Consumer Alert: “Southwest Escape” Offer Grounded

November 2, 2011

in Consumer Alerts

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(Be sure to read the updates appear at the end of our original story.)
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.

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.

While it is possible that legitimate travel clubs exist that offer members good value, Consumer Reports and the Federal Trade Commission advise consumers to carefully investigate what is being offered before signing on the dotted line.

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{ 618 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott September 13, 2014 at 12:33 PM

Southwest Celebration postcard w/ 1-877-882-5452 phone number rec’d in Arkansas, September 13, 2014

USPS postal permit no. 210 18640

Travel club scam. Beware.
I’ve gotten several variations of this scam (delta, southwest, cruise lines, etc, etc.)

Twila September 15, 2014 at 12:21 PM

I received the post card today identified as Southwest Celebration with 888-598-2322, stating I had been selected to receive 2 round trip coach class airline tickets and if I called within 48 hours I would also receive 3 days and 2 nights at Hilton or a similar hotel. I tore it up and tossed in the recycle bin.

Lois October 1, 2014 at 3:45 PM

I received this postcard today Sep.30, 2014 marked Southwest Celebration “receive 2 round trip airline tickets- blah-blah —call in 48 hrs. for 3 day 2 night stay at Hilton blah…, call this number 1-877-882 5452- promo code ATX0926

Bruce October 6, 2014 at 6:16 PM

I also received the “Southwest Celebration” postcard today, October 6, 2014. The number listed to call is 1 866 950 4793. The card was sent with pre-sorted US Postage PAID, Sacremento, CA, PERMIT NO. 1827

Shari October 9, 2014 at 6:10 AM

I received the postcard the end of September. Decided to call.

We have to go to a 90 minute meeting to hear about a wonderful private travel club….the first offer was 8995.00 and you could book through them for life of course with paying an additional fee every year membership. By the time we finished talking to us the price was down to 3500.00!

I said no and they gave me the flyers to apply for my free airline (not free) and 3 day 2 night stay at Hilton Garden Inn (also not free).

The sales rep even said it really wasn’t a great deal because there were black out dates taxes, etc. to pay.

So for the airline tickets the cost was going to be $200.00 to reserve for one year and the Hilton Garden Inn was going to cost $50.00 Also you must reserve 60 -90 days in advance and cannot travel during any holiday times.

I am still holding on to these vouchers trying to decide if I should risk loosing $250.00.

Anyone have advice?

Dick Jordan
Twitter:
October 9, 2014 at 10:16 AM

Shari,

Thanks for your detail account of your travel club meeting experience.

Check with Hotel Garden Inn and any airline that is supposedly covered by the vouchers and ask them to confirm whether they can actually be used to directly book travel. If the answer is no, then I presume that you’d have to do the booking through and pay the $250 to the “travel club” which may or may not pocket your money and fail to provide confirmation of your flight and hotel reservations.

Reading this Los Angeles Times story (and checking the your local Better Business Bureau office to see if it has had complaints from people who attended the meeting that you went to) might help you make up your mind.

Paula Becker October 10, 2014 at 1:39 PM

Hey just read your blog and I just got another of these post cares they are still using Soutwest Celbration call within 2 days …..my husband wanted to call but I’m glad I checked first it looked fishy even though they used first class mail thanks for the info

Kent Pryor October 17, 2014 at 8:17 PM

My wife received the “Southwest Celebration” this week (Friday October 17 2014). The telephone number listed was 888-510-5976, different from the ones listed in previous comments. Obviously a presentation we don’t want to attend, leading to an offer we would never accept.

Marie October 21, 2014 at 1:01 PM

Just received a similar card, however it says “Southwest Celebration”

Teresa W October 23, 2014 at 2:44 PM

Today, 10/23/2014 I received, instead of a postcard, a very strange letter sent from the same U.S Postage permit number 1827, mailed from Zip code 95799, which belongs to West Sacramento, CA, asking me to call 1-800-861-4080, within 5 days, a toll free number in Tooele, Utah (!) regarding a program from the Department of Housing (HUD)….In my opinion, the US Postal service should be more careful to whom they issue permit numbers!

maxine grassinger October 24, 2014 at 3:32 PM

Joining in to say I also received the Southwest Celebration promo card. Did attend the travel presentation to receive the airline tickets and hotel stay. Saying NO to the sales pitch was easy, but imagine my suprise when I received my registration forms to submit to a third party to get vouchers for my airfare/hotel and found that no one had mentioned the “activation fees” required to move forward with this project. I have been trying to contact that third party by phone for the last week with no luck. Unlikely that I will be mailing any money to this apparently non-existent third party any time soon!!

