Is this yet another “benefit” of the American Airlines – US Airways merger?


Here we go again.

A few years ago, I reported on the US Airlines scam, and it seems that shining a little light on the problem made it go away — at least temporarily.

Maybe the light is fading with the ill-conceived merger between American and US Airways — that’s Airways, not Airlines. And maybe that’s what prompted the latest wave of solicitations from this scammy-looking operation.

Jeff Painter sent me a note after receiving one. It was addressed to his wife, Susana.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 3.53.09 PM

“My wife’s name is Susan,” he notes, “not Susana.”

Of course, there’s no mention of how “Susana” qualified for this “award,” but I guess in this day and age when legions of obedient loyalty program members believe they can fly for “free,” anything is possible. Certainly, it’s those people “Coreen Hayes” and her ilk hope will fall for this.

Painter isn’t among them. He forwarded this ridiculous letter from a fake airline to me and asked me to expose it. I’m happy to oblige.

He’s hardly alone. The folks at “US Airlines” (wow, I’m using a lot of quotes today) have been busy little bees, according to commenter Ken, whose father received an identical offer a few days before Painter.

[There was] no return address, no date on postmark, the “stamp” is dated 2007 and is actually OVER the postmark which is 73125 (Oklahoma).

Hard to believe the post office would even deliver.

Same B.S. for 2 roundtrip tickets up to $1,450.00. The vice president’s name is Coreen Hayes, phone #1-844-334-4980.

SOOO many red flags! SCAM!

Hmm, did he say 2007? I believe he did. All of which raises a big question about the timing of the resurgent “US Airlines” scam. Why now?

Here’s my theory: When the US Airways name is finally retired and disappears from the last tail, maybe later this year, it will be much more difficult to pull this ruse. I would guess that the scammers realized the jig is up, and started sending everything out, including envelopes from 2007.

How clever.

If that’s true, then we have US Airways to thank for another “benefit” of the merger: The comeback of the US Airlines scam.

Nice going, guys. I knew I should have supported the merger.

Which is worse for consumers:

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • backprop

    Wow, what a stretch.

  • $16635417

    Is Chris running out of material?

  • Christopher Elliott

    Oh, please. This US Airlines offer is going out to so many people, I had to write about it. Why not turn it into a referendum on the merger?

  • PsyGuy

    See the problem with this is someones going to fall for it, show up at the airport and then when they are refused boarding, they are going to write Chris about helping them get some money back or get some actual tickets from the real airline.

  • JoeRock

    “If that’s true, then we have US Airways to thank for another “benefit” of the merger: The comeback of the US Airlines scam.”

    Snarky at best. Holding a business transaction responsible for some dishonest activity by a third party would be like blaming the country of Nigeria for the continuous stream of “Nigerian Banking Scam” emails.

  • backprop

    Because it is a non sequitur?

  • backprop

    Unless the prince is really sending out the emails….

  • Christopher Elliott

    Oh look, the merger is winning the poll. I guess a lot of people are feeling snarky, at best, today. Please note: My snark isn’t aimed at a person, but a foolish and greedy organization and its avaricious shareholders as a collective. There are a lot of people at American that I consider friends.

  • sirwired

    It’s happened before… people have written in about fake tickets they bought from “some guy” off of Craigslist and get upset when Southwest wants the flier to pay for them after the initial purchase comes up stolen.

    On another note, with this scam, you’ll usually eventually end up with your tickets/cruise/hotel stay/whatever. But you’ll usually have to cough up hundreds of $$$ in “claim fees”, “taxes”, “shipping”, etc. and/or sit through one or more time-share presentations.

    On another note, Chris, you REALLY need to “take one for the team” and sit through a timeshare presentation or two next time you are in your “home base” or some other heavily touristy area. I’m dying to know what they’ve come up with these days. (And you’ll get some discount or free tickets to the Tourist Trap of your choice!) I’d do it myself and send in a report, but I’m already scarred for life from the last one I sat through; my brain nearly exploded.

  • Christopher Elliott

    I have endured several timeshare presentations, but I think it’s time to do it again. Thanks for the suggestion. I can’t wait!

  • sirwired

    You mean I shouldn’t hold BP personally responsible when I get a letter promising me a share of the profits embezzled from a huge oil discovery in [insert 3rd-world-country here]?

    And I shouldn’t get mad at DHL for failing to deliver a large chest apparently weighty enough to be stuffed with gold bars?

