Mailers promise round-trip plane tickets - with a catch

Sometimes, people who want to sell you something make it look like they're really giving something away. That's the case with the latest round of travel giveaways in the mail. The people behind the mailers stand to make hundreds of thousands of dollars if even a fraction of us say yes.

It's tri-folded and very official looking, with the words "PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL" on the front. The presorted permit stamp shows it was mailed in Florida. In order to open it, you must tear off the perforated strips on each end.

The letter inside reads "Fly a US Airlines" and lists three major airlines, US Air, Southwest and Jet Blue, as part of the letter head design. The body of the letter says "I am pleased to inform you that you have qualified for an award of (2) round-trip airline tickets." The letter goes on to state that "in addition, you will receive two (2) nights at any one of over 1000 Marriott Hotel locations.

Of course, there's a deadline and a toll free number you must call. I got a guy who said his name was Jason. After getting the code, Jason plunged right into his pitch non-stop. I couldn't type fast enough. I could barely get a word in. Jason wouldn't tell me the name of his company, only that he works for a redemption center contracted by a travel service in Federal Way.

In order to get my round trip tickets I had to qualify. Criteria? Among other things -- be of a certain age with a certain income and a credit card, which I'd have to bring with me when I claim my "award." I hope you know where this is headed.

Before I get the tickets, I have to attend a 90 minute presentation for a travel club membership that would entitle me to save a boat load of money on all sorts of trips. Of course, there's no way to investigate anything first. I found it interesting that Jason also wanted to make sure I didn't work for the travel industry.

Jason made it clear from the beginning that I would have to pay fees and taxes to use the round trip tickets, and when I questioned him about the airlines on the letter, he acknowledged that the airlines and hotel mentioned in the flyer have nothing to do with the promotion.

The more I asked questions however, the more Jason seemed to become annoyed. He eventually commented that I was playing private investigator and hung up on me. Pretty much what I expected.
So you know where I'm going with this - If you get any kind offer like this, regardless of the names and the claims - rip it up and recycle. Promotions like this are notorious for generating complaints about high pressure sales, expensive contracts and promises that don't deliver. They're also the subject of warnings from the state Attorney General, the Better Business Bureau and federal regulators.

Deceptive mailers that provide no information about the sender and no details about the offer- should not be confused with promotional offers from established hotels and resorts. Established companies send professional mailings- complete with name, street address and details about their offer and why you're receiving it. As always, regardless of who you're dealing with- ask questions and investigate before you invest.