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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Thrifty Traveler's Advantage - Scam?

Thrifty Car Rental - Blue Chip Membership
I am planning to travel, take a trip back home, in a few months. I have almost everything arranged except the rental car.

I called Thrifty Car Rental just a few days ago to ask a question about the shuttle service since I’d never had to use a shuttle service at a car rental before. The woman I initially talked to was a regular english speaking woman with no accent whatsoever and was generally helpful.

She invited me to save an additional so much for reserving my rental car over the phone. I wasn’t trying to place the reservation so I kind of avoided that topic. Before hanging up she said “You don’t want to be transferred to find out about the additional savings and $20 in free gas?”

I said sure, like whatever. The “transfer” part was the first weird part, like why couldn’t she just tell me about it? She worked for Thrifty, so I didn't realize that this discount travel deal had anything to do with a third party company.

She transfers me to what sounds like a guy in a call center in India. He had a definite accent, unlike the woman who'd done the transfer. And I have to say, before I go on ranting the guy had the most calm and reassuring tone I think I’ve ever heard from a customer service person.

He starts into a total spiel about the 5% cash back for joining Traveler's Advantage and said he’d up the offer to $40 in gas coupons (’cause I’m so special, right?) and how it was only $1 to join Traveler's Advantage. He said I could cancel my Traveler's Advantage membership anytime in 30 days and still keep the gas coupons.

I found it very weird that he was so calm and reassuring. I envisioned Manmeet (Outsourced anyone?). For some reason, as much as I like smooth-sounding voices, people that sound too reassuring (especially sales or customer service people) actually put me on edge. I guess it is because they are obviously trying to be very reassuring.

The trial for Traveler's Advantage for only a dollar didn’t really throw me on the basis of being cheap, but rather why bother. There are plenty of free trial memberships, and once it’s over you just can't use the service/program/whatever anymore.

If Traveler's Advantage is offering to basically pay me for coupons and crap, why would they care about my one dollar for membership?

And I seriously just can't get over how  soooooo reassuring the customer service guy was. He wanted me to totally scam Traveler's Advantage. He wanted Traveler's Advantage to just give me these free gas coupons and steep travel discounts and then just cancel my membership.

Those $40 in free gas coupons were all mine.

He did actually mention that it was 2 - $20 or 4 - $10, I mean he did casually but specifically make mention of the coupons. So yeah it sounded like it was going to be a $40 free gas chunk but listening closely, he didn't actually say that.

Above all else though, he was heavy into his spiel. By that I mean he kept repeating it.
"Traveler's Advantage offers discounts on flying, discounts on car rentals, discounts on hotels, discounts for all your travel... You can cancel Traveler's Advantage within 30 days and you'll only be charged $1... With Traveler's Advantage you can get 5% cash back... Just for trying Traveler's Advantage I can offer you $40 in free gas coupons which you can keep even if you decide to cancel your Traveler's Advantage membership. If you decide to keep Traveler's Advantage it's only ___ ($16.99 a month? $60.99 a month? I wasn't sure)... So all I need is the credit card number you want to charge the $1 to for your 30 day trial membership and you can cancel anytime..."

Thinking there was still a possibility he could make my reservation, too, I told him no, no thanks. I am not into the idea of going for a free trial that involves me getting a bunch of freebies for a service I had absolutely no intention of keeping.

Seriously, if I had the slightest inkling of definitely keeping the service I might’ve thought about it but to deliberately go in with the intent to immediately cancel wouldn’t feel right to me.

But the Traveler's Advantage customer service rep seemed to want me to do just that!

I really should refer to him as a sales rep instead because he's not out to serve me since I wasn't (and still am not) a customer. Anyway, I told him no thanks, and he went right back into his reassuring spiel, "You can cancel your membership with Traveler's Advantage anytime within 30 days, it's only $1, now I just need a credit card number to start your membership account..."

 I said it again after he finished (he said his whole spiel, almost talking through me at times), and he went RIGHT back into he EXACT same lines! “It’ll only be a dollar and you can cancel anytime within 30 days blah blah”…

I eventually had to hang up on him, which I normally wouldn’t do but I really hate aggressive sales tactics.

After talking to the Traveler's Advantage rep, I thought I better check it out. Why would some customer service or sales rep be so into giving me free stuff for a membership I was almost telling him I didn't want?

I get that those free gas coupons don't come out of that guy's pocket, and I understand that Traveler's Advantage probably pushes their reps to sell, sell, sell!

Pushy sales are one thing. I used to do telemarketing at a time share company - one I actually liked - as a naive 17 year old. I had to try to reassure people there was no obligation to get their free trip to Timbuktu other than listening to a 90 minute sales presentation.

Now, I was legitimately being truthful in that, there "isn't" an obligation to buy. People go to those things all the time for the free vacation or TV or whatever they're giving away. But sitting through one of those sales presentations can, in itself, be daunting.

I went to one with my parents years ago where, without my parents saying anything about buying into it, the sales guy stood up and announced to the entire room to congratulate my mom and dad on their decision to join!

Of course, all the fellow sales people took that opportunity to cheer, while all the other suckers in the room clapped nervously wondering how my family had gotten duped so fast. Even though they hadn't! My dad hurried us out of the building at that point. Not sure if we even got a TV or anything.

My point is, sales are one thing. Aggressive salespeople are annoying to me, but they are just trying to make a living like the rest of us, even if it might be selling snake oil. Once you give them your credit card information though... It's over.

Even that one measly dollar that, in itself, is no big deal - could lead to charges on your credit card when the company claims they didn't know of your cancellation request, it could lead to other charges that are the equivalent of overlooked fine print in a contract... Who knows.

If I was only worried about Traveler's Advantage being aggressive in their sales tactics, it'd be annoying. It'd make me not want to do business with them but if they had a good service, it could be overlooked.

But if Traveler's Advantage gets my credit card information, it has the potential to become an all out battle - with no easy solution.

Since I technically never joined, I did a quick Google search for reviews and more information about Traveler's Advantage. The fact that they called it Thrifty Traveler's Advantage apparently has no relevance.

Traveler's Advantage apparently also comes up with Days Inn a lot. My search led me to a few different sites, primarily Traveler's Advantage is a Traveler's DISAdvantage - JoeDuck. His site only confirmed what I was already thinking. Another site talking about some of their shady sales tactics is Traveler's Advantage: There oughtta be a law - Pied Type.

I hoped that wouldn’t be the case, but you don’t try to force free stuff on people with that much fervor if you aren’t secretly up to something.

Do you have experience with Traveler's Advantage, or any other travel scams? Please share your story below.


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