    What’s that you say? Bank of Whatever didn’t actually let my account get broken into, so I didn’t need to reset my password at bankofwhatever.scamville.nk?

  • Raven_Altosk

    Here’s another scam I came across recently:
    After registering a domain name, I received an “invoice” from “Domain Services” and another from “Web Listings” claiming I owed each of them $85 for “services.” The only contact info on these “invoices” was a sketchy address–both in Niagara Falls, NY.

    A quick Google search revealed that this is a con. Some scumbag finds recently registered domains, sends the “bills” to look like bills for the actual domain and then takes your money.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Total scam.

  • EvilEmpryss

    But wouldn’t the merger, in the long run, have the benefit of ENDING this scam? If there is no longer an US Airways to be confused with US Airlines, then this scam becomes impossible. So if you want to look at it in that twisted logic that says the airline is responsible for the scammers’ actions, then they also get credit for permanently ending the scam.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Possibly. I’m waiting to write something about the “American Airways” scam. Coming soon. I hope not!

  • TonyA_says

    SSDD :-)

  • TonyA_says

    oops the letter did not post

  • Chris Johnson

    In case anyone cares, the letter is not from Nigeria, but for some “wholesale travel club”, for which you have to sit through a presentation about, to get the so-called free tickets. I have never heard of anything good come out of any travel club, and in the age of the internet where it is easy to comparison shop, I don’t see how any kind of travel club could yield you any kind of savings on vacation travel (I am a member of AAA however, if you want to call them a travel club, but I didn’t purchase the membership for the 10% hotel discounts it offers though I have taken advantage sometimes). Travel clubs are just another scam, perhaps on a smaller level than their equally ugly timeshare or vacation ownership cousins, but are probably easier to quit than a timeshare, since you aren’t obligated to a liftime of maintenance fees when you sign up. But still a waste of money.

  • Kasiar001

    When stupid people learn that “free” things do not come in the mail, in fact they do not exist at all, scams will end. Until then I really have little sympathy for the idiots who wire money, show up to airports, or prepay for services they neither want nor need, just to get something “free”.

  • emanon256

    Love the poll today :) Classic Elliott :)

    When the US Airways name is finally retired and disappears from the last tail, maybe later this year, it will be much more difficult to pull this ruse.

    I can think of a few:
    United Airlanes
    American Airways
    Air Tron

  • emanon256

    I got the letter a few years back, waiting to get it again :)

  • $16635417

    I contacted someone who said he was a Consumer Advocate. He turned out to be bogus. His name was Elliot Christopher. I assumed it was you, so now I blame YOU for my error.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Yep, feeling snarky today. I’m really enjoying the comments today.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Cool – learned a new acronym! I can always count on you, Tony! ;-)

  • m11_9


  • $16635417

    Airtran will be gone later this year too.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Why, thank you! Air Tron will incur the wrath of Disney, though.

  • emanon256

    Yeah, wasn’t thinking, need coffee :)

    Here are a few more:
    Sun County
    Jet Bleu

    I’m struggling with one for Southwest and Frontier

  • emanon256

    How about Air Train?

    How was the new Tron? I was a fan of the old one back in the day, never saw the new one.

  • sirwired

    Well, if you approach it with a healthy sense of skepticism, you can treat a timeshare presentation like a game of bingo, as you check off the slimy sales tactics one after another.

  • sirwired

    My mailbox seems to mostly be Carnival Cruises lately. Sometimes they mention they have nothing to do with Carnival, sometimes they don’t.

  • Christopher Elliott

    I thought it was pretty good. My boys loved it. I liked the first one better.

  • $16635417

    Southwestern. Always cringed when I heard people call it that.


  • Stephen0118

    I liked the new Tron. It was a pretty good plot. The soundtrack is even better.

  • Stephen0118

    I got one of those phishing e-mail from a company or person claiming to be from LogMeIn and that the digital security certificate had expired and it needed to click on the link to download a new one.

    I knew right away it was a scam because if it were real, my browser would tell me when I go to the site. Of course it didn’t.

  • bodega3

    These have been around for years. I am missing the merger connection but assume you think they are getting rid of these so they can print up a new batch once the dust settles.

  • TonyA_says

    Davis Lazarus of the L.A. Times has an excellent article on this.
    I’m taking the liberty to post here as a public service :-)
    Many thanks to David and the LA Times.

    Dorene Butler received what looked like a check for $1,198 the other day, but it didn’t pass the smell test.

