Vueling charged me twice because I couldn’t prove I was myself

Susan Olson has to buy a second ticket for her flight after Vueling asks for her credit card. Rules are rules, even when they are misapplied. Or are they?

Question: I purchased a ticket from Iberia Airlines for a flight on their partner airline, Vueling, from Santiago, Spain, to Rome.

When I arrived at the Santiago airport, the ticket agent said that my 16-digit credit card number did not match the number given them by Iberia, except for the last four digits. So they said they would not honor the ticket. I had to purchase another ticket to get to Rome using the same credit card I used for the initial ticket.

Can you help me get reimbursed by Iberia and/or Vueling for the cost of the second ticket I had to buy to get to Rome? — Susan Olson, Sacramento, Calif.

Answer: Usually, when we get complaints about airlines, they’re about delayed or canceled flights, lost luggage, or nonrefundable tickets.

This one’s different. Someone, somewhere, made a mistake, which forced you to buy a second ticket for your flight.

You bought your ticket from Iberia, which requires that passengers to show the credit card used to make the purchase as part of their pre-boarding identification process. It’s all in their general purchase conditions:

In order to correctly verify the identity of the card holder, the card used for payment must be presented at check-in on the day of travel. You will only be required to show the payment card once, at the beginning of your journey (not on the return or transit Avios.)

Not complying with this rule may mean that you are not admitted on the flight, and you may only be admitted by the purchase of a new ticket at that time.

Although that rule isn’t easy to find (it’s nested under “more information” and then under “payment of ticket), it is there. But that shouldn’t have been a problem because you had the credit card with you.

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So what went wrong?

Part of the problem may have been that the ticket agent saw only the last four digits of what could have been an encrypted number. We’ll never really know. But while those last four digits matched the card you showed him, he could not actually verify that it was the same card.

To the agent, rules are rules. However, he or she didn’t realize, and we didn’t learn until several months later, that Iberia’s rule should not have been used or applied in this case.

Why? We’ll come to that in a moment.

After your initial efforts with the carriers got nowhere, you could have escalated your case by writing to the executive contacts listed on our website for both Iberia and Vueling.

Instead, you contacted us. Our advocate had to follow up with both airlines several times over about a three-month period. You tried to provide the airlines with the additional information they requested. But that was difficult because your purse and original credit card were stolen after you returned to California.

After yet another denial, the file finally reached someone at Vueling who understood what had happened and could make things right. Here’s how Vueling explained it when they informed you that they would refund the cost of the extra ticket:

You should have been able to use the original tickets normally without needing to show the credit card used for paying the reservation. The reason being that although the flights of your booking had Iberia numbers, they were being operated by Vueling as they were codeshare flights with the corresponding Vueling flight numbers.

For flights operated by Vueling, it is not necessary to show the credit card used for booking the flights, in line with our carriage conditions. It may therefore most likely have been a mix-up of airline conditions, as the ground handling company also serves other airline companies besides Vueling Airlines. Please accept our apologies for the inconveniences caused.

In other words, they blamed it on a ticket agent who works for a third company and who did not understand the conflicting requirements of two different, codesharing airlines.

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Of course, that doesn’t explain why it took them so long to get this cleared up. You originally bought the ticket in February, had to buy the second ticket in June, asked us for help in July, and were promised a refund in November. By now, Vueling should have wired the refund back to you. While it should not have taken this long, we’re glad the problem is solved.

Abe Wischnia

Abe started his working career as a television news reporter and newscaster before moving to corporate communications and investor relations. Now retired and having learned useful tips from, one of his volunteer activities is writing for us. Read more of Abe's stories here.

  • Alan Gore

    In previous cases of this type, the passenger no longer has the credit card used to buy the ticket, usually because it had been replaced after losing the original card. But in this case the passenger had the original card with the original number. For Americans replaced and substituted cards happens often enough that businesses which unexpectedly spring a rule that the original card be in the traveler’s possession can cash in.

