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Search the Web to Win Free Virgin America Flights

What are you doing next Wednesday, June 24?

I plan to take time to participate in the “Day In the Cloud Challenge,” an online contest with—and here’s what makes this noteworthy—a travel-related prize.

First, the prize. Five winners will be awarded the following: 12 one-way tickets on Virgin America, plus 12 complimentary inflight Wi-Fi passes; a Hewlett-Packard netbook computer; and 1 TB of Google Account storage for one year. According to the sponsor, each prize has an approximate retail value of $5,000.

As a consumer advocate, I have to take a moment to chastise Google and Virgin America for misrepresenting the prize. In email announcements and on the contest website, the phrase “fly free for a year” is invoked repeatedly. In fact, that’s what first caught my attention. No one I know would confuse six round-trips with flying free for a year. C’mon, folks.

Still, the prize is worth competing for. And the competition itself sounds like fun.

To enter, you’ll have to log in on June 24, and compete with other players in an online scavenger hunt. Players will have to establish a Google account if they don’t already have one, because the use of various Google Apps (Gmail, Google Docs, Picasa, etc.) is required to engage in the hunt.

What’s the Google connection? While Virgin America’s name and logo appears everywhere, the official sponsor is actually Google. Google is not generally known as a particularly self-promotional company, but the recent roll-out of Microsoft’s Bing search application—a frontal attack on Google’s core search business—may be nudging Google into the marketing pool.

To allow Virgin America travelers to participate inflight, onboard Wi-Fi access—normally $7.95 to $12.95—will be offered free on June 24. But that’s just a gimmick. While their heads may be in the clouds, most players will undoubtedly be hunting from ground-based computers.

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