    For one thing, the accompanying letter said that “we have attempted contacting you on several occasions.” There had been no such attempts.

    For another, the check seemed to be sent from “US Airlines.” There’s no such airline.

    Finally, the check was apparently intended to cover two free plane tickets to any domestic destination.

    “That sure sounded too good to be true,” Butler, 73, of Laguna Beach, told me.

    She wasn’t alone in receiving the mailer. It apparently was sent to households throughout Southern California and previously had appeared in other states.

    What is it? Who’s it really from? Are the free plane tickets for real?

    Getting answers to those questions took a bit of digging. But first, let’s take a closer look at what’s being offered. The envelope says “travel check voucher enclosed” and “final notice.” The mailer is neither.

    The enclosed voucher, recipients are told, “can be redeemed for a certificate for 2 round trip airline tickets to anywhere in the continental US from any major international US airport,” though “certain restrictions may apply.”

    On the back of that seeming check, it says, “this is not a check.” The non-check was either written by the nonexistent US Airlines or something called Travel Union in Scottsdale, Ariz. It’s hard to tell.

    Confused? Not to worry. There’s a phone number, and getting you to call it is the whole point of the exercise.

    When I did, I reached a service rep named Tanya at Travel Awards in Phoenix, a call center for a “wholesale travel agency” named Featured Travel. She said I could have the free plane tickets in return for attending a 90-minute presentation at a local hotel.

    Tanya was cagey about the nature of the presentation but finally said it was for travel packages that would save me a lot of money when I go on vacation.

    Some rooting around finally led me to Empowered Partners, a Las Vegas company that runs the presentations and offers memberships in a travel club.

    Rick Recania, a principal at Empowered Partners, told me that participants pay $1,500 to $9,000 for memberships that provide discounts on air travel, hotels, car rentals and other leisure-related activities.

    Whether that constitutes a good deal depends on your vacation habits. But, like resort time-share plans, it’s a product that requires some aggressive selling, and that’s why Empowered relies on outside marketing firms to get people to attend its presentations.

    Empowered hires as many as half a dozen marketers to handle various aspects of its promotional campaign. “Some might do the work themselves,” Recania said, “and some might sub it out to others.”

    It turns out that there is a US Airlines, but it’s a Wyoming marketing company. I reached Steve Talbot, the company’s customer services manager, but he declined to speak on the record.

    Featured Travel is another marketer employed by Empowered or one of its other marketers. It’s apparently responsible for handling the call centers and plane tickets. And the strings it attaches to redeeming travel vouchers are typical of such offers.

    The terms and conditions on Featured Travel’s website reveal that you have to pay $50 with your application form for the plane tickets, and it has to be a U.S. Postal Service money order. “Any other forms of payment will void the offer.”

    You have to submit a copy of your driver’s license with the application. You can’t travel within a week of any federal holiday and must book your trip at least 60 days before the intended travel date. The tickets are no good after 12 months have passed.

    All flights, airlines and airports “are at the discretion” of Featured Travel, which reserves the right “to offer an alternative departure date and/or destination.”

    “All terms of this offer must be met or the offer will be voided,” the website says, adding that the travel company “reserves the right to change these terms and conditions without notice.”

    I tried hard to track down anyone at Featured Travel but kept ending up at the Travel Awards call center. Recania at Empowered Partners said he’d try to connect me with someone at the marketing company, but that went nowhere.

    The Better Business Bureau in Arizona issued a warning this year that a company called American Travel Deals was blanketing the country with suspicious mailers almost identical to the one that reached me.

    “It’s misleading advertising,” said Felicia Thompson, a spokeswoman for the bureau. Free plane tickets aren’t what’s really being pitched, she noted. It’s that pricey travel club.

    American Travel Deals, according to the bureau, operates under a variety of aliases, including Featured Travel, Travel Awards, Travel Union, US Airlines, American Airways, United Airways, Desert Sky Travel, Travel and Deals, Travel Premium Awards Agency and Universal Travel Deals.

    I called the number on the website for American Travel Deals and was connected with — who else? — Tanya at Travel Awards, who by this time was growing pretty annoyed with all my questions.

    Shawn Bay, director of marketing for Empowered Partners, said companies such as Featured Travel are able to offer free plane tickets because “there’s a lot of breakage.” That’s marketing-speak for coupons not being used by consumers.

    “A lot of people never redeem their certificates or decide not to travel,” Bay said.

    With all those catches, you can see why.

    I asked Recania if he was comfortable with the marketing tactics being used to lure people to his company’s presentations.

