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$88 for a Pair of Plane Tickets ... So What's the Catch?

An old joke goes like this: On his return from a trip, a traveling salesman told his manager that he had lost his raincoat and wanted to put a new one on his expense account. "No," said the manager. "You can't put a coat on your expense account." So the salesman completed his paperwork and handed it to the manager. "Ah," said the manager. "I see you left out the coat."

"No," replied the salesman. "It's in there—but just try to find it."

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That old chestnut came to mind when a reader asked what was up with a promotion posted on Half Off Depot for two round-trip airline tickets from various originating cities to "50 different destinations including Orlando, Mexico, Hawaii, San Francisco, and New York" for just $88. As far as I can tell, Half Off Depot, a flash-sale site based in Atlanta, is listing a deal offered by One Stop Travel, a Florida agency, and that agency is selling a deal put together by My Holiday Break.

My Holiday Break lists the $88 airfare pitch plus a bunch of really big hotel and resort discounts, but there's an obvious catch: All of the posted deals are hooks for timeshare sales. The deals are limited to potential timeshare buyers qualified by age, income, credit, and other demographics. No students, please. The deals require attendance at a "VIP Orientation and Tour that will describe all amenities available to you during your vacation and explain the benefits of vacation ownership."

As an added gotcha, the Half Off Depot posting includes this fine print: "All taxes, fuel surcharges, and fees are the responsibility of the travelers." You probably expect to pay additional taxes and fees, but the sleeper here is the fuel surcharge: Although Department of Transportation (DOT) rules now require airlines to post fee-inclusive fares, many carriers still carve phony fuel surcharges out of the true fares in their internal accounting, and, presumably, if you buy into this deal, those $88 airfares could turn into fares as high as $1,088. Of course, the new DOT requirements may force airlines to pare fuel surcharges to more realistic levels—the jury is still out on that one.

Given those gotchas, then, are these deals scams? The verdict is mixed. If you don't mind spending the time—and if you qualify—you can enjoy real bargains. But you might find the timeshare process offensive.

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