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Avios booking cancelled without notification - what can I expect Iberia to do?

Avios booking cancelled without notification - what can I expect Iberia to do?

Old Jul 24, 19, 9:59 pm
  #1  
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Avios booking cancelled without notification - what can I expect Iberia to do?

I'm wondering if someone who is more familiar with Iberia's policies might be able to tell me what I can expect in an unfortunate situation they have put me in. Back in April, I used Iberia's website to book two award tickets for my wife and son. I received a "Booking Confirmation" email from them immediately afterward, and didn't think about it again for months. Their flights were AA codeshare flights within the U.S., from Knoxville to DCA and back. Their departing flight is coming up in about 36 hours, and my wife wanted me to check the departure time, so I went to Iberia's website and entered their confirmation code. It came back saying it couldn't find the code and said to call their reservation number, so I did that. The first reservation agent I spoke to said the reservation had been cancelled in May, but that if I needed any more information, I would need to talk with the Iberia Avios desk. I called the Avios desk, and they verified that an Iberia agent had cancelled the reservation on May 17th. I asked why, and the agent could not give me a reason. The flights themselves have not been cancelled (I checked AA's website). I asked the agent to re-book the flights as originally booked, and he said he could not because there was no longer any availability. I asked if anybody at Iberia had tried to contact me (or my wife or son, as the passengers) about the cancellation, and he said he could see no record of that. I asked what we should do, and he said at this point, our only option was to buy tickets and file a complaint with Iberia. Iberia's website indicated no availability on the days in question, so we had to buy the tickets directly from AA's site at $620.60 each. After doing that, I sent an email to Iberia's Customer Service explaining the situation and asking them to reimburse me for the purchased tickets.

Does anyone have experience with a similar situation with Iberia? I've never heard of an airline just cancelling a reservation without making any attempt to tell you or rebook you on another set of flights. I'm guessing their contract of carriage probably says that if they refund your Avios, their hands are clean of the transaction, but we're suffering real financial harm (by having to purchase last-minute tickets) as the result of their failure to notify anyone of the cancellation. Had they told us sooner, I think there's an excellent chance I could have found another award ticket, or at least an advance-purchase fare that was significantly less than what we just paid. What are the legalities of an airline canceling a reservation when the flight itself hasn't been cancelled? That seems more than a little shady to me.

I'm guessing this is going to turn into a protracted fight. As I understand it, the proper route of escalation is to first file the complaint with Iberia. If they don't make us whole, then the next step is to file a complaint with the Department of Transportation's Aviation Consumer Protection department. And if that fails, my last resort will be small claims court. Does that sound like the proper sequence? Any alternatives someone can suggest?

One other minor point to note: Iberia never refunded the $40.40 in taxes and fees associated with the original booking. If I had seen a refund issued on my May credit card statement, I certainly would have called them to see what was going on.

Thanks in advance for any tips anyone can provide on how to handle this situation.
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Old Jul 25, 19, 1:33 pm
  #2  
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Here's a quick update on this situation: Iberia's customer service replied today:

Dear Mr. [NewEXP]:

Regarding your last email received, we have verified your reservation (PNR: ******) that was never confirmed and that you never received the tickets numbers that are the confirmation on a reservation. Therefore, we are sorry to inform you, that it will not be possible to reimburse any amount and that, it will not be possible to offer any compensation, because if after you made the reservation you never received the ticket number, you should have to contact Iberia Back maximum 24 Hours after the creation of the reservation, in order to request confirmation of the reservation.

We hope to continue with your trust and we take this opportunity to send you our warmest greetings.

Your Iberia Plus Service Center.


I replied that in fact they did send me an email with the subject line "Booking confirmation" on the day I made the reservation. And, as further evidence that the reservation was made, the Avios were debited from my account. There's no indication that any further level of confirmation was required from me.

If one looks very closely at the "Booking confirmation" email they sent back in April, under the "Passenger information" section, next to my wife and son's names under a column heading of "Ticket No." it just says "Pending." Am I supposed to somehow understand their internal system well enough to realize that that means I'm supposed to follow up with some sort of additional confirmation? That would be unlike any other airline I've ever dealt with - the step of taking a confirmed reservation to an actual ticket number is something that has always been handled behind the scenes by the airline.

It seems to me that Iberia screwed up by not turning my reservation into actual tickets, and now they are trying to push that error off on me.

I forwarded them the "Booking confirmation" email they sent me back in April and once again asked them to reimburse the cost of the AA tickets we had to buy last night for the same flights. Unless someone has any other suggestions, my next step, if they deny this request, will be to pursue complaints with the FAA and the EU's equivalent. If that fails, I'll get to learn about how the Small Claims court process works...

