So What Actually Happens If I Fall For ‘Free Airline Voucher’ Scam?

This is the standard, misleading letter being sent out -- under numerous company names -- promising travel vouchers, but not delivering.

This is the standard, misleading letter being sent out — under numerous company names — promising travel vouchers, but not delivering.

We’ve told you before about scammy letters falsely claiming to be from Travelocity and something called “United Airways,” alerting recipients that they have won free travel vouchers worth hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars. Our readers were too savvy to fall for these scams, but not everyone is.

The L.A. Times’ David Lazarus did a bit of digging on the vouchers and found that the only way to get the tickets promised in the vouchers is to attend a 90-minute presentation at a local hotel.

He then found that people who attend these presentations get the hard-sell on a supposed travel discount program that allegedly saves money on airfare, hotels, cars, etc., but will also cost members anywhere form $1,500 to $9,000 just to join.

A rep for that company behind these membership programs (which may or may not be legit, but which probably aren’t a sound investment) said he was not aware of the letters in question but “I’m not in favor of anyone doing or saying anything that’s not legal.”

He told Lazarus the “free voucher” offers must come from one of several third-party marketers hired to promote the program, some of whom subcontract the work out to others.

For example, the “US Airlines” letter that started Lazarus down this slimy trail isn’t actually from an airline, but from a marketing company in Wyoming. Much like the “United Airways” rep we spoke to admitted that she worked for a marketing company, though she falsely claimed that it was directly affiliated with all the major airlines. Surprise, surprise, United Airways is also one of the names associated with something called American Travel Deals. Other names used in these deceptive letters are Featured Travel, Travel Awards, Travel Union, US Airlines, American Airways, Desert Sky Travel, Travel and Deals, Travel Premium Awards Agency and Universal Travel Deals.

Even if you go to the 90-minute sales pitch, it won’t be easy getting your tickets out of the company contracted to handle that. No, learned Lazarus, you have to pay a $50 application fee — and can only do so via USPS money order. “Any other forms of payment will void the offer,” so if you make the mistake of writing a check, the whole deal is gone.

Let’s not forget that you also have to submit a copy of your driver’s license with the application, can’t travel within a week of any federal holiday and must book your trip at least 60 days before the intended travel date.

“It’s misleading advertising,” says a spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau in Arizona, which has issued warnings to area consumers about such mailings and about American Travel Deals specifically.

So if you get one of these letters, just shred it. There are no happy free airline tickets waiting for you at the end of the rainbow.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.