(Be sure to read the updates appear at the end of our original story.)
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.
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.
August 19, 2014 Update: The most recent version of these promotions appears to be one labeled “Southwest Celebration,” although Southwest Airlines has no apparent connection to it any more than it did to the “Fly Away Escape” offer we reported on nearly three years ago.
These promotions typically offer attendees free airfare and hotel stays in return for attending a presentation (often held at a hotel near their homes) about joining a “travel club.” Although the format might be similar to those in which time-shares at vacation properties are offered for sale, “travel club” members don’t end up owning interest in real estate, just the possibility of discounts on future travel.
The following video, which accompanies a Huffington Post article by Kevin Richberg, shows what you might expect if you attend one of these presentations.
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