The Iberia Oro (Gold) Status upgrade – WIM. My customer experience.

So, what does it mean being upgraded from Plata (Silver) to Oro (Gold) Status with Iberia? Not too much really. It was more exciting for the colors to change from silver to gold on my phone app then anything else. I had the barometer forever showing that I was thisclose to upping my status. However, the one big difference I noticed was when I had to contact Customer Service…

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With Iberia Plus Plata (Silver) the best part is that you can check in at the business class counter (whether you’re traveling business or not), priority boarding (key if you don’t want a small suitcase to get involuntarily checked-in when there’s no overhead space left), ¡ and you can check in an extra bag for free, depending upon the flights. With the upgrade to Oro (which is not easy to get there as you need to have either a ton of flights or a number of business-class flights earning points), the only additional real tangible benefit is that you can use the VIP lounges at the airports.

The big difference was with the Customer Service when I called the Customer care line. Normally I tried to avoid as much as possible calling any Customer Service number here in Spain. Usually they don’t care and aren’t very friendly (not to generalize of course, but this has sadly been my experience). The best is being hung up on, which has happened to me several times, and Iberia is not out of the blame game here as they have hung up on me in the past. The reason I called was to look into booking a ticket with points (avios) and with kids – impossible to do this online. Granted I had done this in the past, but I remembered it was a painful process, speaking to different people, receiving different information, etc.

So I called the Iberia Plus Oro dedicated Customer Service number (different than the standard one). The woman who helped me out was very nice and efficient throughout the process. Of course the call didn’t come without complications – just as the tickets were being issued there was a technical problem, and it wasn’t possible for her to finalize the transaction. She said not to worry, she would complete this as soon as the system was back up, and then I would receive the emails. Granted to say I was more than skeptic. To reassure me she said she would call me once everything was finalized so that I would know it was all set. Right!

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Much to my disbelief, about a half hour later (after I received the confirmation emails) I got a call from the Iberia lady just to let me know that everything had gone through and was all set, saying she wanted to call just because she had agreed to do so. And to think in the past I had been hung up on by the normal Iberia Customer service people.

Even just this past summer when Iberia broke my baby stroller on a flight home from Boston, I was cursing them after their lack of help on the phone to deal with this (that’s another story in itself).

My learnings: 1. Iberia Plus Oro is great for the Customer Service and fringe benefits, although overall not significantly different than the Silver level 2. It makes me wonder how there can be such a difference between “normal” Customer service and that for elite customers. It seems to me like Iberia should be striving to improve their overall experience, not just for one level.

The Never-ending Spanish Holiday Season

One of the great things about the holiday season in Spain is that it goes on forever. And it’s all about family (and food).

It starts off with Christmas eve with a big family dinner and get-together. That’s followed by Christmas day when Santa leaves his presents (or Christmas eve in the case of my family). The kids then have almost a week to play with toys before the next holiday – New Years.

New Years Eve is a family tradition with a large meal and the traditional “campanadas”, the countdown at midnight which involves a countdown with a bell ringing pretty quickly 12 times while you choke back 12 grapes (or try) with each ding. In the US, New Years Eve is all about going out with friends and finding a party where you’ll be guaranteed a midnight kiss. In Spain it’s all about family (and then partying afterwards). Back before kids I remember going out until the early morning to celebrate New Years eve, leaving the house around 1am.

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And last but not least we have King’s Day. This is on January 6th and is when the Three Wise Men or Kings come overnight with their camels and leave presents for the kids. But it isn’t just this day alone: the night before before most towns have a “cabalgata”, a large parade with floats, camels, ducks, you name it (details and specific parade parts depend upon the city). During the parade the floats throw tons of candy out to the kids who anxiously wait on the sidewalks.

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Cabalgata image (candy not included)

So basically you have a sugar high followed by brand new toys the following morning. It’s kind of like Halloween + US xmas.

Not a bad deal for kids, if you ask me! And not a bad deal for me here in Spain to have such a long holiday season and over two weeks off from school. I’m already looking forward to the next holiday (Easter break) – just three months to go…

 

Happy Veteran’s Day

It’s days like these that make me realize it’s been a while since I moved to Spain.