Last edited by Prospero; Jul 26, 19 at 4:16 am Reason: Remove PNR (privacy protection)
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Old Jul 25, 19, 2:31 pm
  #3  
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Unfortunately, FT forums are replete with stories of travelers "booking" a flight, only to find out when they get to the airport that their travel was never ticketed.

Without a ticket, I'm not sure that you will have much luck recovering anything more than the taxes that you paid for the redemption. The U.S. DOT cannot order refunds; it can fine airlines found to have violated U.S. laws and regulations.

You might consider making a submission to the free Ombudsman service at Condé Nast Traveler magazine; they can shine a light on Iberia's actions here, which might induce Iberia to make a good-will gesture.

If you do file a complaint with the DOT, note that it appears that Iberia improperly collected U.S. passenger-facility charges (PFCs) on your wholly domestic redemption on AA. See this thread for my experience with this:

Iberia agrees to refund improperly-collected PFCs on certain redemption tickets.

Going forward, anytime you "book" airline travel -- either with cash or miles -- you should not relax until you actually receive a ticket number.
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Old Jul 25, 19, 2:50 pm
  #4  
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Thanks for your reply. I'm a relatively experienced flyer (3+ MM on AA, mostly BIS), and I've never encountered a situation where an airline sent me an email titled "Booking confirmation" with the expectation that I still needed to take further confirmation steps - especially since there were no instructions to do so in the booking confirmation email.

While DOT may say they can't do anything because no ticket was issued, I doubt that logic would hold up in small claims court - it seems pretty obvious to me that any consumer would take an email titled "Booking confirmation" to actually be a booking confirmation! I don't at all relish the prospect of having to sink a lot of time into the legal process to recover ~$1200 for the tickets we had to buy if I have to go to that step, but I'll do it on principle because I really feel they have not treated us fairly. Iberia's internal process of converting a confirmed booking into a ticket number is not something the customer should be held responsible for. I can't imagine how complicated life would get if I had to manually track whether every airline ticket I bought went through this internal process.

Does it not also seem odd that, in addition to failing to convert the reservation into ticket, they also didn't bother to try to contact me before cancelling the reservation? That's just a recipe for creating the situation I'm in now. And they still haven't said why this happened - the flights are definitely not cancelled because we were able to purchase tickets on the exact same flights directly from AA, so it's hard to imagine what caused them to cancel.

On the taxes and fees, I've gone back through my credit card statements and could not find where the $40.40 charge documented in the "Booking confirmation" email actually posted to any of my cards, so I don't think I can use that line of reasoning as a hook. However, the Avios definitely were debited from my account, so there's no question that I made the reservation and "paid" for it with my Avios.

Thanks for the Conde Naste suggestion - I will look into that now.
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Old Jul 25, 19, 3:00 pm
  #5  
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The problem of "booking" a flight and not ending up with a ticket is not peculiar to IB; it's been reported on different airlines in different FT forums. Often, it involves using miles from one FFP to book travel on a partner carrier.

There has also been an issue -- recently resolved -- of booking AA award flights with IB Plus Avios.

​​​​​
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Old Jul 25, 19, 3:39 pm
  #6  
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Originally Posted by guv1976 View Post
The problem of "booking" a flight and not ending up with a ticket is not peculiar to IB; it's been reported on different airlines in different FT forums. Often, it involves using miles from one FFP to book travel on a partner carrier.

There has also been an issue -- recently resolved -- of booking AA award flights with IB Plus Avios.

​​​​​
Maybe I should have titled this thread "When is a 'booking confirmation' not a booking confirmation?" Lol. The logic Iberia is trying to apply here just doesn't pass the sniff test, at least for any typical consumer.

Last night, I did see the other thread you mentioned about people not being able to book AA flights through Iberia's website for a while, and noted that the timing of when those problems started appearing is right around the time they cancelled my reservation (May 17th). It makes me wonder if that's the reason this happened. But if that is the reason, I think that would put even more responsibility on Iberia to fix the problem - that would mean that this was a systemic problem they must have been aware of, not just one agent's accidental slip-up that could have gone unnoticed.

