ANDY'S CONSUMER TIP OF THE DAY: travel offer warning

ANDY'S CONSUMER TIP OF THE DAY: travel offer warning

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The jet soars above a palm tree and the crystal blue water of a sunny beach. The words "Southwest Travel Anniversary" sweep in cursive just below the picture.

It's the picture on an unsolicited postcard that arrived at the home of Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South President Randy Hutchinson. It invited him to attend a 90-minute "VIP Travel Expo." Just for attending, he would receive two round-trip, coach class airline vouchers to virtually anywhere in the continental U.S. Call now and Hutchinson would score a stay at a Hilton, Hyatt or Marriott hotel. If he arrived at the expo early, he'd also get a $25 prepaid VISA gift card and $100 in "dining dollars" to over 200,000 restaurants.

The card's promo code: TIGERS1.

Hutchinson called the number on the card. He said an attendant told him the outfit would be at a Memphis hotel soon to pitch its travel offer. He would have to make an appointment to attend. He said when he asked who's running the outfit, she answered, "Adventure Getaways."

Good luck trying to find any legitimate record of an "Adventure Getaways." We couldn't find one. Neither could Hutchinson.

So Hutchinson asked who or what is "Southwest Travel." The attendant told him it's affiliated with Southwest Airlines, even as the postcard's fine print clearly discloses the "...promotion is not sponsored by any specific airline, resort or hotel."

"Southwest Airlines is not associated with this promotion or its organizers," said airline spokesperson Adam Rucker.

"We couldn't find any information on Adventure Getaways, and Southwest Travel is such a generic name that we couldn’t reliably check it out," Hutchinson said. "There’s no address on the postcard."

Hutchinson and I have seen this one before.

It mirrors a similar travel bait-and-switch postcard we exposed in 2012. In that one, a Florida-based travel club under investigation by at least one state's attorney general was stuffing Mid-South mailboxes with postcards, inviting folks to a Germantown, Tennessee, hotel for virtually the same sales pitch. I got sideways with the principal of the outfit when we called him on his bogus offer, right there in the hotel lobby.

About once a year, the BBB and I are alerted to one of these travel scams, luring consumers to an area hotel to trap them. Remember, the postcards are unsolicited. They show up with no traceable information, no way to verify the outfits behind them. Shred them.

The BBB offers these tips on travel offers:

  • Check them out at Research them online to see if other consumers have reported experience with them.
  • Be wary of high pressure sales pitches. A salesperson’s refusal to answer questions or give you time to consider the offer should be a red flag.
  • Read the fine print. Before signing any contract, read all the terms, conditions, policies and financial obligations. Don’t rely on oral representations.
  • Understand any fees and limitations involved in using the airline tickets and other premiums given for attending the presentation. The postcard says the recipient is responsible for all applicable taxes and/or fees. In the BBB’s experience, those costs and limitations on usage often make the premiums far less attractive.

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