Consumer Alert: “Southwest Escape” Offer Grounded

November 2, 2011

in Consumer Alerts

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Southwest Escape Postcard Revised The “snail mail” which the U.S. Postal Service delivers to me consists mainly of advertisements and catalogs that quickly find their way into the paper recycling bin that the garbage company collects each week.  But unlike the envelopes stuffed with most of that not-so-informative information, the ones related to travel usually get opened and the contents given at least a quick scan before being tossed out.

Earlier this year, a postcard (pictured at left) promoting a air fare-hotel package landed on my desk.  On its face was a photo of an aircraft flying through clouds, the words “Fly Away Escape – Southwest Airlines” and what appeared to be the Southwest Airlines Website logo.  The back of the postcard said:  “Congratulations.  You have been selected to receive 2 Round Trip Airfares to anywhere Southwest flies.  CALL WITHIN 48 HOURS.  YOU WILL ALSO RECEIVE AS A BONUS 3 DAY 2 NIGHT HOTEL STAY!”

Since I had no immediate desire to travel to any destination served by Southwest, the postcard spiraled down into my wastepaper basket, and the offer printed on its reverse side vanished from my brain’s radar screen.  But when the same postcard touched down in my office a couple of months later, I said to myself: “Is Southwest really rewarding me for being a loyal customer, or is this offer just too good to be true?”

Southwest’s flights from the San Francisco Bay Area don’t often go to places where I am headed. So although I belong to the airline’s frequent flyer program, I have never flown often enough to earn a free seat, let alone a deal like the one touted by this postcard.  And since Southwest knows my e-mail address, why would it have mailed this offer to me?

I realized that the only way to verify that the offer was legitimate would be to contact Southwest directly, rather than phone the “888” number on the postcard.  And as a journalist, I knew that the best way to find out would be to contact the airline’s press relations department.

After an exchange of e-mails, Southwest confirmed that a third-party had made unauthorized use of the carrier’s name and logo to pitch this trip to me.  Southwest contacted the company that had sent me the postcard and convinced it to cease such promotional offers.  The airline has a team that works to protect its customers from such marketing ploys.

If you received this “Fly Away Escape” promotion, write a comment to this post and let me know what action you took, and what happened if you actually accepted the offer.  I’ll pass on your remarks to my contact at Southwest Airlines.

(Editor’s Note: This story has been linked to in posts on Consumerist and MoneyTalksNews Websites).

June 11, 2014 Update: The beat goes on. In the last month, this story has been read nearly 2,300 times, and that number, along with recent comments posted below, indicates that these “travel club” promotions are on-going.

A post about “US Airlines” on the Website of consumer advocate, Christopher Elliott, led me in turn to this excellent discussion of “travel clubs” by Los Angeles Times columnist, David Lazarus, which ran in the paper in August of last year.

July 14, 2013 Update: A comment posted by a Tales Told From The Road reader has led us to this April 30, 2013 Better Business Bureau report on “travel clubs” which often utilize this form of postcard promotion.

We strongly recommend that our readers who have received one of these “free offer” postcards (or a letter with a similar offer) review “Travel Club Schemes: Insider The Promotion Commotion” issued by the Dallas and Northeast Texas office of the BBB. The BBB “Consumer News and Opinion Blog” is another resource for checking out whether any offer, promotion, or business is “on the up and up.”

Consumer advocate, Christopher Elliott, has dealt with complaints about travel clubs for two decades. The fact that Tales Told From The Road readers have viewed our story over 25,000 times, and that they continue to post comments indicating that these travel promotion offers are still being mailed to them, is a strong indication that those promotions are not likely to end anytime in the near future. 

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{ 567 comments… read them below or add one }

Jack June 5, 2014 at 12:10 PM

Mine came yesterday 6/4/2014.
Presorted
first class mail
US postage paid
Las Vegas, NV
Permit no. 2736

david k. June 9, 2014 at 4:12 PM

I found this same postcard in my mailbox today. So I decided to Google it. If it is a fraud, maybe you can contact the proper channels to shut them down.
Washington State

P.A. Guillory June 10, 2014 at 8:10 AM

My postcard had “Southwest Celebration” 1-888-598-2322…receive 2 round trip coach anywhere and a 3 day 2 night hotel stay at Hilton or similar. PROMO CODE: LCL0606

Sanchez June 16, 2014 at 3:51 PM

Got a similar one today.

I am very curious first why if you fly from SF “Since I had no immediate desire to travel to any destination served by Southwest ” and “Southwest’s flights from the San Francisco Bay Area don’t often go to places where I am headed” when SWA flies to 85% of the airports any other airline does?

http://www.southwest.com/travel_center/routemap_dyn.html

You make yourself out to be too good for most of SWA destinations.

Thanks for the report it has been informational. I got one today and want to call and say I am not married because my state won;t let me do so. I want to see if the promotional company denies me because I wan to bring my same sex partner. I can predict the response, can you?

Dick Jordan
Twitter:
June 16, 2014 at 4:17 PM

Thanks for your comment.

It’s not that I’m “too good” to fly on Southwest, in fact, I’ve flown with that airline a number of times.