After all of this came to light last night, I tried calling AA to see if they could offer any help. I told them I knew it wasn't their responsibility, but since it involved a reservation on flights they were operating, I thought maybe they could at least give me some additional information. I was very lucky to get an experienced and extremely helpful AA agent. She spent about 30 minutes trying to find a solution, but could not. She did confirm that the reservation was made in April, and that Iberia cancelled it on May 17th, but that was about all she could see. I asked her what AA's policy would be if the situation were reversed - i.e., if I had used my Aadvantage miles to make a confirmed booking on a flight operated by Iberia and then the reservation dropped because AA failed to ticket it. She said that AA has a "liaison officer" for each of their One World partners, and that in a situation like this, their liaison would have called Iberia to either have the booking reinstated (and ticketed) or they would have found a way to accommodate my wife and son on another set of flights. So while other airlines might occasionally "drop the ball" in converting a confirmed booking to a ticket number, it appears at least some of them have mechanisms to fix these problems when they occur. Apparently Iberia doesn't do this, but they really should. It's just part of good corporate policy to "own" your screw-ups and not have the consequences spill onto your customers.

Iberia's treatment of us is already having financial consequences for them (apart from anyone reading this thread being turned off). One of my graduate students is going to a conference in Barcelona next month, and I have instructed him not to have anything to do with Iberia for his travel arrangements.
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Old Jul 25, 19, 4:08 pm
  #7  
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First, this is far from a unique situation. When booking tickets with one carrier for flights on another carrier, that operating carrier has 72 hours to accept the reservation and notify the ticketing carrier. If that does not happen, the ticketing carrier cancels the reservation (sooner or later). That is almost certainly what happened here.

Second, as the AA agent pointed out, each OW carrier has liaison agents who work with the other OW carriers. In this case, I would call IB back and ask that it have a liaison agent reach out to AA and open award space for you, thus allowing IB to issue avios tickets. If AA is willing to do so, you will have your avios tickets and while it is too late to take advantage of a fee-free cancellation, I am fairly certain that AA, in this situation, would cancel for a refund as a courtesy as part of approving the avios inventory change. Making this happen means that you need to enlist some who wants to help you. Don't be surprised if it's too late to make this happen, but it's worth the call to IB.

Third, this practice has existed for 60+ years. People routinely complain to DOT and they routinely file lawsuits. It may be that someone somewhere has won one, but that would be rare. IB would likely remove to federal court and file a form motion to dismiss (and win). Thus, adjust your expectations.

Finally, in the spirit of trying to be helpful, your communications should be short and to the point. The posts on this are far too long and won't get attention anywhere else, e.g. at IB, DOT or a court if it really does go that far.
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Old Jul 25, 19, 5:56 pm
  #8  
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Whether or not this is a unique situation does not change the fact that Iberia's cancellation of my confirmed booking and failure to tell me about it has caused me financial harm. Maybe they feel like they can get away with this sort of practice because nobody makes waves about it?

Per Often1's suggestion, I just called Iberia back and asked them if they had a liason with AA who might be able to open up additional award inventory to fix the problem. They declined to do this.

I also heard back from Iberia's Customer Service email after I sent them the "Confirmed booking" email they sent me and asked them why they cancelled the reservation. They said "We just verified that your reservation was not completely issued because a problem with the payment transaction of the taxes, because the amount of the taxes was only retained on your credit card, but never reached the Iberia Airlines account. Therefore, after a few weeks the reservation expired and the Avios were transferred again into your Iberia Plus account."

After seeing this explanation, I called my credit card company to ask if they had any record of a declined charge from Iberia for $40.40 in the March/April timeframe. They did not. I also have notifications set up on my card that should have automatically alerted me of any declined charge, and I did not receive one of those notifications, so I am doubting the veracity of Iberia's reason.

I've sent them one last email asking if their decision to decline my claim is final. If it is, that will set the ball in motion for me to sue in small claims. Often1, you may be right that they'll do some legal maneuvering that would make it financially untenable for me to win a case against them, but at this point my motivation is more about pursuing every last end I can, even if the chances are slim, because I honestly feel they are in the wrong here. Hopefully it will at least cost them as much to cover their lawyers' time in dealing with this as it would have to actually just own the mistake and fix it. And lastly, I take your comment to heart about trying to be succinct in my claim. I know I tend to be a little verbose in the interests of fully explaining a situation, but I can reel that in when it comes time to make my legal case.
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Old Jul 25, 19, 8:06 pm
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Originally Posted by NewEXP View Post
... to make my legal case.
Your legal case is based on the fact that no contract for carriage exists (i.e. an e-ticket). Whilst this may not be your fault, don't expect a court of law to actually enforce non-existent contracts (i.e, transportation from Point A to Point B). Especially when you didn't even complete your side of the transaction (i.e. payment). The fact that you were ready and willing to complete your part of the contract is not likely to be seen as relevant.

By all means take it to court and learn this lesson first hand, but until you have an e-ticket number you have nothing. Hopefully in the future you will know to check your airline reservations to make sure they are ticketed.

