The rise of the insincere travel offer – and what to do about it

Before Brenda Galindo retired to Winterville, N.C., Continental Airlines made her a promise: The frequent flier miles she’d earned from her business travel wouldn’t expire.

But after United Airlines merged with Continental a few years ago, the new airline changed the rules of its loyalty program without telling her, she says. One day, when she logged on to, she discovered her 178,058 miles had vanished. The reason? She had stopped flying, and after 18 months of inactivity on her account, her miles expired.

“I had been banking my miles to use for something special,” she says. “What a horrible way to treat people they want as customers.”

Insincere offers aren’t confined to airline loyalty programs, although they can be among the worst offenders. Another class of disingenuous deal is the postcard that says you’ve won a “free” cruise or vacation. Check your mail, there’s probably one there now.

“The catch is that you have to stay at a time-share facility and agree to be barraged daily with too-good-to-be-true offers to buy into the development,” says Harlan Platt, a professor of finance at Northeastern University.

Whether you’re collecting worthless airline miles or attending a captive time-share presentation, experts like Platt say travelers should be on their guards for more of these fake offers. They tend to multiply during the summer months, when infrequent, inexperienced travelers hit the road.

Carefully reading the fine print is sometimes enough to determine whether an offer is on the up-and-up, but not always. The halfheartedness of a deal might not become apparent until you check in or until you try to redeem a benefit. Only then do you discover that the company has cleverly re-interpreted an offer to leave you empty-handed. But travelers aren’t powerless to stop these little scams.

In Galindo’s case, the terms of the new mileage program supersede the previous policy, so Continental could zero out her account and was under no obligation to warn her. I asked United about Galindo’s missing miles, even though the airline was clearly within its rights to allow her rewards — and her loyalty — to expire. “We made a one-time exception and waived the charge and reinstated the customer’s miles for another 18 months,” airline spokesman Charles Hobart told me.

Thanks, United.

Dubious offers come in all shapes and sizes, like the “family package” Tom Siebert, a communications consultant based in San Diego, recently booked at a Hawaiian resort. It turns out the hotel was just using it to lure families, but didn’t really offer a “multitude of dining options” where kids 12 and under could eat “for free” with a paying adult.

“When we got there, we discovered there was one dining package,” he remembers. “That was it. Nothing else. The package was a complete lie.”

A hotel representative forked over vouchers for “family deals,” most of which had already expired, and when he sat down to eat dinner with his 11-year-old son, Boyd, a manager openly doubted his son’s age. Siebert complained to his travel agent when he returned to the mainland, who negotiated a $71 refund from the property.

Unfortunately, travel companies don’t always mean what we think they say. Consider Helen Whitesides’ recent Turkey vacation, a package that promised five-star hotels and a personal tour by a leading expert on folk history. But the “five-star” hotels were shabby and offered limited services, and the expert showed up only occasionally. What’s more, the tour company extracted a mandatory 5% gratuity to cover guides, baggage handling and hotel wait staff — a fee they neglected to tell her about before she left.

Whitesides, who lives in Albuquerque, might have been able to find out about this disappointing tour by reading some online reviews before booking, but that is by no means a guarantee. Her grievance, like so many others that I field as a consumer advocate, was essentially unfixable.

Adopting a narrow definition of “all-inclusive,” “free” or “lifetime” is an old travel-industry trick, as are quietly moving the goal posts on a loyalty program. Nothing new here, except that it’s being done more often, according to travelers and industry experts.

But you don’t have to accept it. Read the fine print meticulously, ask probing questions and when you get an answer you don’t like, take your business elsewhere. Short of imposing new government regulations, that may be the only way to make the travel industry say what it means and mean what it says.

Have you ever been lied to by a travel company?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...


• Travel with a straight shooter. Many travel companies, from hotels such as Ritz-Carlton to airlines such as Southwest, have well-deserved reputations as companies that don’t engage in word games.

• Make a polite appeal. Getting a company to interpret its program rules or offers in a way that’s more advantageous to you may be as easy as asking. Ticket agents often have that power.

• Reach out to regulators. If you’re the unlucky recipient of an insincere offer, you have options. Contact the Transportation Department or Federal Trade Commission to voice your concern. The “deal” may violate laws forbidding an unfair or deceptive practice.

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at,,, and

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend