In this rough, dark era of frequent flyer award availability, a new credit card transfer partner is a synapse of excitement, a breath of fresh air in a stagnant doldrums. The addition of Iberia Plus to the American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards programs is indeed an exciting opportunity.
Iberia makes vastly more seats available through its Iberia-plus program than to its Oneworld partners. For Amex and Chase cardholders, that means more potential seats to Europe. This is a great use of points accumulated through cards like the The American Express® Gold Card and Platinum Card from American Express; Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve (more info).
The Spanish flag carrier has a relatively extensive global network to boot. Iberia is no Lufthansa, but it’s by no means small. It serves 109 destinations in 39 countries, including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City and San Francisco (seasonally). Iberia is a great way to get from Latin America to the rest of the world. Moreover, the airline operates passenger friendly Airbus A330 and A340 jets with 18-inch-wide economy seats and flat beds in business class.
Iberia Plus does not charge nearly as much in carrier-imposed surcharge fares as British Airways, and award price are often the same or better than British Airways Executive Club Avios.
Step 1: Searching for Available Flights
Iberia.com is reasonably easy to use. A free Iberia Plus account is required to search for available mileage awards.
Once logged in to an account, searching for Avios award flights is as simple as checking a box on the homepage. Once you search on the homepage, you’re given a second dialogue window to verify flight details and make an adjustment to the class of service and number of passengers.
Iberia shows awards for all Oneworld partners, including those that connect with proprietary Iberia space. Iberia also indicates award space on discount carrier Vueling, which can be paired with other Iberia and Oneworld flights. Note that Oneworld partner flights, without a connecting leg on Iberia, can only be booked as a round-trip.
Mileage value was good on both trips I was booking — a business class flight from Lima, Peru (LIM) to Amsterdam Schipol (AMS) and a return economy flight. The business trip priced out to 77,500 Avios and $141.82 one-way, and the economy return cost 39,000 Avios and $141.82 at the standard, not Blue (saver), level.
The current 40-percent transfer bonus on Amex points meant I paid out a total of just 58,000 Amex points for business and 28,000 for the economy ticket, an absolute steal.
There are two economy award categories available through Iberia Plus, Blue Fares, and Economy Fares. Blue fares are equivalent to partner award availability and are available at a lower rate. Iberia’s standard economy awards are abundantly available and are priced similarly to British Airways economy awards.
A unique feature of the Iberia award search engine is the ability to manually downgrade connecting legs. On the short Madrid to Amsterdam leg I booked, I was able to pick either business class or economy class. Choosing economy for the shorter leg saved about 4,000 Avios on this booking. This seemed an obvious choice, given that Iberia’s European business class seats are just economy chairs at the front of the cabin.
One strange snag came when Iberia asked for a “document number” during the online account setup. I have not seen any other airline ask for a passport or ID number to create an online account. Adding to the annoyance, the website rejected my U.S. passport number as invalid. I entered my NY drivers license number instead.
According to prior reports, Membership Rewards points take 48 hours to move to an Iberia Plus account. The points can be transferred to an Iberia Plus account via the Membership Rewards travel center website, or by calling the Amex Gold or Platinum concierge.
I transferred points in two separate batches, and in each case the points appeared within about 10 hours or so. Perhaps the 48-hour figure is a bit dated.
It’s possible to instantly transfer British Airways Executive Club Avios to Iberia Plus Avios, but only after an account has been “active” for 90 days. Activity includes earned Avios as well as transferred Avios. Once you transfer one set of points, it becomes possible to more quickly pass the points through British Airways, which is an instant Amex and Chase transfer partner.
Holding Awards and The Call Center
Given the significant, though less than expected delay in transferring points, it makes good sense to hold any available award. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find anyone at the Iberia call center who thought it was possible to hold award seats on Iberia flights, or who at least knew how to.
All the more confusing, Iberia’s website states that tickets can be held for up to 72 hours. That factoid appears in a Q&A section that comes up when the search term ‘Avios award hold’ is entered into the search bar on the homepage.
There have been some inklings on ExpertFlyer that suggest that holds can’t be made within 21 days of departure, although that is not made apparent anywhere on the Iberia website, at least not in a place that is easily accessible or visible to someone attempting to transfer credit card points into an Iberia account.
This seems to be a liability for Iberia, and one I hope they rectify quickly with clear information and instructions for call center staff. There are likely to be many American Express customers who run into serious problems here.
Call center wait times were reasonable, within about 15 minutes on both counts. One representative I spoke to was genuinely helpful, if not warm and friendly. The other seemed deliberately clueless.
Booking and Paying For Iberia Plus Award Seats
Once the points appear in the account, booking can be made quickly online.
Another snag came when I had to register a second passenger with the airline, a second step that again invoked the unusual and unnecessary step of entering identification information. Bizzare and obnoxious.
Of the two awards I booked in 24 hours, I encountered a severe payment problem on one. Numerous credit cards invoked an unspecified error on the page, and I had to call Iberia and wait on hold for another 15 minutes to get the issue resolved.
Fortunately, the Iberia representative saw that there had been an error in online booking, and waived the telephone booking fee without request.
Whatever problems were associated with the airline’s credit card processing provider were resolved by the second reservation I made, and checkout with an American Express card was seamless.
Iberia Plus is a fantastic addition to both American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards slate of transfer partners.
Availability, for now, seems to be significantly better than other European Oneworld airlines, and Iberia charges far less in add-on fares than its partner British Airways.
The website also proved an easy and quick way to search for economy and business class awards on Oneworld partners, though I did not see any first-class column appear in any of my searches (Iberia doesn’t offer first class).
Any active Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards member should take advantage and create an Iberia Plus account today.