As mentioned, it's the "court of public opinion" where you might gain redress from an airline, by making the bad press more costly for them than paying for your new ticket.
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Old Jul 25, 19, 10:25 pm
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Yes, I am afraid I agree with previous posters. As has been said, reports of reservations "booked" but not actually ticketed are fairly common in this and other boards and usually there is nothing or very little to be done if one finds out too late.
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Old Jul 26, 19, 12:41 am
  #11  
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Originally Posted by Yllanes View Post
Yes, I am afraid I agree with previous posters. As has been said, reports of reservations "booked" but not actually ticketed are fairly common in this and other boards and usually there is nothing or very little to be done if one finds out too late.
There does seem to be a consensus on this among the people with experience (either themselves or reading of others' woes here). Airlines really should refrain from using the work "Confirmed" until you really are confirmed. I guarantee you that 99% of the population would see that word in an email right after they booked a ticket on an airline website and figure they were all set.

I may have figured out what happened with the supposed declined charge for the $40.40 in taxes. I looked in my Iberia account's payment information, and I have two credit cards on file with them. They only list the last four digits, and I checked the cards in my wallet to make sure I still have two cards that end in those digits. I do, but I noticed also that one of them has a different expiration date from what was shown on Iberia's site, and not just by a different year (which is what you normally get when they send you a replacement card after one expires) - they were different months as well. It appears that one of the cards (the top one on Iberia's list) was a cancelled card that happened to have the same last four digits as the card I currently put most of my purchases on. So my guess (just a guess) is that I saw those four digits in the auto-populated payment field when I made the reservation, checked them against the card currently in my wallet, and hit purchase. Then, when Iberia went to charge the card, it was declined because the account they have on file for me was closed months prior.

I think this is actually the most likely explanation, and it probably means there's no point in trying to take them to court. But my gosh, how hard would it have been for them to call me after the rejected charge and give me a chance to give them another card number? That one phone call would have saved me $1200+. Or even just tell me they were cancelling the reservation without giving me a chance to give them another card - at least that way I could have looked around for alternative tickets. I think it says a lot about the company that they would cancel a reservation that they already had extracted the bulk of the payment for (my Avios) for such a simple, fixable reason. Unless I happened to be super-savvy about the difference between a confirmed booking versus a confirmed ticket (which, obviously, I was not - like most people, I'd guess), the end result of leaving me in the lurch was basically a forgone conclusion. To my mind, that shows a complete lack of regard for the customer.

Iberia Avios had a major program devaluation in May, correct? I wonder if the reason they chose not to communicate with me about the failed charge for the taxes was because they thought they could get more Avios out of me if I had to re-book?

Think it may be time to move all those points over to BA Avios so I never have to deal with this horrible company again. It seemed like a good home for my Amex points with the lower award levels than booking directly on AA for short flights, but this one incident basically erased all of that benefit - I'd have to cash in quite a few tickets at AA's higher redemption levels before the savings in miles were worth $1200!
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Old Jul 26, 19, 1:05 am
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Originally Posted by NewEXP View Post
There does seem to be a consensus on this among the people with experience (either themselves or reading of others' woes here). Airlines really should refrain from using the work "Confirmed" until you really are confirmed.
Perhaps you are too young to remember the days when you could have a "confirmed reservation" for a flight, but unless you showed up to the airport with an actual paper ticket you weren't getting on the plane... Somewhat before my time you often had to call to "re-confirm" your flights.

"Confirmed" has never been the end of the process, but simply an intermediate step stating that a seat is being held for you pending completion of the purchase.

P.S. By all means avoid IB+. Some of the IB experts on this board have long been providing the advice to avoid IB+ for partner bookings. But too many bloggers - who often have never dealt with IB+ directly - have been pushing credit cards based on the supposed savings available from using IB+ instead of BA or other airlines with better IT and customer service.
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Old Jul 26, 19, 1:38 am
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Originally Posted by craigthemif View Post
Perhaps you are too young to remember the days when you could have a "confirmed reservation" for a flight, but unless you showed up to the airport with an actual paper ticket you weren't getting on the plane... Somewhat before my time you often had to call to "re-confirm" your flights.
Nah, I'm old enough (52). It was a lot more obvious back then - either you had a paper ticket or you didn't, and if you didn't, you knew you had a problem to fix! Now that everything is electronic, the process is almost too seamless - 99.9% of the time (actually more, if my stats are representative), once you finish booking on the website, everything is handled for you internally - out of sight, out of mind. It's very normal for a ticket number to be listed as "pending" in the email confirmation, and it's never been an issue for me up until now. I have had one or two instances over the years (on AA) where there was a problem with a credit card payment, but I've never completely lost a reservation because of it. The airline just called, told me the problem, and we fixed it on the spot. Just like any other normal merchant would do when a credit card is declined. Even Amazon will send you an email if there's a problem with your card and give you a window of time in which to fix it before the order is cancelled. It boggles my mind that IB couldn't have extended this simple courtesy to me and saved me a lot of money and stress.

