Thousands of Northwest residents have qualified for two roundtrip 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 a local Anchorage 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.
BBB has issued alerts on this issue in the past; read:
Scam Alert: American Airlines Name Being Used in Fake Ticket Scam <http://www.bbb.org/blog/2012/07/scam-alert-american-airlines-name-being-used-in-fake-ticket-scam/> and Post Card Offers Free Airline Tickets, Delivers Sales Presentation <http://www.bbb.org/blog/2013/03/post-card-offers-free-airline-tickets-delivers-sales-presentation/>.
Letter recipients should avoid getting involved with companies that do not operate with transparency and integrity; report deceptive advertising or fraud to
BBB <http://akorww.bbb.org/Contact-BBB/> and the Federal Trade Commission <http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/contact.shtm>.