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I am on vacation in Spain, and several months ago booked to fly home (MAD->MSP) with Iberia. Unfortunately, I contracted COVID-19 while on vacation and am currently in quarantine. I feel fully recovered, but I continue to test positive via antigen test, and I cannot legally fly home until I receive a negative test.

Iberia advertises a maximum flexibility policy for COVID-related travel disruptions. Specifically if "You yourself test positive for COVID-19... you can change your ticket to another date without any penalty." This policy was a big part of why I chose to book Iberia for this trip.

However, when I called customer service to advise them that I would need to change my flight, they told me that in fact, I would need to pay the difference in fares between my current ticket and my new ticket. They didn't tell me how much this would be, but I assume it will be well over $1,000- the current MSP-MAD flights offered on their website are all over $2,000, whereas I payed $600 for the round trip when I first booked.

I feel like I'm being swindled here- to me, "without any penalty" means the change should be free. The customer service representative explained that the fare difference doesn't count as a "penalty". I pushed back several times, asked for an exception, asked to speak to a supervisor, but to no avail. Ultimately the call was dropped unexpectedly, I called back, and the next representative advised me to wait to make the change until I test negative. So, I have some time to try to figure this out.

Is there a way I can make this flight change without paying an arm and a leg for the fare difference? Is there a way I can contest this somehow, as the airline violating its advertised policy? Or, am I just SOL?

There are much cheaper flight options with other airlines if I can't resolve this situation, but I'd really like to just change my ticket for free as I was led to understand I would be able to do.

Edit to clarify: I have gone through the whole process of emailing a signed declaration to the email provided on the policy page. They approved me for a change and told me to call customer service. At that point, I was told that while I was eligible to change, I had to pay the fare difference.

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  • You can fly to the US with a Covid recovery certificate. When did you first test positive?
    – JonathanReez
    Apr 27, 2022 at 7:51
  • It's been one week, so I don't think I'm eligible for a recovery certificate yet. My original flight was scheduled for today, so even if I go for the recovery certificate route eventually I still need to change my flight.
    – Joe
    Apr 27, 2022 at 7:53
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    If you are just looking at the price of one way flights from MAD to MSP on the Iberia website then you are probably not seeing the price you will need to pay. Old-style airlines like Iberia treat one way flights as a premium product, often more expensive than a return. You should ask customer services how much it would cost to transfer to a specific flight (maybe 1 week from today) and hopefully the number will be more reasonable, as it will be priced as part of your return fare.
    – djr
    Apr 27, 2022 at 8:25
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    Hope you get better soon! Just one more thought: if your flight is currently scheduled for today, I would also check with them whether you need to make the change today, rather than waiting until you have a negative test. Make sure you're not treated as a "no show", in which case you'll definitely need a new ticket.
    – djr
    Apr 27, 2022 at 8:34
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    (So to be clear, regarding your comment on an answer below 'am I right to assume that "the difference between the two tariffs" means the current price of a last-minute ticket (>$2,000) minus what I paid (<$600), meaning that this change will cost me $1,500+?', I don't think you are right to assume that.)
    – djr
    Apr 27, 2022 at 8:39

3 Answers 3

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From Iberia's page (emphasis mine)

In the case of a change of dates, the modification will be free, providing it is made at the same tariff, regardless of the type of modification requested (time, date and/or destination). If it is made on a different, higher tariff, you will only need to pay the difference between the two tariffs. Any change should be requested before the departure of the flight, otherwise, the terms and conditions for the original tariff will apply.

to me, "without any penalty" means the change should be free.

No, that doesn't, and will likely never, mean that

Without any penalty

Means that you won't pay for a change fee. You will always have to pay for the fare difference

From Iberia's Conditions of Carriage on normal conditions

If you wish to change the date or the itinerary of any segment of your original purchased ticket, then such a change will be subject to application of a fixed penalty, if applicable according to the original fare conditions of your ticket; and/or also recalculation and payment of a fare difference between the original date/segment in your ticket and the new date/segment you wish to fly.

What is exonerated here is the fixed penalty (if this applies to your ticket class)

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  • I appreciate you highlighting this for me- I did try to read the additional details when I booked but it was too dense for me to fully understand. If I can ask one followup, am I right to assume that "the difference between the two tariffs" means the current price of a last-minute ticket (>$2,000) minus what I paid (<$600), meaning that this change will cost me $1,500+?
    – Joe
    Apr 27, 2022 at 8:14
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    Yes, likely @Joe Apr 27, 2022 at 8:21
  • Alright, thanks again for your insight. I feel like a chump but it looks like I can at least get home for less than that if I just book a different airline. I'll wait a day or so before accepting just in case I get alternate answers.
    – Joe
    Apr 27, 2022 at 8:23
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This is only a half solution; if you decide to pay anyway, compare also with a completely new ticket as a roundtrip (meaning MAD->MSP->MAD), from any airline on various days; they are often cheaper than the one-way you effectively need now.
You should be able to get that just above 600 $, which might beat the difference you'd have to pay (see attached). Of course, you'd 'throw away' that return flight, and your current return flight, but if it is cheaper...

enter image description here

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Is there a way I can make this flight change without paying an arm and a leg for the fare difference?

Not really. It's not just Iberia; every airline has pretty much the same rules: you are always responsible for the fare difference. That (unfortunately) makes sense. Airline prices can vary drastically with season, holiday, or even weekday. If the change was truly free, everyone would just book the cheapest possible date and then change it to the more expensive one that they actually want to fly.

To be fair, I've seen it going both ways: If the new ticket was cheaper, I have occasionally gotten a refund for the difference. However, that depends a lot on the type of ticket and fare rules.

Is there a way I can contest this somehow, as the airline violating its advertised policy?

No. The airline clearly states it's policy in their terms and conditions and this is basically industry standard.

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