Postcards touting American Airlines and Delta logos are enticing North Texans with offers of free vacations, but both airlines said they have nothing to do with the cards and consumers should beware.
When the NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit contacted the Texas Attorney General’s office about these postcards, and the companies that may be behind them, the agency reopened its investigations.
“It looked very legitimate. I thought it was Delta Airlines, so I felt very secure,” said Malia Baker, who received one of these postcards in the mail.
On the front, there was a picture of an airplane, balloons and the company’s logo. On the back, there’s a toll-free number to call to receive a three-day, two-night hotel stay and two round-trip airfares within the continental United States.
When Baker’s husband Bill called the number, he found out in order to get the free getaway the couple would have to attend a sales pitch.
“They said now it’ll be a 90-minute meeting and you need [to] sit through that meeting and then you can have the tickets,” Malia said.
The couple decided to go to the presentation. But when they arrived, they found out the presenter wasn’t from Delta at all and they don’t know what company he represented.
“He was kind of sleazy. He was very pushy,” Malia said.
He was selling a high-priced membership to a vacation club. In fact, it cost $8,995 initially. And while that price kept dropping during the presentation, the Bakers were told they’d also need to pay an initiation fee and a yearly maintenance charge for life.
“I looked at Bill, my husband, and said, ‘Well, we don’t need to worry about that,’ because it was ridiculous,” she said.
“To me it looked like you were buying air, basically. Nothing but thin air,” said Bill Baker.
NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit has been contacted by five people who also received the postcards.
American Airlines told NBC 5 in a statement: “We’re aware of these postcards. This is NOT an American Airlines promotion… Our security team is aware and continues to investigate.”
“The best way for people to protect themselves is to exercise caution. If something appears too good to be true, it probably is,” American said.
Delta said: “Because Delta is not the source of the fraudulent activity, we cannot speculate on how the customers were selected to receive this misinformation. Delta’s information security team is continuing to monitor the situation. More information is available for Delta customers on delta.com.”
NBC 5 called the number on the back of the card. The representative claimed to work for several vacation companies, one of which was Platinum Travel Network, Inc. The owner told NBC 5 his company is affiliated with another company called Vacation Network, Inc., and that the use of American’s logo was a “marketing mistake.” He also said he planned to stop soliciting in the DFW-area because consumers are overly skeptical.
Records from the Texas Attorney General’s office show complaints against these companies, some dating back a decade. But until NBC 5 requested the records, the agency was unaware the companies were again soliciting memberships in Texas. After NBC 5’s request for records, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division reopened its investigation, and now calls it “ongoing.”
It issued both companies a Civil Investigative Demand letter to “ascertain” whether either company “is engaging in or has engaged in false, misleading, or deceptive acts or practices in representations to consumers regarding discount vacation packages and services.”
Neither Vacation Network, Inc. nor Platinum Travel Network, Inc. returned calls from NBC 5 related to the Attorney General’s investigations.
However, the NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit learned that in 2007, Georgia’s Attorney General found Vacation Network, Inc. violated state law and the company agreed to pay consumers restitution.
The Federal Trade Commission said agreeing to attend a sales meeting for a prize is likely to subject consumers to high-pressure sales pitches. And if you received anything via bulk mail it’s not likely you won a prize.
Travel expert Rick Seaney, the CEO of FareCompare.com, said a healthy dose of skepticism is a good thing when being persuaded to invest in travel clubs where consumers most likely won’t recover their money.
“It would have to have less than two zeros on the end for me to contemplate it,” Seaney said.
Seaney said there are no deep discounts for domestic travel right now because the market is tight. The best way to save on travel is to shop early.
“Think of the day you want to start shopping for your travel and shop one day earlier because most people in the United States procrastinate. And because they procrastinate they’re in the hands of the airlines,” he said.
Seaney recommended looking for fares three months in advance. He also said traveling on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday can save money. They’re the cheapest days to travel.
The Bakers don’t know what company sent them their postcard, but they didn’t bite.
“If felt great to say ‘No,’ ” said Malia.
As for the promised vacation for sitting through the sales pitch, when they tried to redeem the certificates they were told they couldn’t.
“The company that provided the certificates, or whose name the certificates were under, sent a message back and said, ‘I’m sorry there must be some mistake, but your certificates have already been used before so you need to get in touch with the company that gave them to you,’ ” Malia said. “That was without spending any money. So, just imagine if you spent money what would happen.”
If you have received one of the post cards and would like to file a complaint with the Texas Attorney General, visit this web site https://www.oag.state.tx.us/forms/cpd/form.php or call the AG's Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-621-0508.