Handsdown the most stressful holiday I have ever booked. Ever.
It’s June 2018, the other half is on holiday in St Ives with his sister, her family and their parents. I am at home, unaccompanied. The Internet and frequent flyer forums are set alight with an Iberia Airlines promotion to earn 9000 bonus Avios points per flight for up to 10 flights. With no minimum spend or even a requirement to actually take the flights, it was a really easy opportunity to earn up to 90,000 Avios. My mind started whirring.
Iberia fly to Peru. Mum wants to go to Peru. How many points do I need for flights to Peru?
85,000 is the answer, that’s for business class from Madrid to Lima and back. Iberia also has really low taxes of only £80.00 for flights out of Spain. This is getting interesting and there’s no one at home to reign me in. We all know what happened when I saw a great deal to Japan! It’s a compulsion.
Can I actually get 3 seats in business class on the same flights there and back? The Avios have to be spent by the end of November which gives us until the end of October 2019 to travel. Peru’s climate, however, means it’s best to travel between April and September. Yes! I can get 3 seats on return flights in April, in business class!
So how much will it cost to buy the flights to earn the points? The forums are on fire with people buying cheap internal flights within Spain for as little at €15! That’d be €150 for 90,000 Avios – an absolute bloody bargain! 90,000 Avios bought from Iberia would usually cost €1600! I need to speak to the other half and mum.
Mum was easily convinced but the ever careful other half was more cautious and took a lot of persuading that this was the opportunity of a lifetime that we simply couldn’t miss! The offer was only live for a couple of days, he was away from home and I needed a decision NOW! If only he’d have reigned me in…
Spreadsheet at the ready, I create Iberia Plus accounts for mum and the other half (I’ve got one already, obvs) and start looking for the cheapest flights I can find to earn the bonus points.
Madrid to Majorca, I like Majorca, let’s book Majorca. Madrid to Seville, I’ve never been to Seville, let’s book Seville. And we’ll need to get back from Seville so let’s book Seville to Madrid. Madrid to San Sebastian, I’ve heard it’s nice there. And back to Madrid. But then I got a bit too clever.
With dates for the trip already in mind, I book positioning flights* from Manchester to Madrid and back again which, although more expensive than the internal flights in Spain, I’d need to book anyway. Thinking I’m saving money, I immediately see the error in my ways as it occurs to me that anything might happen between now and when I come to book the flights from Madrid to Peru and I’ve just overspent by about £100. Damn it!
* a positioning flight is a flight which gets you to the departure point of your main itinerary. The positioning flight is on a seperate booking to the main itineary i.e. when we went to Japan, our positioning flight was from Manchester to Amsterdam and our main flights departed from Amsterdam a day later.
With 30 flights booked at a cost of £280 each (plus the £100 for being clever), we just needed the points to post to our Iberia Plus accounts and we’re off to Peru!
Not so fast!
Of course, Iberia didn’t predict that their (stupidly, ridiculously, over generous) offer would go viral. People around the world creating Iberia Plus accounts for their wives, children, their dogs, their cats, their dead grandmas and booking 10 flights for each of them in pursuit of cheap Avios. It was an absolute mess!
To be fair to Iberia, I don’t blame them for validating accounts opened over that heady weekend. Some people really took advantage of a “too good to be true” offer on the verge of it being fraudulent. Mum and the other half‘s accounts both had to be validated by sending a signed form and a copy of their passport to Iberia to prove that they were not a dog, a gerbil or dead, before Iberia would release the promotional points. Because of the success of the promotion, this validation process took weeks. Of course, by the time all three of us had received our 90,000 points, the flights that I’d had my eye on when I started on this epic adventure, had since sold out. It’s now the middle of July!
And then it started.
IBERIA AIRLINES HAS THE WORST CUSTOMER SERVICE OF ANY COMPANY I HAVE EVER HAD THE DISPLEASURE OF DEALING WITH.
Because of the spread of points across our three accounts, I had to be strategic as to which flights I booked under each account. The bloody problem though, was that I couldn’t find three seats in business class on the same flight for any date. FFS.
In the end, I settled on booking mum and the other half in business class from Madrid to Lima and myself in economy. I’m nice like that. For the return, I booked all three of us into premium economy with British Airways as that was at least direct from Lima to Gatwick.
I booked the 2 business class seats outbound using 85,000 of mum’s points.
I booked my economy outbound seat using 27,750 of my points.