I admit I didn’t realize it was Veteran’s Day until I saw some posts on Facebook. Not even cnn.com which I log onto faithfully every morning gave me any hints.

I need to start putting the US holidays on my work calendar!

Meeting the Queen of Spain

Thirteen years ago when I was still living in the US I never would have imagined that one day I would be M.C.ing an event with the Queen of Spain and then taking a close-up photo together. Back at that stage I probably would have assumed the Queen of Spain would be older and wearing a crown as well. Not the case.

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That’s me with Queen Letizia of Spain

A few weeks ago I was approached at work to ask if I would be willing to act as M.C. at an awards ceremony where I work, The International Friendship Awards, an event that recognizes distinguished Chinese and African citizens, I didn’t really think twice about it. I said I’d be happy to help, assuming that the majority of the content would be in English. (if not there would be no reason for the Queen to have to suffer through a Spanishized accent). I think they asked me for two simple reasons: international female = showcasing our modernity and internationality. To make a long story short I had to put together a short script based upon the prior year’s awards ceremony, and this script (text, language (90% English, with some Spanish mixed in)) along with my profile was sent off to the Royal Palace for approval. I was approved.

Fast forward to last week. Generally I don’t get very nervous speaking in public, but the day before the event when I started to see all of the protocol and security issues going into place, this changed a bit. To give an idea I had a detailed conversation with a coworker to decide how we were going to communicate that the Queen had arrived (as I’d be presenting in front of the auditorium with about 200 people at that time) and to indicate that she was coming down the stairs to tell everyone to stand up before she came. Hand signals? Head nod? Phone call? In the end it was a combination, but I had the vibrating phone as the final sign.

The event itself went quite well. Some nerves right at the beginning, but then it was fine. My part was a brief introduction to the audience before the Queen’s entrance and then another short speech after everyone’s arrival. Then I basically was up at the podium between different speakers, to read off the prize winners’ names and to close the event. What I found funny was when I learned later that I was translated simultaneously into Spanish (go figure). As there were too many people attending to fit into the auditorium, the event was broadcast in two other classrooms.

Here are some event pictures:

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View of the auditorium center (other two sides of the room aren’t visible) from where I was. That’s the queen in the middle. Don’t miss the camera crews behind.

 

 

Here’s the official event report from the Royal Palace web site (surprisingly my name made it there): http://www.casareal.es/ES/Actividades/Paginas/actividades_actividades_detalle.aspx?data=14176

After the event there was a brief cocktail with her majesty at the center. It was a bit of madness. Despite the fact that the event audience was very senior-level, educated, etc., it was crazy to see so many people almost on top of her and trying to get pictures. I managed to get mine as well; this was the one thing I had on my list as a prize for my role in the event – plus I knew my mother-in-law was waiting with bated breath to see it.

The main question I’ve gotten afterwards is what was she like up close? Was she nice? What was she wearing? Despite some things you read in the news, at least from my very very brief experience, she was quite nice and pleasant. Of course this is being judged on speaking with her for about 30 seconds and then taking a photo, but I guess it’s better than nothing. She congratulated me on my MC role, asked where I was from (I guess the Boston accent is hard to hide) and asked if I wanted a picture (yes). I really can’t complain from my brief interaction. And yes, she’s very pretty up close. As for the clothes, well there were already news reports immediately after with the brand of every item she was wearing, so better to read that than listen to me. (more info here from Hola!: https://www.hola.com/realeza/casa_espanola/20191030152854/reina-letizia-international-friendship-award/)

What I can say is that I can’t imagine having her life and having to play that role every single day. I don’t think she even got to enjoy one cocktail during the cocktail…

Definitely a cool experience though to be in a formal event with the Queen of Spain and being able to direct my speech directly to her and receive feedback! I guess I can check this off my bucket list 🙂

 

Spain vs the US: The importance of informal relationships in the workplace

I just came across this article in the New York Times commenting (explicitly) on the importance of  “awkward” office chit chat and (implicitly) on informal networks in the office. This article really struck a chord with me, mainly in thinking back upon the differences from when I used to work in Boston 13+ years ago.

