiring Avios are used first, thus Joe used all of his 90K promo Avios, leaving him with his pre-existing balance of 100K Avios (this is the most customer-friendly interpretation)
  2. Iberia follows a first-in, first-out policy where the oldest Avios in the account are applied first. That means Joe didn’t use any of the promo Avios (since his existing 100K balance was older and thus applied to his 90K redeemed) and Iberia would therefore debit Joe’s account by 90K Avios, leaving him with just 10K Avios.

But what if Joe didn’t book an award flight, but instead transferred Avios to British Airways? Would Iberia apply the same logic to transfers to British Airways that they apply to bookings? Let’s imagine that instead of redeeming for a flight, Joe transferred 90K Avios to British Airways applying the same logic as above:

  1. The soonest-expiring Avios are used first. Thus, Joe transferred 90K and the promo Avios were the ones that moved since they expired on December 1st.
  2. The first in, first-out policy applies where the oldest Avios in the account are applied first. That means Joe transferred 90K of his “old 100K Avios” balance.

That doesn’t make a big difference unless Joe both transferred some Avios and redeemed some Avios for flights during the promo period as it would be impossible for Joe to determine which Avios were applied to the transfer and which to the booking.

It’s not that one can’t figure out which Avios Joe would have wanted to transfer and which he’d have wanted to use — it’s counting on Iberia’s system to do that automatically that seemed ill-advised. My advice for the reader who asked about a pre-existing Iberia Avios balance was to transfer out any existing Avios before the promo Avios posted so as to avoid any confusion (preferably, you did this before you even booked the promo flights).

And of course, some people find themselves in Joe Flyer’s position. In fact, one Flyertalk member reports this type of situation (I’m filling in the blanks a bit as the story unfolded over several short comments in the thread, but this is the gist of it as I understand it):

  • “Bob” had more than 90K Avios before the promo (let’s call these “200K old Avios”)
  • Bob earned 90K Avios through the promo (new Iberia balance = 290K)
  • Bob booked flights with 85K Avios during the promo (new Iberia balance = 205K)
  • Bob transferred 198K Avios to British Airways (new Iberia balance = 7K)

Bob’s expectation was that his Iberia account would be debited for 5K Avios since he used 85K Avios. He expected that the 85K he used were promo avios and the 198K he transferred to British Airways were from his “200K old Avios” balance. Unfortunately, Iberia didn’t see it that way. They debited 90,000 Avios from his account, leaving him with a negative balance (-83,000 Avios).

In this case, it seems that Iberia followed interpretation #2 above: first in, first out. That is to say that they recognized Bob’s 85K redemption as having come from his existing “200K old Avios” balance and thus they determined that he didn’t use any of his promo Avios, so they deducted the entire 90K as being unused, putting his account far in the negative. Ouch. That seems awfully unfair (and it’s worth noting that the Flyertalk member reports having sent an email to Iberia in the hopes of getting it straightened out — and I hope they are able to do so).

Another somewhat similar report comes from ScienceTeacher on Flyertalk:

Yikes; this has become messy.

So my Iberia account had 90k in Avios go in, and 6k in Avios from Groupon. I made a redemption for 90k, and transferred the remaining 6k avios out to BA.

It seems to make the redemption Iberia took 84k in points from the bonus avios promo and 6k from the Groupon pile. Therefore I only redeemed “84k of the promo avios”.

The call centre were pretty damn rude stating; “I should have read the rules” and hung up. These Avios were clearly treated as a separate balance which is a shame as when I made the redemption there was no clear way to make sure it was these Avios there used!

In this case, I don’t know when the Avios came in from Groupon. If they were in the account before the promo Avios, the same logic would seem to be applied here as was to Bob above. On the other hand, if those Avios came in after the 90K promo Avios, it would seem that Iberia was treating any remaining balance in your Avios account as promo Avios. While I think some of the problems reported with this promo were avoidable, I’m not sure how a customer could have predicted which of their Avios would be used for a booking.

The above are far from being the only problems reported from the promo. Many people were left scrambling at the last minute to make a booking. It seems that the promo Avios expired at midnight Madrid time (12am in Madrid on 12/1). However, they didn’t immediately disappear from accounts — so some people were able to make bookings with the Avios after midnight Madrid time and then saw their balance go into the negative later on 12/1 or on 12/2 since they did not use the Avios before 12/1 Madrid time. I’m not at all surprised that Iberia was running this promo on its own local time, though it was never made clear in the terms.

Another problem: Iberia’s website is very much prone to errors. When I posted a reminder for readers to use their Avios, I noted that I was recently unable to use mine on a booking I wanted because the “system was down”. I was getting an error that said my cards were being declined (yes, plural – I tried repeatedly with different cards). When I called, the agent told me the system was down and I should try again the next day. I think some users ran into that same type of issue as the clock wound down on this promo — from reading comments sporadically during the promotion, it doesn’t sound uncommon at all. Iberia’s system is far from cutting edge.