I booked my premium economy inbound seat using 39,000 of my points.
And then it went wrong.
It was late at night, I’d had a stressful day. This process had taken a month and I was pretty pee’d off by it all. The holiday I’d planned was unraveling, we’re flying in 2 different classes and now the Iberia website is messing about and won’t book the flight from Lima to Gatwick for mum and the other half. I’m off to bed.
I get up early and try the website again. The seats are still available but the website returns the same error message. UUURRRRGGGHHH!!!! In the car on the way to work, I call Iberia to make the booking (don’t worry, the other half is driving!). The agent is friendly and says that he’ll waive the telephone booking fee due to the problems with the website, which is great. Just as we’re about finished, the agent tells me that, as the flight is operated by British Airways, the fare is non-refundable. That’s not what it says on their website for the flight I booked last night so I ask him to check my booking and yes, that’s non-refundable. You see, folks, Iberia Airlines are liars.
In panic, I stop the booking whilst I figure out what to do. The agent puts the booking on hold and I say I’ll call back later in the day.
When I call back, the same number I called in the morning just seems to go through to unhelpful idiots that refuse to touch the booking as it’s an Avios booking and not cash. After 15 calls, I’m beyond angry. How can so many people in a company be unable to do their jobs? Multiple calls to Madrid have cost me £100 and got me nowhere. I’m furious.
Once I actually get through to someone who will make the booking, they refuse to take off the telephone booking fee and insist that the previous agent didn’t say that they would take it off. After a bit of arguing, the agent agrees to not charge the telephone booking fee and we finally book the flights.
2 premium economy inbound seats booked using 78,000 of the other half’s points.
But then I notice that the taxes are different on mum and the other half’s return flight than they are for mine. And guess what the difference is? The bloody telephone booking fee! That crafty so and so thought he could fob me off by mushing the fee in with the airline tax but I’m not bloody daft. You see, folks, Iberia Airlines are liars.
Incandescent with rage, I complain to Iberia about their unhelpful, deceitful “service” which has cost me £130. After months of silence, I escalate the complaint to senior management and the Iberia board. Still no response. I even wrote to the CEO of IAG, who own Iberia and even he didn’t give a toss, although he at least wrote back to tell me that!
It’s now November – November! – and still no response from Iberia so I submit a Subject Access Request and ask them to send me all data they hold about me. Under GDPR, they have to send me this data, but I’m still waiting as I write this (in June 2019!). They quickly replied to the complaint though! They refunded the telephone booking fee and gave me 5000 Avios but still refused to refund the cost of the needless phone calls to Madrid.
Whilst all this was going on, I was constantly checking for more business class seats on the outbound flight, but nothing was available. Then in September, a premium economy seat becomes available. Yes! I’m clawing myself nearer to the front of the plane! But damn, I’ll have to ring Iberia to change the booking!
After several deep breaths and speaking to a few unhelpful people, I manage to change my booking from economy to premium economy. I roll my eyes when the agent tells me about the telephone booking fee. Whatever love.
27,750 points refunded and 31,750 points charged for 1 premium economy outbound seat.
With the deadline for spending the promotional points fast approaching, I needed to burn what’s left in our 3 accounts – 5000 in mum’s account, 12,000 in the other half’s account and 19,000 in my account. Looking on the Iberia Plus portal, I notice that the hotels I wanted to book in Lima and Machu Picchu are on there and you can book them using points. Seems as good a use as any, so I book the hotels using the last of the points.
As we got nearer our date of travel, business class sold out and my fate was sealed. Then, a few days before the flight, I got an email from Iberia about a change to my booking. These things are never good news! Lo and behold, Iberia had bumped me out of my preselected seat to a less favourable one. The cynic in me says they only did that because the seat I’d booked (11c, bulkhead with extra legroom), they usually charge €45 for but are free on award bookings.
A quick search online showed 11c available for the €45 fee. What a surprise! I called Iberia and asked them to reallocate the seat to me. After initially being told it was taken, I told the agent that I could see online that it was available and after she checked again, the seat magically became free and was reallocated to me. The call lasted 6 minutes and was pretty painless but surely Iberia wouldn’t purposefully turf a customer out of their seat to try and flog it to someone else for a higher price?! I wouldn’t put anything past these cowboys, that’s for sure!
Either way, it looks like I’ll be flying premium economy to Peru whilst mum and the other half lord it up in business class!