What makes this worse is my wife begged me not to book their tickets this way. She and my son had tickets last year for a similar trip that I used IB Avios for, but AA had a schedule change that didn't work for them, so we cancelled the award ticket. It took months of calling them to first get the miles re-stocked and later (after more calls) get the taxes reimbursed. My wife never wanted to deal with them again, but I have all these IB points transferred from Amex (based on a blogger recommendation, as you guessed) that I wanted to burn through before there were more devaluations, so I convinced her last year was a fluke and it would be fine this time. So not only did IB sh#t all over over me by not calling to say they were cancelling the reservation, I also now have to deal with my wife bringing this story up from now until I'm on my deathbed. Thanks Iberia!

Last edited by NewEXP; Jul 26, 19 at 1:45 am
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Old Jul 26, 19, 3:25 am
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Is this another "I am entitled to" thread?

No offence. But you have nothing to win.

You had a booking, but that booking was never attached to a ticket (= never paid). And I don't believe you did not know that... this thread reminds me a lot to that Qatar Airways Avios redemption bookin (in summary she booked Qatar Airways to Maldives but actually wanted to go to BKK).... which never got ticketed either. It's fascinating that, in both cases, "booking confirmed" but never ticketed. The reason, exactly the same: both users never paid for their ticket. Both write extensive posts... in a long and popcorn rich thread in FlyerTalk. Both claim it's all IB fault. Both end up paying expensive "rescue" fares...

Having said that... I'm sorry you have been through this just because you didn't pay your booking. My advice for the future is... always input your up-to-date credit card number while you book (don't rely on the saved ones, to avoid "paying with a card" that doesn't exist anymore). Then check that your booking is actually ticketed (13 digits), about 2 to 3 days after your booking.

IbPlus IS a fantastic program if you know what you do - and as craigthemif and many other here always say, IbPlus is not the program for partner redemptions. But it depends on your expectations: don't have high expectations and everything goes smoothly. Their customer service is so-so if you don't speak Spanish. It can be very helpful and agents can go-the-extra-mile if you speak Spanish.
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Old Jul 26, 19, 3:49 am
  #15  
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Originally Posted by tobsw View Post
Is this another "I am entitled to" thread?

[...]

You had a booking, but that booking was never attached to a ticket (= never paid). And I don't believe you did not know that...
I have no reason to care whether you believe me, but just out of curiosity, why don't you? I had absolutely nothing to gain from this situation, and in fact it cost me a decent amount of money and a lot of stress. I had no ax to grind with IB - as mentioned in my previous post, I actually wanted to use them for this trip over my wife's objections.

If feeling like someone from the airline could have called me when the credit card attempt to charge the taxes didn't go through makes me "entitled," I guess I'll cop to that. But is it really "entitled" to expect a company as big as IB to treat their customers with that tiny amount of consideration? No other business I know of would do that.

Originally Posted by tobsw View Post
Having said that... I'm sorry you have been through this just because you didn't pay your booking.
Just to clarify, the only part of the payment that didn't go through on the credit card was the taxes ($40.40). The actual ticket was paid for with Avios, and I did see that they were debited from my account after I made the reservation. In retrospect, that is probably part of the reason no alarms ever went off in my head that there could be a problem - as far as I could see from those Avios being spent, the transaction was complete. You could possibly argue that I should have seen that no charge for the taxes ever came up on my credit card statement, but the absence of a small charge like that from a statement that typically has a couple hundred entries is not easily noticed.

Originally Posted by tobsw View Post
IbPlus IS a fantastic program if you know what you do - and as craigthemif and many other here always say, IbPlus is not the program for partner redemptions. But it depends on your expectations: don't have high expectations and everything goes smoothly. Their customer service is so-so if you don't speak Spanish. It can be very helpful and agents can go-the-extra-mile if you speak Spanish.
Well, you have fun with it. My opinion is quite different. And thanks for the tip about their agents being discriminatory - maybe that's why they wouldn't give me the time of day. Can you imagine if a U.S. carrier got a reputation for giving better customer service to English-speaking customers than Spanish-speaking customers? There'd be holy h3ll to pay!
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Last edited by NewEXP; Jul 26, 19 at 3:56 am
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