So what can we learn from this one?

With a number of problems highlighted, what can we learn from the way this one has panned out thus far? Here are my takeaways:

  1. When a promo sounds too good to be true, set expectations low. That’s for a few reasons: First, the companies than run too-good-to-be-true promos usually aren’t the most reliable (Google notwithstanding). Second, any hot promo on the Internet will be sought out by such a multitude of people so as to make competition fierce. I was pleasantly tickled when I found summertime business class availability on Iberia as I figured everybody and their mother, father, cousin, neighbor, dog, and pet chinchilla likely had 90K Avios to burn. There were never going to be as many available business class seats as there were 90K balances. That’s part of the reason I didn’t go in for a full 90K. I went in for enough to book my back-up plan figuring I could transfer in the balance if I got lucky and found those business class seats. Which brings me to #2…
  2. Have a back-up plan. While most people likely wanted to book premium cabin seats with this promo, there were other options. In my case, I picked up enough points to book a route on AA that I travel a few times a year and often has easy availability. I also knew that I could use the Avios for a hotel booking and come out a bit ahead of my initial investment. A hotel redemption wouldn’t be ideal, but it would work in a pinch.
  3. Be ready to follow up. Unfortunately, Iberia’s shoddy IT created a lot of problems for people on this. That required some people to follow up for months as to the status of their missing Avios. Many people will now have to follow up with Iberia about Avios they believe were incorrectly debited from their accounts.
  4. Assume the most restrictive terms / interpretations. This goes along with #1, but it’s worth noting on its own. It’s not surprising that Iberia pulled this at midnight Spain time nor that accounts have gone negative. Neither is the apparent less-than-customer-friendly interpretation as to which Avios were “promo” and which were transferred/used to book/etc. That doesn’t make it sting any less for those caught off guard by an unexpected negative balance. It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback, but I think the takeaway here is to assume the worst going in and protect yourself as best you can.
  5. Accept that we win some and lose some. This was a pretty generous promotion. Thankfully, the investment to play on this one wasn’t overwhelming. Part of the reason I only went in for a few bookings rather than the max was because I picked an amount I was comfortable with losing if this fell apart. We win some and lose some – hopefully most readers came out ahead on this one. If you didn’t, there’s always another deal coming.

Bottom line

This promo was terrific for those who took advantage and leveraged it successfully. That said, it wasn’t necessarily easy and it ended up downright messy for some folks. Many people accepted that they might lose their Iberia account; others are hoping that a request for Iberia to delete all of their information (as per European privacy laws) will enable them to open a fresh account at some point in the future. Overall, I think the key takeaways are to go into this kind of promo with low expectations and stay well within the confines of the terms to avoid any nasty surprises. Hopefully most readers came out of this one with something more than they invested; sometimes that’s in the form of wisdom for the next promo.

About Nick Reyes

Nick Reyes is a (fairly) regular guy with an animalistic passion for maximizing the value of miles and money to travel the world in comfort and style. There is little in life that he loves more than finding a fantastic deal and helping you shop smarter & harder to achieve your travel dreams.

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John
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John

You don’t have the expiration issue correct. The points expired sometime in the early morning on 12/1. In other words, even on Spain time, the points expired well before the end of 12/1. If I tell you that you have a report due by 12/1 that doesn’t mean your report is late if you turn it in on 12/1. It means that is is timely if it is turned in on 12/1. If Iberia refuses to budge on this, I plan to sue (I am a lawyer). It’s an issue as clear as day. I know some promos have gray areas but here they plainly had the points expire too soon. End of story. It doesn’t matter if anyone thinks I should have done the bookings sooner. I was well within my rights to wait until 12/1.

Audrey
Guest
Audrey

I was fortunately able to squeeze out a satisfying redemption, but not without a struggle. The website wasn’t working to book it and reaching a representative was almost impossible. I was finally told the phone system was broken so transfers didn’t reach the correct department.
Though I ultimately got through, the amount of time and aggravation required just to fulfill the promotion would certainly make me think twice before going for something similar in the future.

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

I’m glad u made out but their a hassle to deal with .But with Cash their great I wonder Whyyyyy HaHa..I booked a couple of cheap Flts with them but the award stuff makes them look like 3rd world ..

CHEERs

Dee
Guest
Dee

If this promo comes around again, it would make sense to transfer existing Iberia Avios to BA before the promo Avios post. That way you use your promo Avios first and keep your original Avios safe. They can always be transferred back if your need them.

rjb
Guest
rjb

After all the hassles I had with Iberia, Iberia.com, customer service (?), changing terms, general rudeness and BS, I’m never going to use Iberia ever again.

