New mailer promises round-trip plane tickets -- with a catch

On the heels of two previous alerts, the Puget Sound region is being flooded with yet another round of post cards promising a free round-trip. The latest card shows a non-descript airplane and mentions the names of several well-known airlines and hotel chains. According to the card "You will receive 2 round-trip airline tickets... plus a 3-day/2-night weekend getaway at a hotel... "

But amid all the enticements, there is no mention of the name of the business sending the post card. There is no business address nor any details about the nature of the business. Just a sense of urgency for you to call the toll free number.

As with other travel promotions that promise airplane tickets, this latest mailing is an attempt to sell memberships. In this case, it's memberships to a travel and discount shopping club. But you can't get many details without attending a 90-minute presentation at a local hotel. When I called, a guy who said his name was Tony seemed eager to sign me up for the sales presentation. I asked the name of the company. During the course of the conversation, Tony threw out four obscure company names, none of which I could verity.

The Federal Trade Commission, the Attorney General's office and the Better Business Bureau say similar promotions come out of the woodwork during travel season and generate thousands of complaints. If you get a card promising round trip plane ticket and or hotel stays, know that they are not free. You will have to pay fees and taxes which could total as much as $200 per person. And you will be encouraged to charge hundreds, possibly thousands more on your credit card for a membership. So you're paying up-front for future services you may not need or use- and that may not save you the money you expect. If you cannot leave the presentation, go home and review the offer and do more investigating before you decide. That's a clear signal it's time to walk away.

The Better Business Bureau warns you should never attend a presentation simply to collect a prize. The BBB recommends destroying unsolicited travel promotions that are designed to look like major airlines, hotel chains or travel websites, but disclose little or no information about the sender or what the offer is really about.

More information is available here, here and here.