Is this a scam? “US Airlines” is offering me two roundtrip airline tickets

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By Christopher Elliott

The offer looked legit to Richard Clarke — well, almost.

There was the company — “US Airlines” — and the familiar logo. The offer appeared to be pretty realistic, too. It informed him he’d won “2 roundtrip tickets” worth $1,298.

High-flying suspicion

It was postmarked in Phoenix, Ariz., which is where an airline with a similar name is based.

But he’s skeptical. “Is this a scam?” he asked me.

If you look closely you’ll spot a few red flags flapping in the wind.

• There is no airline called US Airlines. There is a US Airways based in the Phoenix area.

• The logo is nowhere close to US Airways’ logo, but it looks like an airline logo.

• The sales verbiage is scammy. Here’s the full offer.

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NOTE: You must respond no later than April 18th, 2012.

I am pleased to inform you that you have qualified for an award of 2 roundtrip airline tickets. Congratulations. These tickets are valid for travel anywhere in the Continental U.S. The retail value of this award is up to $1,298.00. Certain restrictions apply.

We have attempted contacting you several times without success. This is our last attempt. If we do not hear from you soon, we may need to issue the ticket vouchers to the alternate.

Please call me today at 1-866-765-5334.

Forcing you to respond quickly can be a bad sign. Also “certain restrictions” is a code word for “many restrictions” and the final paragraph, which applies even more pressure — that’s an even worse sign.

I ought to know. They sent one of these letters to me on Friday.

Sky-high scams

In fact, the only thing awaiting you when you call appears to be a high-pressure sales presentation for a travel club that offers travel “discounts” after you sign up for an expensive membership.

My advocacy team and I have yet to find a travel club that is legitimate. (Here’s our guide to joining and leaving a travel club.)

Here’s a blogger who took “US Airlines” up on its offer. Forward to the 2:00 marker for the call.

This pitch is not new. It rears its head every few years. (Related: Warning! Airline scammers are posing as fake call centers.)

Here’s a first-person account of someone who actually attended the sales presentation. And here’s another blogger who traced this offer to a company called Membership Travel Services.

Has anyone ever received a “free” ticket? It’s difficult to say. If they did, it’s a safe bet they sat through a long presentation, endured a high-pressure sales pitch, and ended up paying a steep price for the vouchers.

Update (3/2/13): From a reader —

I’m sure you’re already aware of this, but I just got an updated scam letter in the mail. Apparently they have updated themselves, preparing for US Air to go away after the merger. Their new scam airlines is “United Airways” with a generic airline-like logo next to it.

AND, the envelopes are hand written and the letter inside is hand signed (can feel the pen marks through the paper).

Thanks for the warning. So noted.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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