This is certainly not the intent of their promo but seriously Iberia, I had better experiences with Ryanair!

Kadels
Guest
Kadels

I had so many issues redeeming my promo miles. It literally took more than 10 calls and several emails over the span of a week to get it done. At one point, I had 2 agents on 2 separate lines witnessing that their phone prompts would not take me to the right department – both insisted they could not transfer me and there was nothing they could do to help. I finally had to make an international call, and that call took half an hour. $$ What was most fascinating to me was that Iberia seemed genuinely surprised that their IT sucked.

Frank
Guest
Frank

Maybe I am lucky but for me it was very easy to book flights with the promo I book flights on JAL first class I know it is not the best redemption but in conguntion with the Amex transfer offer it wasn’t that bad, for booking the flight I call the Spain phone number as mentioned in some blogs and it took me probably 30 minutes to make the booking the agent was very knowledgeable and there was not wait time, I am very happy with Iberia they have the promo and honored it

WR2
Guest
WR2

Glad I didn’t partake. I’d rather sign up for a new CC or two than buy miles anyway…especially when those miles are with a second rate carrier.

Nun
Guest
Nun

Last summer I moved all but 20 IB points to BA before purchasing any tickets in the promotion.

This avoided the commingling problem you described. It was clear which points were being redeemed after I got the 90k. Just FYI in case IB offers something like this again.

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

I going to do the same with my Thank You points I’m afraid if I cancel the one card they will void all my points .
Keep it Simple B Careful.
CHEERs

Gary R
Guest
Gary R

Lets get out of the way that Iberia will never do this promotion again.
I took a chance and was able to receive the 90,000 mile bonus. It took almost 5 months and several emails as well as filing a transportation department dispute… Also a bloggers direct contact at Iberia looking into it. I transfered 10,000 rewards miles to make the balance an even 100,000.
First attempt to book an AA ticket was easy and uneventful. 28,000 Avios.
The second for a short
International flight was equally easy on AA. 23,000 Avios.
Having success I took advantage of a 40% Rewards transfer bonus and got 70,000 Avios for my 50,000 points.
My success was short lived, however and soon regretted transferring to points.
The third attempted booking from LA – Mia took over 200 attempts, 20 phone calls, refusals for assistance in booking, dropped calls and the same inability to be transferred and repeatedly being told there was no availability by both the web site and customer service, when there were hundred or thousands of available mile saver awards open and available. I even entered every single day over a two and a half month period without luck.
After a great relaxing week in Cartagena I resumed the search and finally got a customer service rep to take pity on me and to book the ticket for me as she said the system had been down for days….28,000 Avios. This was after at least 10 + hours over several days trying to book.
I booked the fourth ticket on the last day, November 30 in the afternoon as the site was inoperable the whole morning. Kept dropping, asking for input of proof on non robot status, then dropping all over again. Mia-Punta Cana was finally bookable in the late afternoon and my credit card showed Nov 30 charge for taxes. 17,000 Avios. Thought I was home free and used alll my bonus Avios.
The next day Dec1, my Avios balance showed an 11,000 reduction. I called an was told my flight was booked Dec1, 2018. Even though Amex charge stated Nov 30,2018.
I was told to send an email to Iberia and have yet to get a reply. After reading other posts I assume it was because of it being December 1, in Madrid time.
At least my other remaining Avios were unaffected, and Iberia only removed the 11,000 Avios that were unused from the 90,000 promotion, if they don’t honor the Nov 30 booking date. They were able to figure it out with two intermittent transfers of 10.000 and 50,000 (net 70,000). Obviously I didn’t want to lose the 11,000 Avios which is why I booked the last trip thinking it was really only costing an extra 6,000 more Avios to take.
Was it worth it? I bought a friend two domestic tickets and myself two more short international tickets with the promotion bonus for $300 plus taxes. So it was definitely worth it, but the stress and hours required to complete such an easy ticket booking task we do everyday was an eye opener on how bad Iberia’s website, phone system,customer support, and technical support is.
Lets see what happens about the time difference on the 11,000 Avios but m not holding my breath waiting for a satisfactory reply.

Nun
Guest
Nun

Apparently IB has done a similar promotion before. They may do it again despite what you wrote.

LAXJeff
Guest
LAXJeff

Can’t you just sign up for a new Iberia account if they put you into the negative?

Debit
Guest
Debit

Some people (lucky) transferred to British airways and now their balance is negative. I called this as fraud since he has documented it himself that this should not be done. My comment was removed from his blog.

Anyway everyone that plan to sue iberia If I were on the jury i would be very open to awarding iberia punitive damages against you.

Not only you steal but you complain that iberia did not make it easy for you to steal. I bet you are a whiny, scummy, white Republican male.

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