Heading home for the holidays? Some travelers are finding big discounts buying unused airline credits online.
Craigslist.com is full of posts from people selling credits, unused travel funds and rewards tickets for pennies on the dollar, and they're all for travel on Southwest Airlines.
But the ABC15 Investigators, of 2NEWS sister station KNXV, found while some people may get big discounts, others are left grounded despite having ticket confirmations, even boarding passes.
Daniel Goldberg spotted a great deal. He bought someone's unused travel money that was held in a Southwest account.
The lure is strong. Daniel would get $700 worth of credits for just $490. So he met with the anonymous seller at a convenience store and handed over the money. He did it only after getting a code from the seller that he used to book his flight. He received a confirmation number and an itinerary showing his travel plans.
But Daniel says a call to Southwest just before the flight shocked him. He was told the funds had been pulled and he did not have a ticket, despite having the confirmation number.
"It was honestly one of the worst moments ever because you know you've been swindled," Daniel says.
Getting a confirmation number is the only reason Daniel handed over any money.
The scam is not a new one, but is still claiming victims.
A Southwest spokesperson says the airline warns passengers only to buy from Southwest.com. But the ABC 15 Investigators found no scam warnings on the company's website.
Kim Stevenson says she also called the airline the night before her flight and says she was told everything was fine. Kim's stepmother had fallen and broken her neck. She needed to get to St. Louis to be with family for the funeral. The emergency fares were very high.
So Kim too went online to Craigslist to buy awards or credits, and thought she found a compassionate seller.
The anonymous seller expressed sympathy and sold her Southwest rewards for half of what Kim would have paid otherwise. Kim used the seller's information and was able to book the flights. She then wired money to the seller.
Kim even checked-in the night before, received boarding passes and brought them to the airport the next morning. That's when she learned her tickets were no good.
She says the agents looked at her boarding passes but said she'd have to buy new tickets for her and her son. Kim says she had no choice and had to spend $900 on the spot.
Southwest Airlines refused an on-camera interview but says offering to buy or sell awards tickets is against their rules. The ABC15 Investigators found those words buried on the company's website, under Rapid Rewards, Rules, Number 14 of 42.
Kim believes Southwest Airlines needs to do more given the dozens of sellers still posting credits on Craigslist.
Both Kim and Daniel blame the scammers and themselves. But they wonder how Southwest Airlines could provide confirmation and boarding passes that turned out to be no good.
In a statement, a Southwest spokesperson says the company couldn't comment on specific customer inquiries. The spokesperson says the company regularly works with law enforcement to ensure illegal activities are prosecuted.
Southwest is set to change its travel fund policy. But that won't happen until January 28th of 2011.
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