BBB investigates airline voucher award scam
September 3, 2013
Thousands of Washingtonians have qualified for two round-trip airline tickets valued at more than $1,100, according to hand-addressed letters from a company claiming to be “American.” This too-good-to-be-true offer has prompted a Better Business Bureau investigation.
BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington called the 1-800 number on the unsolicited letter and spoke with someone in the “Awards Division” who was able to sign a BBB employee for an exclusive, “invitation-only open house” at an Anchorage, Alaska, hotel conference room.
After sitting through a 90-minute sales presentation with 12 other Anchorage residents, BBB’s undercover investigator and her friend were offered a “Platinum Membership” in a lifetime vacation club for $8,995 plus recurring fees, and could only receive the travel voucher after making a decision.
BBB identified the following red flags:
- No company information is provided to customers before the event, so they are unable to properly research any offers.
- The company stresses its position as a contracted intermediary — it claims to not have sent out the original letters and it claims no formal affiliation with the parent company that actually offers the memberships it is selling — but fails to detail those relationships.
- The company repeatedly references its good standing with BBB, even though the BBB Business Review it shows in its sales presentation is for a separate company with which it contracts.
- The letters do not properly disclose the fees and restrictions of the airline vouchers:
— A “Registration Activation Fee” of $50 per ticket is required.
— A “Processing Fee” of $59 per ticket is required.
— Travelers are responsible for taxes, surcharges and fuel charges.
— Travel is not permitted within seven days before or after all federal holidays or Easter — leaving few available weeks.
- Only couples with valid credit cards — cards and identifications are checked at the door — are allowed into the presentation, eliminating the excuse, “Oh, I have to talk to my wife/husband before making such a large purchase…”
- One-on-one high-pressure sales tactics make attendees uncomfortable and consumers may be persuaded into making uneducated spur-of-the-moment purchases.
Letter recipients should avoid getting involved with companies that do not operate with transparency and integrity. Report deceptive advertising or fraud to the BBB at http://akorww.bbb.org/Contact-BBB and the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/ftc/contact.shtm.