In my opinion there is a big difference between office cultures in the US and Spain, especially related to the importance of networking and getting along well with others. The “avoidance strategies” in the US definitely ring a bell. I think you can see this as well in movies with the idea (myth?) of everyone rushing in with their morning coffees, heading to their cubicles (or in modern day open spaces) and the prevailing silence that follows.

From my experience working in both the US and Spain, a big difference I noticed is that in the US the final result of your work is most important  –  there is not as much control over the actual work hours and time in the office, but more a focus on the end result. In Spain, it is equally (or in some cases even more) important how well you get along with your coworkers and the informal relationships you maintain within (and after) working hours. Although this is important in the US as well, I definitely noticed it to be much more important here, to have visibility within the company, be recognized and/or suggested for a promotion, etc. For me this was a big culture shock when moving to Spain. The “awkward” office chit chat or morning coffee/full out breakfast seemed too forced to me. And the importance of having lunch with coworkers (not just once in a while as a special occasion or team event, but as a regular occurrence) is a big deal here. I would say 80-90% of the people where I work sit down and have their hour lunch with other coworkers. In Boston I could probably count on one hand the number of times I sat down and had formal lunches with coworkers; lunch time was reserved for going to the gym and running errands.  However, over time I have come to realize the importance of these informal gatherings, especially within my previous working environment in FMCG.

Personally I see the benefit and importance of informal chitchat and getting along with coworkers, both for professional and personal reasons. But I still feel that the end result of your work, not the degree to which you get along and are popular with coworkers or the amount of actual time you are seated in the office, is more important. I guess it’s about finding that right balance – on a personal and cultural level.

 

 

 

 

Where to get good Halloween pumpkins in Madrid (and also rotisserie chicken aka pollo asado)

In my 13 years here I’ve found one place with decent Halloween pumpkins – Costco. If you’re like me and love Halloween and pumpkin carving, then you’ll probably be disappointed with the pumpkins you find at the local supermarkets. Even the “large” calabazas that some of them sell (compared to the small ones that look like overgrown apples) still aren’t that great; you’re lucky if you can even get a decent pumpkin face on one of the ones from Mercadona or Carrefour.

The best place I’ve seen so far is Costco, the American wholesaler. There are only two locations in Spain so far (one in Madrid (Getafe), fortunately, and the other in Seville).

To give you an idea of the size, here’s my almost 3-year old sons with one:

pumpkin size

For me going to Costco is like walking into the US – with all the American brands, everything in bulk like at Sam’s Club or BJs (or Costco) back in the US, and usually some scattered American accents around the store. I could spend hours there just browsing around. The only issue is that you need to be a paying “socio” to go into the store. It costs 36€ a year just to be able to go to the store and buy. The prices aren’t at all cheap, and you can usually expect to spend at least 100€ every time you go, but the quality is great.

Aside from pumpkins, there are two other great things at Costco:

  1. Cheap gasoline prices. With gas prices through the roof here (almost 1,3€ a liter), you can pay approx 20 cents less a liter, so it’s worth it to wait in the lines and fill up there.
  2. Rotiserrie chicken. Costco has great, inexpensive pollo asado at 4,99€. It seems this isn’t exactly a profit-generator for the store, but for now at least they’re maintaining this business, and it draws customers for sure

Here’s an image of the pollo asado factory and lines to get them today at Costco:

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Roast chicken lines @ Costco

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Rotisserie chicken factory @ Costco

And a recent article in CNN :

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/10/11/business/costco-5-dollar-chicken/index.html?utm_source=CNN+Five+Things&utm_campaign=a5be3cf6ad-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_10_08_10_22&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6da287d761-a5be3cf6ad-105047417

Who knew the Costco rotisserie chicken was a cult item in the US even with its own facebook page – yes, I’m now a fan.

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Costco Rotisserie Chicken Cult Fan Facebook page

Happy pumpkin/chicken/US brands shopping!