But Southwest doesn’t fly to Europe or Canada, and a number of other places that I’m interested in visiting. And for a few years, it discontinued service out of San Francisco International Airport, my preferred airport in the area, completely.

So odds are that I’d never fly on Southwest often enough to be earn enough frequent flier credits to redeem for airfare. And because United and Alaska serve more of my desired destinations, I’m much more likely that mileage credit earned from using one of those airlines’ “branded” credit cards, as well as mileage earned from flying, can be used to snag a free seat, especially in First or Business Class, as I’ve successfully done in the past.

So when I got the “Fly Away Escape” postcard offer, I said to myself: “Why would Southwest send this to me? I only rarely book flights with them?” The answer, of course, is that wasn’t the airline that sent the postcard.

My wife recently flew to and from Phoenix on Southwest, and if I had made the trip with her, we would have chosen Southwest because it has the best schedule and airfares between home and that Arizona city.

Cindy June 17, 2014 at 12:35 PM

My husband and I live in Rochester, NY. We just received one of these cards for Southwest Celebration saying we won two free round trips any where in the contiguous United States and to call the number 1-888-820-2656. I decided to Google this before we called. Thank you for your article.

Ev0 June 26, 2014 at 2:07 PM

Got mine today 6/26/14 North Seattle Area and they are still claiming the same as last year they said was a misprint.
Southwest Celebration 1-888-598-2322
Congratulations! We’ve selected you to receive two round trip coach class airfares to ANYWHERE IN THE CONTINENTAL UNITED STATES! Call within 48hrs for 3 day 2 night stay at Hilton or similar hotels. Promo code EWA06–
Front of card just has photo of the undercarriage of a flying twin eng jet with no carrier markings. Only Name of a company on the whole card is Hilton. Super fine print on bottom of back says “all components of this offer are fulfilled by a 3rd party” the postal permit is 210 18640. Should get them for postal fraud. – See more at: http://www.bbb.org/blog/2013/03/post-card-offers-free-airline-tickets-delivers-sales-presentation/#comment-154084

Mike Swisdak July 14, 2014 at 2:18 PM

Got a “Southwest Celebration” postcard today, 7/14/14, in Maryland. Asked to call 1-888-959-4970. Decided to Google the offer and found your article. Thanks for the info.

Tiffany July 15, 2014 at 11:33 PM

Got a “Southwest Celebration” postcard today, 7/14/14, in Michigan. Decided to Google the offer and found your article. Thanks for the info.

Ricky July 16, 2014 at 4:14 PM

Just received the card. NC. 888-778-8632.

To be fair, the card NOW doesn’t have ANY company name on it (even though saying Southwest is extremely misleading). It also does not promise or offer a “free” 3 day and 2 night stay. It is simply saying they are offering 3 day and 2 night stays. The cost of this is in fact not listed. So there is no false advertisement here. As shady and low as you can get, but no false advertisement in the strictest sense.

What does irk me though is the copyright infringement and the disguise they try to put on.

Henry July 17, 2014 at 4:23 PM

We just received the same “Southwest Celebration” card here today, 7/17/14, in St. Louis, MO, with a different phone number 1-877-882-5452. Congratulations, indeed. Gotta love Google!

Natalie Williams July 20, 2014 at 11:31 AM

Got mine a few days back . . . not going for it. If it looks like a scam, feels like a scam, and smells like a scam . . . it’s a scam.

Michael DelMonte July 22, 2014 at 11:05 AM

I received mine today. Southwest Celebration! 2 round trip tickets if we call 888-778-8632 in 48 hours we will also receive a 3 day 2 night stay at a luxury hotel. Promo code 9320005007. We have never flown Southwest, but have been watching their site as we are planning a trip next year.

Dave Long July 28, 2014 at 2:24 PM

Got mine in Rochester, NY. No “Free” words used. Who knows what the offer really is? I’ve been to the 90-minute pitches before, and if you take an oath to yourself not to buy, it was a worthwhile 90 minutes.
The way it’s worded, it’s not a fraud… altho it is suspicious.
What’s the offer?

Thanks in advance.

DON July 28, 2014 at 2:34 PM

Well, they are still sending….I had checked with a forensic person from a communications company and she said that if you respond there are ways they can extract loads of info on you from just your phone number when you call. They also can get info even if you are calling from a blocked number. Then they sell that info to other “scammers” or advertisers who pay them a premium for your data. Just discard the post card and by all means don’t call them.

Dick Jordan
Twitter:
July 28, 2014 at 2:46 PM

Typically these promotions are for “travel clubs.” You buy a membership for a few thousand dollars and supposedly are entitled to discounts when purchasing travel services in the future.

The promoters usually offer a three-day/two-night stay plus airfare for two at any place a specified airline flies to, if the person receiving the offer agrees to attend a presentation.

The main questions raised by these promotions are whether the travel discounts will actually be available, whether the cost of joining the “travel club” is greater than the value of the travel discounts on might receive, and whether the free hotel stays/airfare will actually be given to those who attend the presentations, especially if they decide not to join the “club.”

If you have not already done so, you should read the Los Angeles Times piece by David Lazarus that I mentioned in the update to our original story.

Ray July 28, 2014 at 8:37 PM

Received one also today in Spanish Fork Utah. I’m also grateful for google! Thanks for sharing and for the information!

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