Undercover investigation: 'Free' plane ticket offer isn't free - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Undercover investigation: 'Free' plane ticket offer isn't free

Posted: Updated:
Logo found on the plane ticket offers Logo found on the plane ticket offers
The office site used by the travel club. The office site used by the travel club.
The employee named "Jo" making the travel club presentation. The employee named "Jo" making the travel club presentation.
Charlie Mattingly Charlie Mattingly

NEW ALBANY, IN (WAVE) - A travel club membership company that set up shop in southern Indiana is drawing people using the promise of two free airplane tickets just listen to their pitch. The Better Business Bureau estimates tens of thousands of the plane ticket offers were mailed out around Louisville.

The sales office is located on Grant Line Road in New Albany. Hanging on the door was a small sign on a white piece of paper that reads simply, "vacation getaways." But behind that door a woman called "Jo" is promising big things.

"This is our grand opening in New Albany," said Jo to the crowd of about a dozen couples that included an undercover reporter with a hidden camera. "We're here less than a month so we're very glad to be here."

The crowd spends two and a half hours listening to Jo and others try to sell them Travel Club Memberships from a company called Global Connections, Inc. In return the crowd was promised a certificate for two round trip airline tickets valued up to $1,350.

"Here's the deal regardless of what you decide today you'll absolutely get the gift you were promised," Jo tells the group.

"If they give me free airplane tickets I'll listen to it," said a person who responded to the offer solely to get the airplane tickets, speaking to the undercover reporter. "But if not I'll get up and walk out."

By the end of the night Jo had offered to buy back the free airline ticket offer in return for a discount on the travel club membership she was trying to sell. When couples turned her down and asked for the plane tickets they had been promised, she handed then a brochure outlining a multi step process to redeem the offer.

It included more than $100 in activation fees, plus additional, unspecified surcharges to fly from an airport outside 25 major cities, of which Louisville was not on the list.

"So it's not free," said Charlie Mattingly, the president of the Louisville Better Business Bureau, who was also in the presentation. "The idea that you're going to get two airline tickets anywhere in the United States is totally untrue."

Mattingly said the travel vouchers also require a minimum of 75 days notice to book. Some who met the deadline complained on the Better Business Bureau website that the travel dates they requested were often denied. Mattingly stopped short of accusing the company of doing anything illegal.

"I don't know that to be the case," Mattingly said. "They've always used enough hedge words and enough qualifiers."

Qualifiers like a logo in the top left corner of the offer that reads "US Airlines" instead of a real airline, like US Airways. The fine print also includes the cover all "certain restrictions may apply."

Mattingly also said there are at least five different companies involved in this operation. One that sends out the offer, one that screens people who call back, the travel club itself, the company that provides the salespeople making the pitch and finally, the business that provides those airline certificates used to draw people in.

"You have multiple companies involved each doing a different step of the process," Mattingly said. "And each of them in a position to sort of pass the buck to the other, if you don't get exactly that you thought you were going to get."

While two of the companies have "F" and "B-" ratings with the Better Business Bureau Prestige Travel Systems, the Florida-based company that provides those airline certificates, actually has an "A" rating with BBB office in Tampa.

Global Connections, Inc, the company that operates the travel membership company, has an "A-plus" rating with its home BBB office in Kansas, despite repeated complaints about both those companies products and services.

Mattingly said he will ask the BBB to take a closer look at those two companies ratings adding that only time will tell if the people who attended the presentation he was at really get what they came for.

A customer service representative at Global Connections said they don't have anything to do with the plane ticket offer. She said the salespeople work for a different company and that they are the ones responsible for the incentives used to get people in the room.

Messages left with that other company, Rapid Travel Rewards, were not returned.

To friend the WAVE 3 Troubleshooter on Facebook click here. To follow on Twitter click here.

Copyright 2013 WAVE News. All rights reserved.