    He said he wasn’t familiar with the mailer from Featured Travel but insisted: “I’m not in favor of anyone doing or saying anything that’s not legal.”

    Never mind illegal, I’d settle for simply not duping or misleading people. If the point of the solicitation is to get people to attend a pitch for a travel club, then come right out and say it. Don’t monkey around with fake checks and make-believe airlines.

    Recania said he’s offering an above-board service, and I have no reason to believe otherwise. But the company he keeps leaves much to be desired.

    That’s why this is one trip I’d skip.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Hey, turn it into a fundraiser. You know where some people are “jailed” for a cause and folks have to come up with the “bail” to the cause to get the people out? Why not do it in reverse? Start a fundraiser to put you *into* jail, I mean, a timeshare presentation!

  • Christopher Elliott

    I love it!

  • Christopher Elliott

    Well, I’ll be darned.

  • TonyA_says

    Chris, attachments to posts do not appear right away. I thought is was because I attached a png file. So I converted it to jpg and same thing happened. A little while later, both showed in the post. Sorry for the double post.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    If it doesn’t have a return address with a real name, not just street/city, IT GOES DIRECTLY TO RECYCLE. The voting choices today are VERY clever!!

  • PolishKnightUSA

    I had these two goons come into my place and pee all over my rug because his wife owed them money. I went to the wife’s husband and he said that if someone micturated on my rug, that this wasn’t his problem and I needed to get a job. What a reactionary!

  • TonyA_says

    Me, too. Don’t you think USPS bulk mail department loves these guys? Junk mail might be subsidizing the post office. Maybe that’s the reason why they haven’t been shut down already.

  • MarkKelling

    Lots of “free” things come in the mail – it doesn’t cost the recipient anything to collect them from their mailbox along with their other legitimate mail. It’s just that the free things don’t have any value. ;-)

  • MarkKelling

    You know I found a great discount travel club. I get large discounts on hotels, car rentals, vacation packages, dining, and amusement park admissions among others. Every year I save at least 10 – 20 times what I pay for membership with no restrictions on when I can use my benefits. I never had to sit through any high pressure sales meetings. They even provide road side assistance when my car breaks down and it only costs me about $50 a year. It is of course AAA. ;-)

  • MarkKelling

    I have burnt out many paper shredders disposing of these types of offers. ;-)

  • TonyA_says

    Me, too. Been a member since I could afford to be one. Now I cannot afford not to be one. I also placed my 2 sons who drive on it. Best club I ever joined. AAA.

  • Mel65

    I haven’t been getting the cruise “offer” in the mail but I’ve been getting quite a few of them as email to text on my phone!! IRRITATING!

  • emanon256

    Love That Movie!!!


    I get the “free cruise” letters and phone calls regularly but not the US Airlines letter. And I get those calls all the time calling about problems with my Windows computer. I put on my most horrified voice and tell the caller that I have no computer, that they are the work of the devil. I get a good laugh but they still call….

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I do get the monthly mailings from them letting me know about “important benefits”, usually a pitch for insurance.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Be careful – my bank sends me my credit card in one of those unmarked envelopes. I have to feel the envelope to make sure it’s not a renewal credit card and even then, I have to make sure it’s not another AARP membership card.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Try adding a little-old-lady quaver to the voice and asking them to speak up several times before you tell them to call your son or daughter, since they handle all of that stuff for you. Regale them with a story about how you’re waiting for your doctor’s office to call back with the results of a test. Very entertaining. They don’t call back.

  • MarkKelling

    I got those for several years but they seem to have slowed recently. Maybe they got the message that I wasn’t going to reply. ;-)

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I always enjoy these just because it’s fun looking for the tell-tale signs that it is a scam. People’s best defense is always that crooks tend to be pretty dumb.

    Would any vice president sign a letter in that way? No department or area they’re vice president of, no company name following the title? And the VP asking you to contact her personally?

    Or that they’d make multiple attempts trying to contact you to give away free tickets? Because truly free airline tickets would be so hard to give away that one person not responding would necessitate multiple efforts to reach them?

  • Travelnut

    The signature doesn’t by any stretch of the imagination even look like it could be “Coreen Hayes”. Note the crossed “t” in Coreen and the letter that looks like a “t” where they “y” should be in Hayes.

  • Dick Jordan

    About three years ago I received a variant on that letter in postcard form bearing a plane and logo implying that the offer came from Southwest Airlines. (It did; I confirmed that with the airline.)

