Is That Vacation Invitation a Scam?
There I was, pacing the living room, racking my brain for ideas. What could I possibly say about "Improving Your Life" that would stand out from the Hubmob (hundreds or thousands of other Hub Pages writers writing on the same topic?
Suddenly, inspiration flew in through the mail slot and fluttered to my feet. A 4x6 postcard with the United Airlines logo prominently displayed. Travel? Airplane? Bingo! Instant life improvement idea, coming up!
The first thing that caught my attention, in large, capital letters across the top: "DO NOT INTERRUPT DELIVERY TO RECEIVER." Luckily I was alone. Not one of my cats showed any interest in today's mail. My husband was not home to wrestle me for this obviously important mail. I snatched the postcard into my tingling hands and eagerly checked the address side. The receiver was me!! So far, so good.
Not Just Any Itinerary, IMPORTANT ITINERARY
Since I'd already turned the postcard over to make sure it was, indeed, addressed to me, I started there.
Here's what it said:
Aloha, Ms. Might Y. Mom*... Pack your bags! IN CELEBRATION OF OUR ANNIVERSARY, you were verified as of 01/13/09 and as a result of this offer your name and ticketing number have been identified and issued! You will receive at your request Two Roundtrip Airfares to Honolulu, Hawaii! We are very excited for you!
*Name has been changed to protect recipient from further bogus offers.
Here's the Higlighted in Yellow Part
More uppercase writing, this time highlighted in yellow: FIRST CALLERS BONUS OFFER! RECEIVE COMPLIMENTARY ACCOMMODATIONS FOR 2!
Ok. So whoever is having this anniversary (Is it United? They never say for sure) is excited to be putting me and an adult guest on a plane to Honolulu. But do they seriously expect me to be excited about going to Honolulu with no guaranteed place to stay? Why would I do that? Why would anyone do that? What kind of offer comes with the airfare but no complimentary lodging?
They are making me work way too hard already. If it's one of those timeshare presentations, I would think they'd at least identify the property (you know, a little pre-selling).
Maybe this is some kind of trick to get me to call the 888 number and suck me in. It clearly states "FIRST callers bonus offer." Am I being overly cynical to expect a bait and switch situation? I can see it all now: I'll run to my phone and make the call, only to be told "We're sorry, Ms. Mom. You are not one of the "first" callers. Your accommodations are going to cost you $500 per night."
Hmm. Now my suspicion hackles are really rising up.
Meanwhile, back on the other side of the card...
Now I flip the postcard back to the "Do Not Interrupt Delivery to Receiver" side.
I cross-check to make sure my confirmation number (T0113) matches the Ticketing ID number on the address side. It does. I'm temporarily pacified.
But the feeling is shortlived, as I read the main paragraph on this side. Frankly, it doesn't give me a lot of warm fuzzies. Here's what it says:
"We have identified you and you are now ON RECORD." On record! In all caps! My obvious questions are
a) Who is this "we"? Is it United Airlines? Does United even know their logo is being plastered all over someone's teaser postcards?
b) How did they get my name? Just how, exactly, was I identified? Did somebody turn me in as needing a winter getaway? Am I on some master list?
c) How do I clear my record? This doesn't sound like vacation, it sounds like I'm in trouble!
In the next sentence they change their tune, but I'm onto them now. They're trying to lure me in with sweetness. They state, "We are happy to contact you directly at your residence to inform you that you have been confirmed to receive this notice for your Vacation Package Certificate." (initial caps theirs).
Needless to say, it doesn't work. First of all, they've already contacted me "directly at my residence" by sending this postcard to my home address (which just happens to be the same as my residence). If they think I'm going to call some 888 number just so they can tell me again what they just told me, they don't know me very well.
Or maybe this is some kind of prequalification test to weed out people who don't know the difference between their residence and their home. In which case, they should probably not be going on a vacation to Hawaii at all, but investing in some adult ed classes.
Best Line In a Direct Mail Piece -- Ever
By now they've thoroughly confused me with questions about whether I am or am not already officially informed that I am confirmed to receive this notification (the one I hold in my hand, obviously received).
But here comes the clincher. This is by far the best line of all. This one sentence causes me to stop and rethink my cynicism. Are you ready? Here's the #1 line to watch for when trying to determine the authenticity of any offer:
"This offer is real and is no mistake."
If you see these words, you know you are dealing with a serious and accurate enterprise.
To call or not to call?
More all caps type, but in a smaller font size says, "AS SOON AS WE RECEIVE YOUR CALL WE WILL PROCESS YOUR VALIDATION NUMBER AND TELL YOU ALL ABOUT YOUR 2 ROUNDTRIP AIRFARES TO HONOLULU, HAWAII."
Final pitch at the bottom of the card (again with the all caps): "MIGHT Y MOM, CALL NOW & RECEIVE COMPLIMENTARY ACCOMMODATIONS!
And finally, the fine print
At the very, very bottom of the card in about 7 pt. type is the info I've been searching for. Ok, everybody expects to see "Certain Restrictions Apply" so that's no big shock.
However, here's the line that I had to read twice to fully comprehend:
"Not sponsored by United Airlines, but United is a major provider of Airline Tickets."
If you read that line carefully, you will note that it never states that United Airlines is the provider of tickets for this particular promotion. Just that United is a major provider of airline tickets. No one can argue that fact.
Reading that reminded me of my Hubby when he bakes pies. People taste his pie and inevitably comment on how good the crust is. They ask him, "Did you make the crust?" He replies, "My mom taught me how to make crust." Now that is a true statement -- she did teach him to make pie crust. But for this particular pie (in fact, 100% of his pies) he used store-bought crust.
Who'd you say you were again?
One of the first things I noticed (which, had I paid more attention at the outset, could have saved me minutes of in-depth reading of the rest of the postcard), is the postal permit is out of Tampa, Florida. However, the return address for the travel provider is listed as First Class Travel of Costa Mesa, CA. Not being a direct mail expert myself, I don't know why a California-based company would fulfill a mailing to California residents via Florida. We'll just put that question aside for the moment. But if you spot such a discrepancy, be on your guard.
I Googled the company and to my mild surprise came up with a First Class Travel (www.fctravel.com) in Foothill Ranch. Foothill Ranch is only about 17 miles away from Costa Mesa, so it's possible they're one and the same. Still, wouldn't you think the website would list a Costa Mesa office? I mean, travel is a service industry, and this is the greater LA area. Driving 17 miles can take you an hour to travel. If First Class Travel does have a satellite office, they should be proud to promote it.
Oh well. Who am I to tell First Class Travel how to run their business? I mean, it's not like they're going to be dealing with me as a customer!