Don’t Fall for the “Free Companion Airfare” Scam

Don’t Fall for the “Free Companion Airfare” Scam

The following post is from Madison of My Dollar Plan and Kids and Money at about.com:

source: Roberto Verzo

A free flight sounds appealing for anybody wanting to save money on airfare. But are the free flight offers too good to be true? Amanda, a staff writer at My Dollar Plan, shares her findings:

Free Companion Tickets

Consumers want rewards for everything nowadays, and I’m included in this category: if you want my money, then reward me in some way other than just giving me the product or service. While this has led to some great rewards for me and my family—over $1,000 in free gift cards from our credit card company (we never pay finance charges), a free iPod Nano, free movie tickets, free pruning shears, etc.—it has also brought up some rather questionable package deals from companies.

I’d like to discuss one of these offers. You may have seen the “free companion ticket” or “complimentary companion ticket” offer for signing up for such services as utilities. And it sounds like such an incredible deal: sign up for a service you need anyway, and be rewarded with a free ticket for a friend or family member to the area of the country where you choose.

Unfortunately, it is generally too good to be true, and will actually cost you more money than if you had purchased the two tickets in the open market.

Why the Free Ticket Isn’t Free

Here is how the scam works:

Inflated Prices. The United States is divided up into Zones (the voucher I am looking at as an example has Zones 1-7). You can travel anywhere you’d like in between these zones. Once you choose a starting point and your destination, line up the zones on the chart, and the cost for your ticket will be there. Then your companion can travel for free. What is wrong with this setup? The ticket prices are so inflated that you are paying the cost of two tickets in one! In the example I am holding, one airfare ticket from Zone 5 (Houston) to Zone 1 (Philadelphia) would cost me an outrageous $570. Just perusing hotwire.com and Southwest.com using non-holiday dates next year (May 5th through May 9th), I would pay approximately $249 per person, which includes taxes and other fees. In other words, this company is actually netting $70 from me booking my flight through them.

Unknown Airline. On top of the horrible price, you have no control over what airline you are flying with, which is a problem if you prefer a certain airline to earn frequent flier miles and other travel rewards. Terms and conditions state “selection of the airline varies by market, and is at the sole discretion of the issuing agency based on availability because airline participation varies from market to market”.

You Still Pay Taxes and Fees. Complimentary fares apply to the base fare only, so you are still going to be slapped with $45.12 in taxes and fees.

Blackout Dates. And good luck using this free companion airfare for holidays, as blackout dates typically apply for all destinations and are subject to change without notice.

In order to avoid this scam, make sure you do an online search for airfare outside of these websites and price tickets on the open market. Find out what the difference is between the two, assess whether or not there are too many restrictions, and then make an informed decision if the ‘free companion airfare’ is a better price than just purchasing two tickets yourself.

Have you had success with free companion airfare?

Madison DuPaix is a mom to three young children with a background in finance and insurance. She loves retirement planning and taxes, and recently started her own tax business. Madison is the author of My Dollar Plan and is the guide to Kids and Money at about.com.
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