    After getting a second one, I published an online story about it that to-date has been seen over 35,000 times, mainly by readers who found it through a Google search.

    The offer of free room/airfare requires attendance at a meeting where one will be “encouraged” to join spend a few to several thousands of dollars to join a “travel club” supposedly entitling club members to discounts on travel.

    These pitches have used the names and logos of various airlines, cruise lines, hotels, and third-party online “travel agencies” (such as Expedia). There is always a “fine print” disclaimer that the offer is sponsored by the travel provider named, although sometimes it is claimed to be a “supplier” (to the entity making the travel club pitch.)

    There have been some criminal prosecutions related to these offers, but that hasn’t stopped them from being made. Yesterday, 60 people read my story about the Southwest “Fly Away Escape” offer, and nearly 2,300 have done so in the last month alone.

    Those statistics tell me that my readers probably represent a relatively small number of those who have actually received these offers via letter or postcard, and probably not even the lion’s share of those who have taken the time to do an online search to see if the offers might be legitimate.

    Since they continue to be made, without any sign of abatement, perhaps it’s time for you to revisit “travel clubs,” Chris, and advise your readers how to sort out the bogus offers from ones (if any) that might be worth looking into.

  • Travelnut

    Re AAA: I belonged to AAA for decades. Their discounts were nice but I really used them for the roadside assistance. Last year I finally cancelled it. Their roadside assist, at least in my area, really declined in quality over the past several years. I live on the outskirts of the city (think “Alamo”), and technically in the county but the area is as populated as any other. For some reason they were sending cars from the small towns 40-50 miles west of my house. They’d give me an arrival time that was already about half an hour longer than I’d reasonably expect, and then be 45 minutes to an hour later than that. I’d call and I’d get lame excuses. My auto insurance offers roadside assist as a benefit, so there was really no compelling reason to keep AAA. I mainly miss the discount on my dry cleaning but I’ll live.

    Re AARP: If you send them an email, they will take you off their marketing list. I had stayed off for about three years, then I started getting mailings again and had to contact them again but mostly it’s worked quite well. I can’t imagine joining AARP until, well, I get old! :)

  • MarkKelling

    AAA still has benefit to me because of the travel savings mentioned elsewhere more than the road side assistance.

    But I do agree that the towing service especially has become nearly worthless. The version I have allows you to be towed to the AAA certified shop that the wrecker belongs to. If you want to go anywhere else they charge by the mile. I usually am driving a car that is still under warranty so I prefer it get towed to the dealership where my warranty will be honored.

    On the other hand, I have my mother on the same AAA plan as me and she has used them multiple times to change flats (lot of construction near where she lives, lots of nails on the roads) and the locksmith service twice (forgot keys when taking the trash out and locked herself out; second time was key broke in ignition on car), all of which was covered at no additional charge and all were resolved in a very reasonable time frame.. As long as those services remain part of the included assistance provided, I will stay a member.

  • Mark Carrara

    I almost enjoy time share presentations. Because we are already owners our gifts have gone up to a $100 gift card. A nice way to waste a couple of hours and get $100

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Did you get it by mail? If so, then that’s mail fraud. Contact the FBI.

  • Alan Gore

    I get these all the time, for different airlines. And they all look scammy enough that I have never opened one. None of them are believably from the actual carrier.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Yeah, it was snail mail. I’ll do that. HATE HATE HATE SCAMMERS.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I would rather stick needles in my eye than sit through a time share presentation. $100 for two hours of that torture? Not worth it.

  • BMG4ME

    This has nothing to do with the merger. This is like saying we should close all hotels because there are some nasty people that hang out in them.

  • sunshipballoons

    I feel like we’re on the motorcycle, about to launch into the air, looking ahead at the shark. But it’s not too late to jump off the bike!

    I like this site better when it deals with specific consumer problems, where it actually can produce results. I don’t find the pie-in-the-sky political critiques particularly helpful (even when I agree with them), and think they would be better suited for a personal blog, rather than what purports to be, and often is, a professional website.

  • AH

    did anyone else notice that “coreen’s” signature appears to have a “t” in the middle of it? it actually looks more like “Arthur” than “Coreen” to me.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Timeshare Bingo.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Actually, there are MANY government officials in Nigeria that are in on the scams.

  • innchfromnj

    Anyone who falls for this scam is an example of what PT Barnum was referring to when he coined the phrase, “there’s a sucker born every minute”