    The gate agent was trying to scam her into buying a new ticket. Doesn’t EU law have safeguards against this kind of thing? We’re never going to get that level of legal protection here, but shouldn’t there be a general requirement that any unusual requirement for documentation not followed by other companies of the type be spelled out clearly in the booking page, rather than being buried in fine print?

  • Bill___A

    These types of things are incredibly bothersome. The last four digits matched, that should have been more than enough. People like this ticket or gate agent with so little understanding should receive more training for their jobs. The amount of grief they put people through due to their lack of knowledge and common sense is enormous. The airline should be charged a punitive fee for not correcting this. I am very glad that none of the airlines I deal with are like this. I would be livid.

  • PsyGuy

    Well the problem is they probably use yet another third party company to handle customer service. I’d love to start an airline that exists entirely in the virtual space. Sub contract out counter and gate agent services, ticketing and CS to different companies and codeshare flights on other airlines planes.

  • PsyGuy

    You can’t train away stupid.

  • PsyGuy

    So the government should specify font size and placement? Legally type is type.

  • Jim

    It’s called Spirit Airlines. The employees at the airport are all contracted out and the people on the phone are in a call center in Bangalore, if you can ever reach one…

  • BubbaJoe123

    Gov’t routinely specifies font size and placement for all sorts of disclosures.

  • BubbaJoe123

    That would be Uber.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    No one has mentioned the credit card company. If they were brought in, by disputing a charge as duplicative, it would seem to be a winning case (though you shouldn’t need to do so).

  • joycexyz


  • AAGK

    While it’s obvious the ticket agent was a total idiot, I still want to know why he claimed the card was different when standard practices blocked the number from him except for the last 4 digits, which matched. Iberia needs to explain this bc it suggests very weak fraud protection practices and this agent needs to be fired.

  • AAGK

    Also, the agent never should be able to see the rest of the card other than the last 4. Incidentally I have a card with the same last 4 digits as my partner but his is a MasterCard and mine is a Visa. The agent should have access to that info as well and it’s impossible to match the last 4 within the same card processing network.

  • AAGK

    All the time on insurance agreements, etc. that wouldn’t have helped here bc this agent was determined to obstruct her from boarding this flight.

  • cscasi

    How so? He followed the rules he was given.
    “To the agent, rules are rules. However, he or she didn’t realize, and we didn’t learn until several months later, that Iberia’s rule should not have been used or applied in this case.” If the company failed to give him/her the proper training and rules to follow, what else was to be done.
    I agree, I would have been mad myself, had it happened to me. But, in reading through all this, I am not certain I could blame the agent.
    I am glad it was finally resolved in Susan Olson’s favor and she got the money back that she was due, even though she had some real headaches in getting that to happen, but she contacted Chris and he and his team advocated for her and she was reimbursed.

  • PsyGuy

    Haha, good one.

  • AAGK

    I’m so ready to blame the agent. He was looking at the rules for the wrong airline but let’s say her flight was Iberia: he looks at the card used, probably sees all xxxx and the last 4 digits as well as a visa, for example. There is no other possibility then the card is the same. The chance that another card has the same last 4 is also very low and considering her driver’s license or passport matched the addresss makes that nearly impossible. Even if she were lying and showed a different card, the chances of getting a card with the same last 4 as a precious card must be beyond slim.

  • JewelEyed

    However, win or lose, the airline has the right to put that charge back in even if you win the dispute unless you get them to back off. The only time I’ve put in a dispute, the people on the phone told me point blank there was nothing they could do as they didn’t have the information they needed to do anything to cancel the completely digital purchase of a thing I never got. Even though I bought it with a credit card, so they had my name *and* my credit card number *and* my e-mail address available to them. Got it back.

  • JewelEyed

    Frankly, I think the requirement that you give them the credit card you purchased the tickets with or you don’t get to fly is stupid. I don’t suppose anyone is allowed to just buy a ticket for their college kid or their elderly mother directly to them. I guess you’ll have to transfer funds to them through your bank and have them buy the ticket themselves. I think it’s pretty crazy that they think that your credit card is more valid proof of who you are than the documentation you show to get through security.

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