New round of travel award mailers triggers investigation

A new round of travel award letters in the mail claim you've qualified for up to $1,200 worth of airline tickets, but as with previous travel offers I've warned about, this one has all sorts of red flags.

The letters were sent from Phoenix and have no return address, and the envelopes are handwritten and have actual postage stamps. The letterhead simply reads "American," but it's not American airlines. The handwritten signature says Sue Myer, Vice President, and you have only days to reply and claim your award.

David Quinlan of the local Better Business Bureau tells me his organization just launched an investigation.

"There are so many players involved with this right now," he said. "We're having a hard time trying to figure out who's doing what, who's involved with what, who's associated with who."

As luck would have it, whoever sent the letters sent one to a woman named Michelle in Anchorage, Alaska, who works for the Anchorage BBB. She called the number on her letter.

Once the operator learned she was single, Quinlan says Michelle was told the award offer was only for couples, then she was immediately switched to a second operator who proceeded to try to get her to buy a Carribbean cruise with her credit card on the spot.

She declined and called back a second time saying she could bring her husband. That got her an appointment to attend a 90 minute presentation held at an Anchorage hotel.

"Before they could get into the door, they had to show a driver's license and a valid credit card," Quinlan explained.

This is a common practice with roving travel promotion operations. They require your credit card and driver's license, because the objective is to get you to buy before you leave.

The promoters typically target married couples and require both spouses to be in attendance, because after the enticing presentation comes the high-pressure sales pitch. Having both spouses on hand with their credit card eliminates the excuse that "I'll have to discuss this with my spouse."

In Michelle's case, Quinlan says the pressure was to sign up for a $9,000 travel membership.

The BBB says the presenters and sales people never clearly identified the name of their company, what exactly they do, where they were from or how the entire business worked.

"No. No. They're not transparent about who they work for. In fact the company that was there said that they had nothing to do with these letters and that they were actually contracted out by another company," Quinlan explained.

When I called the number on the letter, the representative at the "awards division" call center mentioned three different company names, which all sounded similar, and told me the call center was actually a third party working for a wholesale travel agency based in Seattle.

When I challenged him about the Seattle location, he back-tracked and clarified that the "hotel" where the presentations are held is in Seattle. This is the same kind of story I got from promoters of the last travel scheme I warned about earlier this year.

And then there's the signature on those letters, from Vice President Sue Myer. Of the five Sue Myer letters I obtained, not one Sue Myer signature looks the same. Each signature is distinctly different.

"You shouldn't have to make a decision right on the spot. That's baloney," said Quinlan. "You should be able to go home and think about this. To actually apply this heavy pressure on people to pay thousands of dollars for a travel package where you still have so many questions. You're not getting all the information about the company, you can't do your own research. If you're not able to do those things, then you really shouldn't be doing business with that type of company."

Bottom line: Regardless of the names they use, if you can't confirm who you're dealing with, and you can't take time to investigate, why on earth would you hand over thousands of dollars for anything? Let alone a travel membership you can't guarantee you can use?