Thanks to The Mail on Sunday, Iberia has been forced into a huge U-turn over a promotion that misled thousands of customers.
As a result of the newspaper’s intervention, the Spanish airline has now removed onerous restrictions on the loyalty offer that left travellers feeling cheated – and experts claiming that customers had been ‘hoodwinked’.
It means British Airways customers will now be able to use the bonus Avios loyalty points in the way they believed the offer promised.
Victory! British Airways customers will now be able to use the bonus Avios loyalty points in the way they believed the offer promised
The one-off deal was launched last month by Iberia, which merged with British Airways in 2011. The promotion let travellers earn up to 90,000 Avios points – enough to fly to Sydney and back – for a possible outlay of just £150.
The eye-catching offer meant anyone signed up to the Iberia Plus frequent flyer scheme could earn 9,000 Avios points – enough to fly to Nice return once £35 in taxes were paid – if they bought a one-way Iberia ticket, some costing just £15. They would get the points even if they failed to turn up for the flight.
Those collecting the maximum 90,000 points available appeared to be in easy reach of converting them – by the December 1 deadline – into the 100,000 points needed for a free business class return flight to New York, excluding taxes. Such a fare would cost at least £1,800, even in the off-peak season.
But after Iberia launched the scheme, it revealed a previously buried condition. Collectors wanting to add their clutch of points to an existing pot they held with British Airways Executive Club or Avios Travel Rewards Programme were told this would not be permitted. The points could only be spent through the Iberia Plus programme.
Allure: An advert for Avios featuring TV presenter Laura Whitmore
One keen Avios collector, who prefers not to be named, said he felt ‘tricked’ by the promotion. He said: ‘I entered on the understanding I could switch the points to my British Airways account where I have been saving madly for a special trip to the Far East later this year.
‘I then found I would not be able to use them for this. When I could not transfer the points, I was twice told it was due to a computer glitch.’
Another collector, retiree David Powell from Kent, said he had been disappointed not to be able to transfer the 9,000 points he earned from purchasing a £26 Iberia ticket from Palma de Majorca to Madrid.
He said: ‘I tried to transfer them but Iberia would not allow it.’
Loyalty scheme expert Rob Burgess, founder of frequent flyer website headforpoints, claims passengers were ‘hoodwinked by Iberia’. He believes the terms and conditions were altered once the airline saw how popular the deal was. Burgess adds: ‘Customers have always been able to move their Avios points between participating airlines for free as a key part of the scheme.’
Loyalty points: Avios can be earned when flying with many airlines
On Friday, upon hearing of Iberia’s U-turn, Burgess said: ‘I’m delighted Iberia will allow people to use their bonus Avios points as anticipated. In future I hope Iberia spends more time in drafting clear and fair terms and conditions.’
He said many of those who would have lost out wanted to transfer the points to British Airways so they could use them with a British Airways American Express two-for-one voucher. This is a special deal that holders of a BA credit card enjoy.
The fee-free version of the card provides holders with two-for-one flights if they spend £20,000 on the card a year, meaning they can take a partner or friend for free. The version of the card that has a £195 annual fee provides the same offer on £10,000 of spending.
Iberia’s U-turn means card holders will now be able to take advantage of the two-for-one offer using the Iberia points.
On Friday, Iberia claimed its original offer had not been misleading, but in response to complaints agreed to allow British Airways customers to use the points without restriction.
But it warned that the transfer of points could in some instances take up to three months.
To help readers confused by Avios, The Mail on Sunday explains how the scheme works:
WHAT ARE AVIOS?
Avios are loyalty points that are earned as you spend on certain credit cards or at some shops. They are also available when buying flights with many airlines including British Airways, Aer Lingus and Flybe.
Avios was previously called Air Miles but was renamed seven years ago after British Airways’ merger with Iberia. The points can be used to purchase flights, and book hotels and car hire. But even those who are clued up on the Avios ‘currency’ find the rules confusing.
Experienced users warn that one of the biggest pitfalls is that paying for a ticket with Avios still requires travellers to pay air passenger duty and other charges – which can add up to hundreds of pounds on a long- distance flight.
Often, by choosing times and dates carefully, it can be cheaper to purchase an economy flight outright rather than use Avios points. Using points towards a cabin upgrade or in part payment of a fare can prove more economical.
Advice: Hannah Maundrell of money.co.uk
HOW TO COLLECT THEM
One of the speediest ways to earn Avios points is by using certain credit cards. Providers usually issue points when you sign up to the card as well as allocate them every time you spend with them.
Such cards include: American Express Preferred Rewards Gold, British Airways American Express, British Airways Premium Plus American Express and HSBC Premier Mastercard. Two others are Lloyds Avios Rewards American Express and Mastercard but both are now closed to new customers.
In some cases these cards convert the points earned to Avios.
The BA Premium Plus Amex card has a £195 annual fee but each pound spent earns one-and-a-half Avios points plus a free companion ticket after £10,000 of spending.
This compares with one Avios point per £1 and a free companion ticket after £20,000 of spending on the fee-free American Express version. Either way the cardholder must use Avios to buy their own flight (plus taxes and charges for both flyers). The companion ticket on the Premium Plus card must be used within two years, or one year on the free BA Amex card.
Hannah Maundrell, of website money.co.uk, says: ‘These loyalty cards work best for people who spend lots each month and pay off their balance in full.’
Burgess, whose website headforpoints reviews airline and hotel-related credit cards, says: ‘These cards often have generous sign-up bonuses, but are only for sensible spenders. Beware of high interest rates on uncleared balances.’
How the other airlines’ loyalty schemes work
Virgin Flying Club offers rewards on flights, the new Virgin Atlantic Reward credit Mastercard (fee-free or £160 a year) and even a one-year Virgin Money savings account that pays points instead of interest (for example, 1,400 miles on a £1,000 balance).
There are also companion tickets available for Flying Club Gold members who are happy spending heavily on their Virgin Atlantic Reward credit cards – £20,000 a year on the fee-free version, £10,000 on the fee-charging card.
Its Flight Club is an invitation-only programme for frequent flyers and does not involve collecting points.
Perks of the programme include a price guarantee on tickets and free route, date or name changes for anyone travelling on the member’s booking.
Alternatively, customers can pay £199 for EasyJet Plus, providing free seat selection and fastrack security and boarding.