P. Jennings October 30, 2014 at 1:13 PM

Just want everyone to know that the postcards — including ripoff phot of Southwest Airlines plane — are still being sent out by snail mail.

Ripped it up and threw it in the trash.

Southwest . . . you should take some action(s) to protect your reputation.

Tonya Bolter November 3, 2014 at 2:24 PM

I received a postcard that reads Southwest America Celebration on the front. The back reads in Celebration of 2014 we’ve selected you to receive 2 round trip airfares to anywhere in the contiguous Unites States. Call within 48 hours and receive a 3 day 2 night hotel stay at major brand hotels. I called the number, 1-800-295-4404. I reached a lady who said her name was Kris Graham. She said Express Travel just moved into a location out of Residence Inn By Marriott at 106 S. 15th St. in Omaha and were promoting their new Omaha business location. She said Express Travel has been in business for 10 years with locations in Loveland Co. and Texas (I couldn’t find a business with this name when I goggled it, could be, but nothing came up for me) and that is why the free flight and hotel if we would listen to a 90 minute presentation. We would only need to pay appropriate taxes. Thanks for this website. I have only been able to find information indicating this is a scam, nothing to say that this could be a good deal. This information has saved us from wasting our time. I wish I had time to investigate and go to the Marriott to see if a permanent business actually set up there. I’m guessing not.

Juli Hogan November 12, 2014 at 6:39 PM

I received the Southwest America Celebration postcard. Reverse side states 2 round trip airfares to anywhere in the contiguous United States! Call within 48 hours and receive a 3 day 2 night hotel stay at major brand hotels. etc. My first reaction was to look up high rise marketing llc. When that didn’t work i looked up reverse phone number which came to this site. Thank you. I knew this card invitation was to good to be true. Yes Southwest doesn’t even fly out of Huntsville Alabama. I also own no land, have no credit. There is no reason in the world I would qualify to even be interested in some sales pitch.

anastasia December 2, 2014 at 4:36 PM

Received postcard in mail today. Front of postcard reads Southwest V.I.P. Invitation. Back of postcard reads: “Southwest travel is pleased to invite you to an exciting V.I.P. seminar. For your time and opinion you will receive two (2) round trip, coach class airline vouchers to select airports in the continental United States.”

“Call within 48 hours and also receive 3day, 2 night stay at major 3 star hotels” (don’t you love the improper English here :)

The postcard continues with: a phone number, promo code, seminar location and a disclaimer stating that it “… is not sponsored by any specific airline”…

There doesn’t appear to be any southwest planes/symbols showing.

Jim Shelton December 10, 2014 at 8:38 AM

I received a notice from Eagles Fly Away Vacations in September offering the 2 free plane tickets and 2 night stays at the Marriott and tossed in the trash. Nearly a month later I received the same notice and this time unfortunately read it, called and my wife and I attended the boiler room style high pressured sales pitch asking for $9,995 – then reduced down to around $3,500 under near desperation plus a $199.00 a year membership to get “discounts” on obviously grossly inflated prices of trips and cruises. We got a our vouchers for the tickets, sent in a $10.00 “processing” fee and then a $98.00 fee (should have read this site first!) and now only get voice mail messaging at their number of 888-873-8751.

Dick Jordan
Twitter:
December 10, 2014 at 9:33 AM

Jim,

I’m sorry to hear that you got caught up in this unfortunate situation. I’d suggest that you contact your local district attorney or state attorney general’s office and see if it has a consumer fraud division that can assist you in recouping your loss.

M. Eizenga December 15, 2014 at 3:22 PM

Most recent today. US postal permit 210 18640. Front has yellow silhouette and Palm trees the image of a plane and says ‘Southwest VIP Invitation’ the back has almost the exact same wording as the card this article started with.

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