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.

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.

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.

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